Lev shares that if you grew up in Piter (the nickname for Leningrad), you grew up fearing the Crosses prison. The guards shove Lev into an empty cell in that prison, which seems a blessing until the darkness and silence become nearly too much to bear. Lev remarks that he'll never be a great Russian, because many great Russians endure time in prison, and Lev's own short time in prison half broke him.
Lev is an extremely fearful individual, a fact about himself that he will grapple with often going forward. He very much wants to be “a great Russian” – a hero of Russia such as in books or history – but feels as though he can't do so until he conquers his fear. Notice too that the fear of the Crosses is a fear born in childhood, and is still scary to him as an almost adult teenager. The name “Piter” comes from “Petrograd,” the city’s name before it was changed to “Leningrad” after the Russian Revolution.
Finally Lev hears footsteps and a key in the cell door, and by lamplight two guards shove a young soldier into the cell. Before the light disappears, Lev sees that the soldier is tall, blond, and blue-eyed. After a minute, the newcomer asks Lev if he's a Jew. When Lev retaliates, the newcomer says he doesn't have a problem with Jews and offers Lev a piece of sausage, introducing himself as Kolya. They share why they've been imprisoned, and Kolya says that he was accused of desertion but was actually defending his thesis, which was an interpretation of The Courtyard Hound by Ushakovo. Lev doesn't recognize the author, offending Kolya. Lev hears scratching, which Kolya says is him writing notes on The Courtyard Hound in his journal.
Lev's first experience with Kolya sets Kolya up as a foil for Lev. While Lev is young, scrawny, and afraid, Kolya is older, handsome, brash, and decidedly not afraid of prison. Lev's suspicious nature and his pessimism will be played off of Kolya's optimism for humor throughout the novel. Note too how Lev thinks about being Jewish, as it will influence how he tackles obstacles and challenges going forward. He's evidently not a practicing Jew if he's eating pork, but he's very aware of his place in the world as a culturally and ethnically Jewish individual.
Lev wonders if he and Kolya will be shot in the morning, and Kolya replies that they're not being kept just to be shot. He then shares that he hasn't had a shit in eight days and wonders how long one can go between bowel movements. Kolya makes one final remark that the Crosses is likely a very safe place, settles onto a mattress, and falls asleep. Lev tells the reader that he's envious of sleepers like that, as he's an insomniac, and he spends the entire night awake.
Kolya is always open to seeing the best of a situation. It's humorous, but also likely very true that the fortified prison is one of the safest possible places in the city in case of bombs. His logic also adds another layer of humor to the situation. Kolya retains this sense of logic (that presumably allows him to sleep), while Lev struggles with his spinning thoughts.