Реферат: The Impact of the Afghan War on soviet soldiers

Реферат: The Impact of the Afghan War on soviet soldiers

The impact of the Afghan War on soviet soldiers.

Defense of the Socialist Motherland is the sacred duty of every citizen of

the USSR.

Article 62, Soviet 1977 Constitution

Soviet invasion in Afghanistan started in December 1979, when the first

military troops crossed the Afghan border. Only at the time of ‘perestroyka’,

in the year 1988, Gorbachov, the leader of Politburo - start the process of

withdrawing military troops from the territory of Afghanistan. Between 1979

and 1988, about 15,000 soldiers were killed, and many others were wounded.

Gorbachov wanted to stop that war. He stopped it as a historical fact. But

did he stop that war inside the hearts of thousands of veterans who came back

to their homes? Did he prevent the negative impact of that war on soldiers’

lives? The answer is simple - no. My essay will give evidence in support of

this opinion.

The Afghan War changed many people’s lives in the USSR. Still, in present-day

Russia, the consequences of that war are appeared. The greatest impact of the

Afghan War can be seen on the people who were there - soldiers who had to

serve in Afghanistan and fulfill their ‘international duty’. The war for

which there was no need, had destroyed many soldiers’ lives. Fifteen thousand

of them had been killed, and many others had been injured, some having become

invalids, unneeded to the government who had sent them to that war, and to

the people who were not in the war. Every single young man who went to

Afghanistan continued his life differently from the people who had never been

there. The effect was due not merely to a war, but to the whole system of the

ex-USSR. In my essay I will try to describe both of these effects on

soldiers’ lives.

The new life for the eighteen year old boys began when they graduated from high

school. Some of them became recruits during the spring draft, others during the

fall draft. Recruits bound for Afghanistan would receive 8-10 weeks’ training

before being sent to their units.[1] From

that moment they became subject to the subordination of officers through the

formal channels of authority, and the informal of dedovshina

(discrimination by the older soldiers). Newcomers were kept in line, while being

beaten. This continued until the new soldiers agreed to acquiesce.

[2] That was just the beginning of soldiers’ lives, being sent to the war

they all experienced in very different ways. The impact of fighting and the

experience of killing, dedovshina, an alien military institution, and

an alien land changed the characters and lives of the soldiers before they

returned home. ‘We were in an alien land. And why were we there? To this

day, for some, it doesn’t matter.[3]

War in Afghanistan was not exclusively a male war. Many of the women who

volunteered to served in Afghanistan were nurses, others filled a variety of

support or nurture roles (as cooks, for example). The rest were involved in

paperwork or communication. For these in Afghanistan women the main problem

became men. They attracted soldiers in Afghanistan not only as sex objects but

also as mother figures.[4] Often women

were raped by soldiers who had been sent to Afghanistan instead of going to

prison. Thus in the Soviet patriarchal society the belief that women who served

in Afghanistan were whores or prostitutes took root. Here, a woman who had

served in Afghanistan describes her feelings:

You fulfilled your international duty in a bed’... My mother proudly

announced to her friends: ‘My daughter was in Afghanistan.’ My naive mother! I

want to write to her: ‘Mother, be quiet or you’ll hear people say your daughter

is a prostitute.[5]

After coming home, soldiers organized the form of a community that they had been

accustomed to in Afghanistan, with their own customs and jargon. Coming back to

normal life was enormously difficult for them, because of the reasons that I

will explain in next paragraph. Thus, from the beginning they separated

themselves from the surrounding society. Many veterans became members of Mafia

groups. The lives of the returning soldiers differed from each other, but on

one point it was the same for every veteran: they could not live normal lives

in society, as they would have without having experienced the war. In the words

of a veteran who had served in Afghanistan: ‘You never really come home.


One of the main reason for veterans holding back from society was that civilians

met soldiers coming back to homes without honor. Forty-six percent of civilians

said that the Afghan war was a Russian national shame, and only 6% of them said

that they were proud of their soldiers who had fulfilled their international

duty in Afghanistan.[7] Veterans felt that

their efforts and endurance had not been wholly in vain. Often veterans became

the object of criticism by media and public opinion. People thought that the

war had made warriors of the men, and, in fear, kept away from veterans. The

media blamed them - not the government - for taking part in the war and partly

for losing it. Thus, after coming back, soldiers started to look with new eyes

upon the society that had sent them to their death. While they had been in

Afghanistan, the public and media had expressed contempt for the soldiers;

after they returned, this sentiment only increased.

Disrespect to the people and to the governmental system became common among

soldiers who were experiencing discrimination after having fulfilled their

duty. This situation galvanized potential men, unhappy with their political

system into striking. During the putsch of 1991, many veterans supported

Mayor Sobchak, who supported the putsch against the new democratic government

in Leningrad.

The long-term impact, and one of the most terrible consequences of the Afghan

War, was the addiction of soldiers to alcohol and drugs. Death, drinking, and

drugs became part of the veterans’ lives forever. Drugs were essential to the

survival of the soldiers. Drugs helped them to carry 40 kilos of ammunition up

and down the mountains, to overcome depression after their friends’ deaths, to

prevail over the fear of death. Drugs and alcohol became the usual procedure of

self-medication when other options were denied. The abuse of drugs created a

generation of drug and alcohol addicts. According to the official reports of

the Russian Department of Health Services, 40 millions medically certified

alcoholics in 1985 were registered. Consumption of alcohol had increased 20,4%

from its consumption in 1950-79.[8] If

these were official reports then it is possible that they were only a part of

truth, and another part is like the bottom part of an iceberg - it cannot be


There wasn’t a single person among us who did not try drugs in Afghanistan.

You needed relaxation there, or you went out of your mind.

Veteran of Afghan War[9]

Coming back home, veterans found employment in many different fields, from

driving buses to banking. But most of them started to work on the field which

was closest to what they had done in Afghanistan. Emergency services such as

the firemen, militia and rescue departments had a shortage of workers at that

time and many of the Afghan veterans continued to work there. Finding a job

was one of the privileges which the government gave to the veterans. This was

maybe the only privilege which was really fulfilled. But this was a strategic

maneuver for the Soviet government: to prevent veterans from assuming

employment in the Union of Afghan War Veterans Society. The government was

afraid of this Union because it united the most dangerous and prepared

warriors in Russia.

Another major impact of the Afghan war on soldiers lives’ was injuries and

mental disorders. ‘Most of us came home. Only we all came home differently.

Some of us on crutches, some of us with gray hair, many in zinc coffins.

[10] Although a medical service was established on a modern and highly

effective level ( 93% of the troops received initial medical aid within 30

minutes and the attention of a specialized doctor within six hours), many

soldiers became invalids during the war. Fifty thousand soldiers were wounded

in action, of whom 11,371 became invalids and were unable to return to work,

while 1,479 veterans received the most serious category of disability.

[11] These veterans were unable to continue working and leading normal

lives. These circumstances forced them to live on the earnings of their family

members and on the governments’ invalid benefit. But even these benefits were

paid inconstantly and were extremely low. One of the privileges which

Afghanistan veterans received was a flat in a newly built house. In the Soviet

Russian system, which recognized no private ownership of property, every single

citizen had to wait in a line of thousands of people before getting a flat.

Afghanistan veterans were put at the beginning of that line, but corruption in

the Russian bureaucracy had widened the process of granting new flats to the

invalids and veterans. Thus when the free market economy was established in

Russia and all the lines for the flats were canceled, people had to buy them

with their own money, and many veterans and invalids of the Afghan War remained

without their flats. Thus the bureaucratic system in Russia had left most of

the veterans without their privileges and benefits.

One mother wrote in the letter to Politburo ‘Why did you ruin my son, why did

you spoil his mind and his soul?’.[12]

While physical disability was relatively easy to prove and to cure, the

psychological damage was far more complicated to diagnosis and to treat. Modern

counter-insurgency wars involve a particularly high incidence of psychological

damage; generally Post-Traumatic stress disorders, symptoms which include

flashbacks, emotional numbness, withdrawal, jumpy hyperalertness or

over-compensatory extroversion. This was caused partly because of the critical

stresses of combat and injury. In most cases mental disorders were caused by

unclear front-line zones. Soldiers had experienced mostly ‘road war’ without

clear front-line meant that no place was safe. Soldiers were always ready for

the battle alarm; there was no time to rest. ‘Knowing their terrain well,

the resistance fighters can move with ease at night and night vision equipment

would enable them to train accurately their weapons on enemy targets...

[13] And how could soldiers relax, knowing that an unguided rocket could

penetrate almost all security perimeters, that even a ten year old boy could

carry and use a pistol or a grenade? One veteran recalled:

...the leading vehicle broke down. The driver got out and lifted the bonnet -

and the boy, about ten years old, rushed out and stabbed him in the back... We

turned the boy into a sieve.

Veteran of Afghan War[14]

Another historical testament to that violence was found in a different source:

...in early May 1981 they killed a number of children in the village of

Kalakan, the stronghold of SAMA. The Russian soldiers were stated to have said,

‘When the children grow up they take up arms against us’...’


How can people who killed a ten year old boy live normally after coming back

to the motherland? Without safe place, restless - these circumstances may

cause a healthy adult to become mentally imbalanced. What can it do to

nineteen year old boys, who had been drafted just after finishing their

school and who had not seen life yet? They can easily lose their minds. But

psychological disorders became classified adequately to the status of invalid

only later. Yet, no category of invalidity was given to that disability.

Thus, mentally sick veterans had to live almost entirely on support from

friends and family. In this way the government ignored the impact of the war,

which was started by its decree, on soldiers’ lives.

In a normal society the killing of another man is not permitted; killers receive

the death penalty. During the war this situation had been changed and in

Afghanistan soldiers had received a license to kill their enemies, who were

also human beings. With a machine-gun soldiers received the power of life and

death and the feeling of authority to do what they wished became common among

Russian soldiers in Afghanistan. Problems ensued when soldiers were unable to

overcome that feeling once they has left their guns behind. Some soldiers,

unable to square the demands of war with the demands of their conscience, were

stamped with amorality. Others became compulsively violent. ‘...they killed

thirty-one villages, slaying them inside mosques, in lanes, or inside their

homes.[16] These

circumstances created another impact of the Afghan War. By the end of 1989,

about 3,000 veterans were in prisons for criminal offenses, while another 2,540

soldiers were imprisoned for crimes committed while serving in Afghanistan.

[17] Thus the Afghan War created criminals who were trained to kill. Among

the crimes committed by soldiers in Afghanistan, the most common were

hooliganism 12,6%, rape 11,8%, theft of personal property 12,4%, robbery 11,9%

and murder 8,4% (these percentages were taken from the total number of 2,540

soldiers convicted of crime).[18]

Thus the war had affected all of the soldiers who experienced it. Some became

criminals, others became invalids without any actual support from the

government. The rest had to face the psychological impact of the war, which was

called as ‘afghan syndrome’ by the media. Most of these people decided to

dedicate their lives to helping the victims of the Afghan War. In Leningrad,

several organizations were created with the aim to aid physical and

psychological victims of the war. LAVVA (Leningrad Association of Veterans of

the War in Afghanistan), ‘K sovesti’ Leningrad Information-Publication

Organization, ‘Modul’ Cultural-Leisure Center for Veterans of the

Foreign War Association - these are just a few of many organizations created

throughout the USSR.[19] Left and

unsupported by the government, these organizations aimed to provide extra

facilities for the treatment of injured veterans, to compensate veterans fully

or partly for the expenses of necessary treatment, to develop sports for

invalid and to force the government to support the invalids’ rights.

Thus the experience of the Afghan War had a twofold impact on soldiers’

lives: first, the impact of the war itself and second, the impact of

returning to a peaceful life after the war. In the words of one veteran:

What did the war give to us? Thousands of mothers who lost sons, thousands of

cripples, thousands of torn-up lives.[20]

While in Afghanistan, soldiers experienced discrimination by the older

soldiers and by the officers. The foreign land, the experience of fighting,

the death of friends, the highly difficult conditions of living, and the

absence of a stimulus to fighting made most of the soldiers addicted to drugs

and alcohol. Drugs became an easy source of relaxation because Afghanistan is

one of the biggest suppliers of marijuana on the black market.

The term ‘lost generation’ can be applied towards the veterans of the Afghan

War. This war had created a generation of alcoholics and drug addicts. It

also made many young people invalids unable to work and to earn money on

their own. The other ‘creation’ of the war in Afghanistan was the increased

rate of violence and immoral behavior among soldiers and veterans of the war.

These circumstances had made criminals out of 19 year old boys.

Discrimination by the public opinion and media, and the unwillingness of the

government to help victims of the war even increased the number of criminals,

alcoholics and drug addicts among the veterans of the Afghan war.


[1] Vladislav Tamarov, Afghanistan:

Soviet Vietnam (San Francisco: Mercury House, 1992), p.156.

[2] Mark Galeotti, Afghanistan: The

Soviet Union’s Last War (London: Bookcraft (Bath) Ltd., Midsomer

Norton, 1995), p.35.

[3] Vladislav Tamarov, Afghanistan: Soviet Vietnam , p.64.

[4] Mark Galeotti, Afghanistan: The Soviet Union’s Last War , p.41.

[5] Mark Galeotti, Afghanistan: The Soviet Union’s Last War , p.41.

[6] Mark Galeotti, Afghanistan: The Soviet Union’s Last War , p.45.

[7] Mark Galeotti, Afghanistan: The Soviet Union’s Last War , p.47.

[8] Mark Galeotti, Afghanistan: The Soviet Union’s Last War , p.51.

[9] Mark Galeotti, Afghanistan: The Soviet Union’s Last War , p.52.

[10] Vladislav Tamarov, Afghanistan: Soviet Vietnam , p.164.

[11] Mark Galeotti, Afghanistan: The Soviet Union’s Last War , p.68.

[12] Diego Cordovez, Selig S. Harrison,

Out of Afghanistan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, Inc., 1995), p.247.

[13] Nasir Shansab, Soviet

Expansion in the Third World (Maryland: Silver Spring, 1986), p.171.

[14] Mark Galeotti, Afghanistan: The Soviet Union’s Last War , p.69.

[15] M. Hassan Kakar, Afghanistan

(Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1995), p.241.

[16] M. Hassan Kakar, Afghanistan , p.241.

[17] Mark Galeotti, Afghanistan: The Soviet Union’s Last War , p.71.

[18] Mark Galeotti, Afghanistan: The Soviet Union’s Last War , p.72.

[19] Mark Galeotti, Afghanistan: The Soviet Union’s Last War , p.81.

[20] Vladislav Tamarov, Afghanistan: Soviet Vietnam , p.164.

Evaluation of the historical sources:

The book Afghanistan: The Soviet Union’s Last War by Mark

Galeotti were used a number of materials written both in English and in

Russian. Mostly the references I have used were taken by the author from

articles from newspapers with the interviewees of veterans. I count this

source of information as reliable because the author showed the point of view

on the Afghan War of both veterans of Soviet military forces and from the

United States, which supported Afghanistan during that war.

Afghanistan: Soviet Vietnam was written by a Soviet veteran who

served in Afghanistan for two years. Of course he supported the Soviet’s

military forces, so I used this source only to show the general mood of

soldiers during the Afghan War. The author’s personal opinion was taken for


Afghanistan, by Hassan Hakar, showed the Afghan War from the

Afghan side. This source was predisposed against the Soviets, so I used it to

show the other side of soldiers’ characters - the violence and murders of the

civilian population of Afghanistan. This source would be not reliable if the

facts were not proven by the other sources I used.

Out of Afghanistan, by Diego Cordovez and Selig S. Harrison, was

interesting because it supported both sides of the Afghan War with historical

facts and documents. The book’s facts were based on official documents of both

the Soviet and the Afghan governments. This source gave me a whole, truthful

picture of what happened in Afghanistan. According to this information I built

my opinion of what was the real impact of the Afghan War on the personal lives

of soldiers while they were serving in Afghanistan.

Soviet Expansion in the Third World by Nasir Shansab, whose

nationality is afghan, was useful because showed the tragedy of afghan people

without insulting the Soviet military forces. It also showed the Afghan army’s

dangerous force of resistance.

All these books after critical analysis gave me the information needed for my



1. Vladislav Tamarov, Afghanistan: Soviet Vietnam (San

Francisco: Mercury House, 1992)

2. Mark Galeotti, Afghanistan: The Soviet Union’s Last War

(London: Bookcraft (Bath) Ltd., Midsomer Norton, 1995)

3. M. Hassan Kakar, Afghanistan (Los Angeles: University of

California Press, 1995)

4. Nasir Shansab, Soviet Expansion in the Third World

(Maryland: Silver Spring, 1986)

5. Diego Cordovez, Selig S. Harrison, Out of Afghanistan

(Oxford: Oxford University Press, Inc., 1995)

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