Sakharov arrived at the cartridge factory at Ulyanovsk in 1942. Since Sakharov had little experience in the manufacture of cartridges, the factory assigned him to fell trees in the countryside.
There, in a nearby little village, the misery of the peasants due to the war with Germany left a deep impression upon the compassionate Sakharov.
“I’ll never forget deep in the forest…or the atmosphere of tragedy and anxiety that permeated every word spoken, weighed upon the women drawing water at the well, and made even the children unusually reticent…At daybreak my landlady would be wakened by neighbors begging milk for their children or a handful of flour…Hard as life was, there was a foreboding that things would get even worse before they got better, and the horror of the war was always uppermost in people’s minds.”
After Sakharov had been reassigned to junior engineer in the blanking shop due to a hand injury, he became increasingly acquainted with, and at the same time horrified by, the deplorable working condition of the workers.
First, the working hours were extremely long. The workers worked 11 hour shifts day and night, with no holiday whatsoever. Theoretically, the workers switched shifts often, thus giving them a day of rest whenever they changed from night shift to day shift; however, what was theoretical remained nothing but a hypothesis, since, to achieve the maximum efficiency, shift changes occurred rarely. Thus, the workers are eternally drained in fatigue. To make matters worse, it was next to impossible to get leave from work; being absent without permission, however, could mean as much as 5 years in labor camp, where the conditions were much worse.
Second, there were few measures implemented to ensure the wellbeing of the workers. The factory was dimly lit and freezing in the winter; the floor was constantly flooded with water and lubricant; and, worst of all, rubber gloves were offered the sole protection against the acid in which metals strips were dipped manually.
Third, workers suffered constantly from hunger. The ration cards that they earned were rarely redeemable for their nominal value.
The conditions that the Soviet workers in general were subject to were comparable to that in the early factories of the industrialized western nation in the early 1800s, which seems rather ironic since Russian communism, instead of providing a better life for its people, only served to preserve the hardship, if not worsening it.
In November, Andrei Sakharov was promoted to the chemistry lab, due to the success of a machine that he had invented. There, he met Klavdia Vikhireva, a lab technician whom he married 8 months later.