Moscow

Like television's Lone Ranger, Lt. Medvedev had just one bullet left in his pistol as he crawled toward the house on the hill. Inside, two heavily armed bandits were keeping the posse at bay, waiting for nightfall to flee into nearby woods.

But Medvedev reached the house unnoticed. Hurling himself through a window, he used the bullet to kill one bandit, then wrestled the other to the ground. The government newspaper Izvestia said three other persons were killed and an unspecified number of others injured in the Wild West manhunt recently in Usurisk, in the Soviet Far East.

Consider an account in the newspaper Trud about gangsters in Kazan, in central Russia. Armed with crowbars, they would lure unsuspecting, prosperous-looking travelers arriving at the Kazan Airport or railway station into a small sedan, drive the victim to a secluded spot and murder him or her. The gangsters would take everything of value they could find, including the victim's clothes.

Or consider a less serious, but personal experience. Two knife-wielding Soviet youths held my 12-year-old son a few weeks ago in the middle of the day and forced him to give up his Finnish-made hockey stick.

Such incidents were not known here 20 years ago.

When hooliganism and violence first appeared about 10 years ago, the Soviet media rarely acknowledged their existence. Now hardly a day goes by without press accounts of violent crimes or grisly murders.

One particularly coldblooded murder, reported two weeks ago, has produced a flood of letters to the editor of the daily Sovetskaya Rossiya.

"Isn't it better to keep quiet about such things?" some readers were quoted as asking. But others, according to the paper, discussed "the acuteness of social problems" that loom large behind each crime and provide deeper insights into Soviet life, especially drunkenness, boredom and rising expectations among younger generations.

One especially sadistic incident was reported at length in the newspaper Literaturnaya Gazeta, illuminating the boredom of today's rural youths.

It was New Year's, and the teen-agers of the village of Bakhmuta loitered on the street looking for girls. With nothing else to do, they looked for trouble to liven up the day. Someone suggested a trip to Stupki, a village nearby.

Going to a rival village is dangerous business because the local beauties are jealously guarded. But the proposal was adopted enthusiastically as it held the hopes of changing the monotony of life.

When the youths approached the village they found the Stupki teen-agers, armed with crowbars, waiting for them.

Heavily outnumbered, the Bakhmuta group was trounced. Most of them suffered cuts and bruises, one had his head smashed, and two lost an unspecified number of teeth.

The Bakhmutans swore vengeance. They elected as their leader a 17-year-old who had not taken part in the fight. Ten days later, armed with iron bars and molotov cocktails, they sneaked up on Stupki in the evening. As they approached, about 60 youths were attending a dance at the village club house.

The attackers approached the club house, hurled molotov cocktails inside and cut off electricity. The building caught fire. The dancers scrambled for the exit where the attackers beat them back inside with their iron bars. Amid screams of young people whose hair and clothes caught fire, the attackers withdrew, threw their weapons into the river, then set the bridge on fire to prevent an angry village posse from giving chase. Twenty young persons were severely burned.

Trying to discover what had prompted such cruelty, the newspaper sent a reporter to talk to members of the Bakhmutan gang in jail. Not one showed remorse.

The moral of the story, according to Literaturnaya Gazeta, is that the crime problem--in contrast to the view held by the previous generation--cannot be resolved by decree. Youth instead has to be inspired.

Another grisly tale raised the same issue from a different perspective. According to Sovetskaya Rossiya, a teen-age youth named Kotov killed his mother in Moscow recently apparently because she was a hard drinker.

The murder was carefully prepared, the newspaper said. Kotov and a friend got Mrs. Kotov drunk one evening, then offered to take her along to a party where more drinking was expected. Dressed in her Sunday best, she was led by the two teen-agers to the Moscow dump, where the son hit his mother over the head with a heavy hammer.

Her body was discovered months later. Because she was without work, authorities did not notice her disappearance. The son told neighbors that his mother had gone to live with relatives in a village.

Although the murder was described in a series of two articles, the reasons for Kotov's action remain obscure. Rather, the articles' focus seemed to be on the good work of local police in solving the murder in as large a city as Moscow.

Other reports suggest that much unhappiness among youths is caused by the desire of the people to improve their living standards.

The newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda reported at length the case of a teen-age girl who was said to have contributed to her mother's death.

The girl, Galya, came from a broken home. Her father had left his wife for another woman. The father was rich, the paper said. The mother was poor. Galya did not mind the poverty of her mother's home until Galya fell in love with a boy in her class. But the boy liked another girl who wore expensive boots, gold earrings and had an Afghan dog.

Galya's mother, who suffered from a heart ailment, could not buy such things for her daughter. They argued. Galya at first thought of suicide, but then decided that if she moved in with her father she would be able to obtain the things her rival possessed. The day Galya carried out her plan, her mother died from a heart attack.

One often hears people here 35 or older complaining about the new generation. Young people are described as cruel and selfish and failing to appreciate the achievements of the past decades.

The young, on the other hand, do not remember the decades of tight budgets when their parents had to endure privations. As a young worker said, recently, "I am sick and tired of all this. Man has walked on the moon, and we are still comparing ourselves to the year 1913," the last year for which statistics from czarist Russia are available.

But it is clear that society is beginning to show strain and that the rising crime rate may be linked to the emergence here among young people of a new "me generation" attitude. They expect their elders to live up to the rhetorical commitment to consumerism and a better life.