Horror Stories of War in Afghanistan Related by Soviet Veterans

From Associated Press

A Soviet newspaper this week published two Soviet veterans’ accounts of Red Army soldiers beating prisoners, trading submachine guns for Soviet turncoats and barely surviving attacks by their own helicopters.

The daring weekly Moscow News carried the war stories by Valery Abramov and Ruslan Umiyev under the headline, “The Whole Truth has to be Told About this War!”

Over the last year, the Soviet press has questioned the leadership’s decision to invade Afghanistan in 1979, but it stayed away from criticizing how the war itself was run.


Human rights activist Andrei D. Sakharov came under public and official attack at the Congress of People’s Deputies last month for claiming that Soviet pilots were ordered to kill Soviet soldiers who were likely to be captured by Afghan guerrillas.

Abramov told Moscow News that Sakharov’s claim that Soviet soldiers killed each other could have been based on a confused firefight he witnessed in June, 1980, in Faizabad.

“The guerrillas’ fire was driving us into the ground. Suddenly, our helicopters appeared and started to strafe our own battalions,” Abramov wrote.

“It was some kind of hell,” he said. The shooting stopped, he said, after officers apparently understood their mistake.

Umiyev, who served in Afghanistan from 1985 to 1987, said he, too, saw Soviet fliers mistakenly attack their own troops, adding: “It was quite a mess there. Why should we be silent about it?”

Recounting “incidents that are shameful to recall,” Abramov described how two Afghan prisoners suspected of being guerrillas were brought into his camp.

“We already had people killed and missing,” he said. “Lost friends . . . and we unleashed all our accumulated pain on those two. We beat them all night, with short breaks. I, too, tried to beat them as painfully as I could. It seemed as if they were to blame for the deaths of our soldiers. And in the morning, it turned out they were peaceful inhabitants who had never participated in any battles.”

Umiyev told Moscow News the official silence should also be broken about all the Soviet soldiers in Afghanistan who went over to the other side.

Soviet units often would exchange three guerrillas or 10 submachine guns for the chance to get their hands on such turncoats, he said.

His unit traded for one such soldier who reportedly had served six years as a grenade launcher with the guerrillas, Umiyev said.

“We tried him right on the square,” he said. “Anyone could ask him questions. He was silent and cried. They gave him eight years. We were all mad that they gave him so little.”

The national legislature, the Supreme Soviet, is evaluating the decision to invade Afghanistan and is scheduled to report its findings in October.

The Soviet army completed its pullout from Afghanistan in February. An estimated 15,000 Soviet soldiers and 1 million Afghans died during the war.