The detour to the clearing ruined any chances Lev and Kolya had for making it to Mga by nightfall, and they walk fast to try to beat the cold. As the sun begins to set, Lev sees four German airplanes racing towards Leningrad, and he thinks they look harmless. The war seems abstract outside of Leningrad, and Lev feels guilty and selfish for feeling safe outside the city.
Consider the fact that while Lev is indeed safe from the bombers targeting Leningrad, the woods outside of Leningrad are controlled by Germans, meaning that the woods aren't really safe either. However, the cold at this point is more pressing than the threat of Germans.
Lev and Kolya are walking past Berezovka, a name Lev is familiar with because it was the location of one of the clashes between the Nazis and the Red Army. Lev tells the reader how the newspapers must be read in order to glean the hidden truth. If the newspapers say that the Red Army "withdrew to reserve strength," that means they lost the battle, while if they "gladly sacrificed themselves," it had been a massacre. Berezovka had been a massacre. The village itself has been torched.
Despite the censorship, those who know how to read the newspapers between the lines can still learn some truth about how the war is progressing. Notice that Lev doesn't say how victories are handled in the papers, which makes the reader question if there have even been any victories to speak of.
As they walk around the edge of the village, Kolya says the Germans are fools, since the best fighters in history gave their enemies a way out. He continues, saying that with the Germans, you die whether or not you fight or surrender. Lev thinks that this assessment, while true, misses the fact that the Germans don't care about embracing the "inferior races." Lev says to the reader that the Russian people are a “mongrel” people shaped by years of invasion and lost battles and haven't adapted to brute reality, unlike the Germans, who simply believe they're playing a role in human evolution. Lev responds to Kolya, though, by mentioning that the French got a way out, which Kolya ridicules.
Kolya is again trying to look at the war logically, and Lev finally explains to the reader how silly that attempt truly is, since the German goal isn't logical. Consider how Lev himself—with his low self esteem and cautious, undecisive nature—fits into his assessment of the Russian people as a "mongrel people" who are who they are because of many years of conquest.
Lev changes the subject to the disappearing light, and Kolya says they can build a dugout. Lev thinks he can't keep up much longer, and can't feel his fingertips even in his thick wool mittens. He asks Kolya if they have a shovel, and Kolya replies that they have hands and a knife. Lev, unimpressed, says they need to get inside, brushing off Kolya's attempt to jokingly draft him into the army and sleep outside.
Kolya's optimism is hilariously misguided, and Lev's pessimism wins. It's becoming very clear that Lev and Kolya have a great deal of respect for the Russian winter and understand that it can kill them as easily as the Germans can.
Suddenly Kolya puts his hand on Lev's chest and gestures to a Russian soldier standing with his back to them, 100 meters away. They creep closer, and at 50 meters, Kolya shouts at the soldier to not shoot. The soldier doesn't turn, and Kolya and Lev walk closer. The soldier is standing far too still, knee deep in the snow. As Lev and Kolya approach, they realize the soldier has been dead for days. A wood sign with the German phrase "Workers of all lands unite!" hangs around his neck. Lev removes it and Kolya tries the man's gun, which doesn't work, but Kolya finds a pouch of bullets under the coat. Lev and Kolya try to pull the man out of the snow, but he's frozen to the ground, and they soon move on.
This sad scene functions in multiple ways, as we see the barbarity and cruelty of the Nazis (hanging this ironic sign with a Soviet slogan on the man’s dead body) as well as the cruelty and danger of the winter. We also see how the dead are used to sustain the living, as Kolya will likely be able to use the bullets he found on the soldier. Also note that just because the soldier is Russian doesn't mean he's friendly, and Lev and Kolya must be very careful in their approach before they realize the soldier is dead.
East of Berezovka, Lev and Kolya spot a farmhouse with lit windows and smoke coming out of the chimney. They bicker about the merits of approaching the farmhouse. Kolya says it's a bad idea, and Lev counters that it's better than freezing. Kolya finally admits that they're not going to make it to Mga, because he realized hours ago that they're not going the right way. After more arguing, Lev starts walking to the farmhouse alone, his legs beginning to give out.
The reader is left to wonder if Kolya had another plan in mind when he reveals that he and Lev aren't going to make it to Mga. The house here, while a refuge from the cold, represents a great deal of danger. Whether there are Germans inside or not, whoever's inside is alive because the Germans want them to be alive.
Kolya catches up to Lev and says they don't have to be stupid about it. He leads Lev behind the house, next to a huge stack of firewood. Kolya peers into the window and they hear American music playing inside. Lev asks who's in the house, but Kolya is silent, and Lev thinks that it must be something entirely unexpected. He joins Kolya at the window. Inside are four teenage girls in nightshirts, dancing to the music. Lev expects Kolya to be happy at what they've stumbled upon, but he looks grim and angry. He leads Lev around to the front of the house.
The firewood is an indicator of the immense privilege of whoever's inside the house. Kolya understands immediately what's going on, while it will take Lev a few minutes to catch up and realize that the girls are being kept as sex slaves. Notice too that Kolya is angry at women being treated this way, providing clearer evidence that his perception of sex, while often manipulative and arrogant, never approaches the inhumanity of a situation like this. He often describes women as “conquests,” but clearly still sees them as human beings with dignity and value.
Kolya knocks on the door and one of the girls appears in the window. She tells Kolya he shouldn't be here, and Kolya instructs her to open the door, holding his pistol so she can see. After conferring with the other girls, the girl lets Lev and Kolya inside and into the great room. The youngest girl looks ready to cry as Kolya asks when "they" are coming. When the girls attempt to sidestep the question, Kolya chambers a bullet dramatically, and one of the girls says "they" come around midnight. Kolya asks if the Germans come and have the girls take care of them after shelling Piter.
Despite the fact that Lev and Kolya certainly don't want to do the girls any harm, the girls are extremely aware that helping the boys puts their wellbeing and their very lives in danger. They are allowed to survive at this point to keep the German soldiers who visit them happy, and their tenuous existence is dependent on being able to continue to do that.
Lev says that in some ways, he's very stupid, even though he feels he's more intelligent than average. He tells the reader about how smart his father was as well, and says that his father would've known what was happening in the farmhouse immediately, but Lev is takes a long time to realize why the girls are here and who's feeding them.
We're again reminded of Lev's youth, which is probably partially to blame for his late understanding of the situation. Notice that Lev thinks of his father in times like this and compares himself to his father, indicating that his father is still an important influence in Lev's life and strongly affects his sense of self.
A blond girl looks angry, and asks Kolya where the Red Army has been and why they didn't protect her family when the Germans shot them and burned the town. She continues, saying that if she were a general, all her soldiers would've died before they let a single Nazi into Russia, and Kolya puts his pistol away and says he's glad she's not the general.
Despite the fact that these girls are well fed and warm, they're not exempt from the horrors of the war, even aside from the sexual abuse they're no doubt experiencing. They've seen their families murdered and their homes burnt, and feel rightfully angry at the Red Army.