The Russian military has a saying, "We may be few in number, but we wear telnyashkas!" Worn by sailors of the Russian navy, the Russian Airborne and the Russian Marines, the telnyashka is a dark undershirt with white horizontal stripes, with or without sleeves. It is said to symbolize pride and manliness for its wearers. The telnyashka was popularized by Vassili Zaitsev. Vassili was an officer in the Soviet Pacific Fleet who was later commissioned as a sniper. He played an important part in the battle of Stalingrad. All along his duty he refused to give up his telnyashka because he felt proud wearing it. The telnyashkas were later also incorporated into the airborne forces after modernization by General Margelov. The telnyashka still emanates an elite status for the wearer in Russia.
In Russia, official military uniforms of the navy, marines and the airborne have no shirts. The upper half of the body can only be attired with specially made jackets, the telnyashkas remain visible. So it is not considered a part of the Undertøjbut something to be worn with pride.
Telnyashkas are also available commercially for the civilian customers of the country. They however, wear it as underwear. There are few who would like to flaunt it, like teenagers, and feel like a real man! The military variant of this shirt comes with a single thread knitting, but, double and quadruple knittings have also been experimented with for increasing warmth and/or comfort. Interestingly, quadruple telnyashkas, even without Jakkeror any other forms of attire on top of them, can keep a person comfortably warm even at temperatures of 4-6°C. Divers sometimes wear it under their suits to keep warm in the frigid waters.
The telnyashka has evolved with time. Not only has the knit patterns been altered but variations in the use of material and color has also been noticed. The stripes on these shirts can be altered to mark separate groups or parts of the army. For example, ‘blue' signify paratroopers and the Spetnaz, ‘light green' signify the border guards, ‘red' signify the OMON and MVD and the common ‘black' signifies the naval infantry or the marines.
Whatever be the case, few countries have military attire which has been so passionately worn by its soldiers. The Russian sailors and others who wear telnyashkas consider wearing one to be of a great honor, comparable to only the honor begotten from serving the motherland.