03:07 Lt. General Boris Gromov As a Soviet officer, I am pleased by our withdrawal from Afghanistan, because the truth has triumphed, the truth that we fulfilled our duty before the Afghan people
Are we really “occupants”, as many say in the West? Do we live in palaces or in houses of the Afghan people? No, we live in tents, we live in houses which we built with our own hands. We eat food which we bring form the Soviet Union. The only thing we have gratuitously taken from this country is air. The air which we breathe.
04:22 Song (subtitles) ‘Our ordinary combat work’
06:27 Today just like yesterdayWe start our combat.The command has been givenTo fly where there is no heaven.God bless us with luck.We must die but fulfil our task.So we flyThe reckoning is simple and the aims are clear.Let’s have another cigarette.We’ll remain loyal to each other.How else can we live?Truth and lie live side by side.Somewhere nearby death is lurking.We crouch close to the rocks.Turmoil awaits us ahead,It wont end with a simple brawl.God bless us with luck.We must die but fulfil our task.
06:48 Capt Vladimir Kolesnik I am a military pilot of the Soviet Air Force, Vladimir Kolesnik. Before arriving in Afghanistan I only had a general impression from television. Naturally I understood when I was going there that anything could happen to me. Including the possibility I could die there. If not me, it would be someone else.Just as any other Soviet citizen, I came her voluntarily in order to fulfil my duty, the so-called International Duty.
07:31 Pilots have various tasks. That’s why we fly from morning till night.
07:40 The first task is the shielding of the airfields and planes during landing. Then flights delivering food and ammunition to the outposts around Kabul.
08:00 Air reconnaissance by night; the evacuation of wounded.Today for example, I was carrying out a task of searching for caravans or other moving targets. When they are detected, a regular investigation is carried out. If there are no weapons, if it’s a peaceful caravan, nobody touches them. If there are weapons, to be more precise missiles like stinger or blow-pipe, if these weapons are found, we use our weapons.
08:48 Nobody wants sacrifices amongst our people or amongst the Afghans. Our task is to use as few weapons as possible against the opposition, and go back to the homeland with fewer losses.
09:08 Command headquarters - Comrade officers.- Comrade Colonel reporting for duty.
09:23 (subtitles) Information has just come through from Vali-Kalai village. A group of 15 men with PZRK anti-aircraft missiles is moving towards Kabul airport. Their immediate aim is to shoot down a USSR air force plane.
09:52 Control Tower - He’s been absent for 15 minutes.- That guy can’t do a fucking thing without being told- Don’t swear on the squawk box.
10:06 Capt Vladimir Kolesnik As far as pilots in Afghanistan are concerned, they serve a year, unlike tankmen or other units who serve 2 years.
10:16 In carrying out military operations pilots experience emotional and nervous strain. After a flight, it can affect our health. This work involves risks. If one flies every day, it’s possible to have a nervous breakdown.
10:48 Baths (subtitles) - Is there any time left to think about women?- Practically all the time!- Even when you’re flying?- When I’m flying I don’t think about it. But at 2 o’clock in the morning, you start remembering your wife or even your neighbour.- Obviously you’re young.
11:15 Capt Vladimir Kolesnik In the time of war an enemy is an enemy. I shoot him or he shoots me. God forbid if I am shot down I hope my comrades will have time to rescue us from the place we are forced to land or jump with a parachute.
11:37 If not, it means the same fate awaits me as happened to my former comrades.In other words, death, unless the enemy changes in their attitude.I don’t intend to get captured.
11:56 In every society there are people occupied only by their own affairs; they don’t know what is happening in Afghanistan. Once our comrades return from Afghanistan, there are people in our own country who will misunderstand what took place here.Real war is going on here, and a serious war at that.
12:49 Valentina Toronenko (Nurse) I’m Valentina Toronenko. I have been in Afghanistan for 2 years now. My duties are to carry out the doctor’s orders and to be sensitive to our wounded and sick.Sometimes, a word from someone like a sister is better treatment than any injection. We have many lads in the ward that are seriously ill. We lose many of them.When a soldier departs this life, you are drawn to him with all your heart and soul. It’s like a bit of your heart is torn away.We are all close here, we are far from our homeland, so we are like relatives.Afghanistan changes a lot in a person’s character. You know, I have come to understand a lot in my life and in my character. I believe I can overcome what normally would be too great a hardship for a woman.
14:15 Dr Viktor (Hospital)Subtitles Mishca’s operation was complex and difficult.He lost about two litres of blood.The pain will bother him but we’ll do everything to make him feel better.We are leaving all the sophisticated equipment in this hospital to the Afghans, such as the kidney machine, the pressure chamber. This is complex equipment and we can’t say what will happen to it.
Band playing music
15:19 Dr Viktor (Hospital)Subtitles Suleiman Khalifayev was a serious case.He’d been shot at point-blank from a sub-machine gun. During the operation, six bullets were removed. It’s a miracle he survived.
15:37 Suleiman Khalifayev It was a day when the enemy entered the village and fired on the outpost. We were on duty. Me and my friend Habib were in defensive positions… we were laying an ambush.I could sense they were close.When they fired, it was clear they were somewhere close. Then I sat there, with the blood running, lots of it. I was soaking wet. I felt as if I’d been shot time and again. I kept looking and saw something moving out there. It was the dushmans, the same enemy who had shot us.
16:17 I lay down on my back. I looked at them, I couldn’t not look at them. They came and had a look at me first, then my friend. They’d shot him in the chest and he was unconscious. They threw my friend into the water and came over to me.
16:35 Then they cut my finger off.I could feel it.I thought they might cut my head off. I was so scared I didn’t even feel the pain.I’m a Tajik, so I understand their language, but they didn’t ask me anything.They were standing next to me and at that point we had a dog, Pirate, and Alsatian.
17:04 At first, the one who’d shot me wanted to shoot the dog.But the other said that if there was a dog, it meant someone was there.The dog came up, sniffed at me and barked. They left me and went back into the bulrushes. They disappeared, vanished.
17:31 There’s nothing good I can say about Afghanistan. There’s nothing good I can say.I’ve served for two years and I still don’t understand a thing.You can’t understand who are the civilians and who are the enemies.Brother kills brother.- Are you a Muslim?- Yes- Did you ever think they could kill you? After all, there are Tajiks amongst them too.- That’s true, there are. But I didn’t think they were such animals, that they could cut someone up alive, kill like that, throw someone into the water…- Now that you’ve been through all this, nearly died, gone through so much, are you sorry that you served in Afghanistan?- Yes I am.
18:39 HAIRATON, Afghan-Soviet border
18:50 Kommandatura, Army traffic-control unit (subtitles) Start moving
19:05 Snr Lt Sergei Gayduk, This road runs from the Soviet border at Hairaton all the way to Kabul. We call it the road of life.It’s a very ancient road and, in his day, Alexander the Great passed through here, so that this gorge carries his name.
19:21 I’m Seniro Lieutenant Sergei Gadyuk of the Kommandatura, the army traffic control unit. Our task is to escort convoys along the road of life. Another task is the evacuation of wounded servicemen, of which there are many. Danger awaits us the whole length of this route, especially near the Salang Pass and nearer Kabul.
20:18 We control the road during the day, from five in the morning till six in the evening. After six, neither Soviet nor Afghan transport travels on this road because it is controlled by the Mujahideen. Who even during the day come out onto the road armed and carry out their observations and perform their tasks.Today, the road is controlled by two masters.
21:00 Sergei & soldier(subtitles) - Andrei, what happened?- A vehicle from Hairaton was coming. It was evening. The enemy fired from the ruins. The driver was killed. There was a fire.
21:24 Snr Lt Sergei Gayduk, I’ve been in Afghanistan nearly 16 months… . I remember a day in February this year. It was an ordinary day, nothing forewarned of disaster. A Soviet column transporting peaceful cargo set out from Kabul towards Salang.In fifty minutes a signal came that the column was under fire. By the time I arrived, the battle was at its peak. Four officers were already wounded… . Two soldiers and one lieutenant major were killed.
22:11 After we evacuated them to Kabul Central Hospital, the most frightening, upsetting thing happened. The captain, who was still alive when we took him in the APC, was taken out on a stretcher. When the nurse saw that he was dead, she asked, “Why did you bring him here?”At that first moment it was difficult to answer her. When one is in a hurry, in the middle of a battle, one doesn’t think who has to be taken where.The most upsetting thing was when we had to drive our four friends to the Black Tulip, to the morgue.
22:55 MUSIC & DANCING “We’ll never forget our Salang nights!”
24:04 Snr Lt Sergei Gayduk, I never had to take coffins to the Soviet Union, but the hardest thing in our service is a trip such as this. I thought a lot about what the person accompanying the coffin can say to the parents of the guy who died here.No words about fulfilling the International Duty, about fulfilling a human or soldier’s duty will replace the lost son in a mother’s heart. This is the hardest thing for us.In the Soviet army, the Third Toast is silent and traditionally reserved for comrades killed in action.
25:28 TANK (subtitles) Now we’re going through Charikar.The stretch from here to Kabul is the most dangerous on the road
25:42 MUSIC [driving along road in tank]
27:18 TANK (subtitles) They’re shooting over there.Get inside!
27:48 Congratulations, comrade Americans. You were born lucky!A missile passed right in front of our APC. If they’d hit us, I don’t think anyone would have seen this film.
28:15 SPETSNAZ [v/o] Spetsnaz, the most elite and secretive unit in the Soviet Armed Forces. This is the first time they’ve ever been filmed by a Western crew.
28:29 Our main task has been the detection of launching grounds for land-to-land missiles aimed at Kabul and the prevention of armed caravans from Pakistan and Iran entering Afghanistan. Also the destruction of enemy guerrilla groups in their base camps.
28:55 Soldier We destroy the caravans which bring death to Kabul.
29:01 Soldier In the West they often show films, interesting, funny films like Rambo, where they always show supermen of some sort. It’s ridiculous, it’s fantasy. Amongst us, all guys are the same. We’re not at all like the images of supermen.
29:32 V/O Everybody here, the commanding and private staff, serves voluntarily.
29:37 Soldier The entire Soviet Union is represented here: Ukraine, Moldovia, Russian Federation, Siberia, Kazakhstan, Dagestan, Armenia, Georgia. What can I tell you about these guys? We are one in our collective. In the face of war we are all equal, irrespective of our nationality, our religious persuasion, our blood.
30:10 The Afghan Army, the Afghan Government Army, is of course not very strong. In comparison with our army, it’s not very well prepared. It’s still raw.
30:28 Soldier What is the worth of a soldier who goes into battle behind other people’s backs? In this case, our backs?
30:47 Soldier When I was a civilian, I got to know about Afghanistan. I decided to check it out for myself. I started training, started doing sport, working on stamina. When I got to Afghanistan, I decided to test myself in action. Because here everybody is testing himself for manhood. It’s natural. I was a young man and wanted to feel the weight of ammunition, to swagger on the mountains, to feel danger with every bit of my body. Now I don’t want it anymore. I’m damned fed up with fighting. I want to go home.
32:42 We often have to confront the enemy face-to-face, while other units only see the consequence of their work. They fire rockets, artillery. They don’t know what the face of a dushman in a turban coming towards you looks like, where it’s a matter of either I kill him or he kills me.Many of us in the Army have had to confront the fact that we have to shoot people instead of targets… . We have to kill. This is not natural for us. We are all going back to civilian life and I think that Afgan will remain like a nightmare in our memories.
33:51 The sooner they send us home, the better.
34:05 Commanding Officer? The one thing that service in Afgan taught the guys here is that, in the next 20 or 30 years, throughout their whole lives, they’ll never forget each other. I think people who served in the Army or in Vietnam or any war, who experienced what we’ve experienced here, will understand me perfectly well.
35:25 All of you know what potential a well-developed army has. We have the same means as the US, Great Britain or West Germany. And if we decided to aim for a more thorough destruction of a party which was not to our liking, then we could have done it.
35:59 We know very well that, two years ago, you were with the bandits, where you were making an almost identical film about Afghanistan, but through the enemy’s eyes. Had we stopped an armed caravan and you gave yourselves up, we would have imprisoned you and handed you over to the People’s Army. If you had resisted, we would have eliminated you.
36:44 Half a year ago, one of our groups got ambushed by the enemy. Thr group was under the command of a comrade well known to us. Only four people survived. We saw photos of what was done to them. Imagine, heads were cut off, limbs were cut off.They drove screw-drivers and knives into the bodies… they gouged out their eyes.The first reaction you feel when a friend dies is to avenge him, to unload a whole clip of your machine-gun into the enemy. Then revenge is replaced by other feelings. One can kill a person in battle, but to torture them… . It’s truly bestial. It’s incomprehensible.
38:10 Soldier In Afgan, our country lost more than 13,000 dead. It’s a lot of grief, a lot of grief for our mothers, grief for our entire people.
38:24 Soldier Personally, I don’t understand the need for any war. Why thousands, millions of people should be lost, for the sake of what? This is their country, they have many parties, they can sort themselves out, figure out how to live their own lives… they can choose the government they want. Our presence here can be considered a mistake.
38:57 RADIO DJ (subtitles) - Here’s a song, a 1987 hit. Is “hit” right?
39:10 SONG The moon looks at the Muslim East.We are fighting the Pakistani night.We are silently taking stock.There is wind and foul waterIn the dreary desert.Afgan, I will never forget you,Until I get to my grave.We drank and started talking,About the weaker sex and war.The devil raised his drunken snout.If only we had one woman to go round.I’m full of vital masculinity.I’d like to poke it, but where?Afgan, I will never forget you,Until I get to my grave.The mountains shimmer blue.Hepatitis has a yellow stare.We’ve written many cheques, It’ll take years to pay them off.I’ll be glad if I don’t get killed.It’s my gain and my years.Afgan, I will never forget you,Until I get to my grave.
Photography: Alexander Lindsay
Editor: Jeremy Gibbs
Sound Recordist: Walli Jang
Sound Editor: Mike Akester
Dubbing Mixer: Richard King
Assistant Producer: Michael Evstafiev
Production Assistant: Angela Conti
Assistant Editor: John Edmiston
Executive Producer: John Gau
Produced & Directed by: Jeff B. Harmon
A DUCE Films International Ltd Production for Channel Four © 1989