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In the fall of the first year of World War II, Hitler's armies traverse the Russian highways enroute to Leningrad and Stalingrad. Alongside the roads, in the stillness of the great forests, Russian guerrilla soldiers wait, determined to drive the invaders from their soil. In one of the guerrilla groups are Vladimir, the leader; Semyon, a former professor who now serves as Vladimir's adjutant; Yelena, a girl from the factories who is in love with Vladimir; Sasha, an amiable drunk; Fedor, a blacksmith; Dmitri, a farmer; Petrov, the "silent" one; and sixteen-year-old Mitya and his little sister Olga, who cooks for the group. Upon returning from headquarters one day, Vladimir learns that the group has given refuge to Nina, a beautiful woman found wandering in the war-ravaged countryside. When they question Nina about what skills she can contribute, she volunteers that she was once a ballerina in the Moscow theater. Jealous and contemptous of the elegant Nina, Yelena urges Vladimir to send her away. Later, Vladimir confides to Petrov that when they receive the coded message "the snow will fall" they will be launched on a mission that will cost them their lives. As Vladimir plans his strategy, Mitya tells Nina of the destruction of his village and murder of his father by the Nazis. To comfort Mitya, Nina begins to dance for him, but her performance is interrupted by a German soldier. When Olga throws boiling liquid at the soldier, Mitya grabs his rifle and captures him. Vladimir is about to kill the German when Nina cries out, and Semyon convinces him to grant the soldier a trial. Afterward, Nina confides to Semyon that she feels like an outsider and he offers her encouragement. While alone in the hideout the next day, Nina is attacked by the German soldier and she shoots him in self-defense. Her actions win Vladimir's acceptance and admiration, and he invites her to accompany him on a raid to blow up a German ammunition train. After their mission is completed, Vladimir embraces Nina. When she questions his lust for killing Germans, he explains that before the war, he was an engineer who built a great dam which he later was forced to destroy to prevent the Germans from taking it. Nina then comforts Vladimir and makes him promise never to send her away. The two spend the night together in the woods, causing the others to become jealous and angry. When Vladimir learns that he must send a woman through German lines to deliver a message about the strength and location of the German troops, he faces a moral dilemma because of his love for Nina. Vladimir assigns the dangerous mission to Yelena, who leaves camp feeling rejected. As Yelena meets her death along the trail, Nina awakens, sensing danger. Vladimir tells her that she has taught him to love life again but when Yelena's horse returns to his corral with his saddle stained with blood, Nina volunteers to deliver the message. Vladimir sends Mitya to guard her, arranging to meet them at a house in a neighboring village. Their mission is a success and Nina returns with the message "the snow will fall tomorrow." Soon after, German soldiers arrive at the house and arrest Mitya. Upon learning that the boy has been sentenced to hang, Nina begs Vladimir to intercede, but he refuses because they must mobilize the following day. Nina watches helplessly as the Germans put a noose around Mitya's neck, but when he sees her, he meets his death with a smile on his face and defiance on his lips. After Nina tells Olga that her brother died a hero, Vladimir orders her to take the girl to safety, explaining that their mission is to draw the German tanks away from the front and that a little girl has no place there. As members of the group perish in the line of fire, Semyon and Vladimir draw the German tanks to their hideout. At that moment, Nina returns to the group, and with the tanks approaching, she takes the soldier's oath. As Nina swears final victory over the enemy, the burning tanks obliterate their stronghold.