The oldest highway in Siberia, an ancient mail road, connects hundreds of villages and their inhabitants. Khodatskoye is a town established at the crossroads of this highway and the railroad. Political prisoners are allowed to settle here after completing their terms of hard labor as "free exiles," meaning they are no longer prisoners but cannot return to Western Russia. The Soviets have been overthrown here, and Admiral Kolchak, leader of the Whites, is in command. Along the road, the Red partisans, including Liberius Mikulitsin, Tiverzin, and Pasha's father, Antipov, are meeting. In another town, the new conscripts in the White Army are taking part in a farewell party.
Yury has been serving as a conscripted medical officer in the partisan army for two years. He has tried to escape three times but has been captured each time. Liberius likes his company and makes him sleep in his tent, which annoys Yury. They are constantly moving east, trying to drive Kolchak out of Western Siberia, but they often must flee from the Whites.
As a medical officer, Yury is forbidden by international convention to take part in the fighting, but on two occasions he is forced to break this rule. He has no rifle, but when a telephonist is struck down he takes his rifle and fires. He looks at the body of a White guardsman he killed and does not understand why he shot him. He sees that the boy is still alive, having only fainted, and dresses him in the telephonist's clothes and nurses him back to health, releasing him afterward to go back to Kolchak's army.
Yury is sent to see a patient named Palykh Pamphil, who has been suffering from insomnia and headaches. On his way, he is overcome with fatigue and lies down on the grass. He hears people negotiating with envoys from the enemy side. They are planning to hand Liberius over to the enemy. Yury wants to tell someone, but he does not have the opportunity, and later that day the conspiracy is uncovered and the plotters seized. Yury walks on to Pamphil's tent. Pamphil is preparing for a visit from his family, and he cannot sleep because he fears what the White Army will do to his wife and children. He tells Yury that he has been thinking about a man he killed: The young man had climbed up onto a water-barrel to shout slogans, and they had all laughed when he fell into the water, but Pamphil shot him. Yury asks him if he was stationed in Melyuzeyevo, thinking that he was the man who killed Comissar Gintz.
Zhivago sees his imprisonment in abstracted terms because he is not chained or jailed but still cannot escape. He is forced to serve in the army, and he will be killed if he rebels against this order, but he is not treated badly, particularly because Mikulitsin likes him. At the same time, he feels no special loyalty to the Reds, and he even helps to save and release a White soldier.
Yury's captivity forces him to abandon his confused obsession with Lara. He makes little mention of Lara or Tonya, instead concentrating on the tasks directly before him. He finds life in the army difficult, but his constant struggle for survival makes it impossible for him to focus on a definite goal outside of the war. He does not understand precisely what is happening between the two armies--a symptom of the general chaos ensuing during this time of political upheaval in Russia.
In Pamphil, Zhivago sees a man with compassion and humanity who has been driven to kill. He has seen the same instinct in himself, shown when he fired at the Whites because his unit was being attacked, despite international law forbidding his participation in battle. He remembers the killing at Biryuchi Station, and the consciousness that he is now in the presence of the man responsible must bring a new sense of circularity to his perceptions: He has encountered both killers and victims, and he knows them to be only very slightly different from one another in times of war.