However a surprise attack by the German police mortally wounds Burov before he can kill Sushenya, and the latter rescues him and carries him to safety on his back. Along the way we are shown three extended flashbacks, establishing how the trio arrived at their current situation.
Burov, an auto mechanic living with his mother, fled across his fields after sabotaging his own truck which the German invaders forced him to keep in good repair for their use. Sushenya, a train station track-walker unwilling to participate in sabotage for fear of the consequences others will suffer, is nevertheless arrested after a disastrous derailment along with the three actual perpetrators, all of whom are hanged. The diabolical German overseer offers Sushenya his life if he agrees to spy for him, but when Sushenya refuses, he's freed anyway. Only later does Sushenya understand that he is bait; his mysterious pardon intentionally designed to draw partisan assassins. Voitik, a resistance member without much initiative, intelligence or courage, was captured returning to his forest hideout after receiving rations from a nearby farmhouse, and led a pair of German soldiers back to them before escaping, his betrayal undetected, during the ensuing shootout. Interspersed with these flashbacks, we follow the three men trying to link up with the main resistance force as a fog descends, symbolic of the fading clarity of justice.