Libmonster ID: UK-1427


Soviet military translators Keywords:AfghanistanМали

Oleg Kuzmin, a student who had just graduated from the third to fourth year of the ISAA of Moscow State University, where he studied Dari and Pashto, was invited to Staraya Ploshchad in Moscow in the late summer of 1979. The instructor of the CPSU Central Committee announced the decision to send him to the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan as an interpreter.

What is your opinion on this issue?" The instructor asked me politely. "Of course, yes!" was the reply. How different could it be? After all, I was and still am an orientalist, at that time I was studying the languages of Afghanistan and dreamed of seeing this country.

Together with me, five other fellow students from our language group were sent to different provinces of Afghanistan. I was going to work in Ghazni.


In Kabul, where we arrived in early September, I was introduced to an adviser to whom I was "attached" as an interpreter. It was the second secretary of one of the district committees of a regional city in western Russia.

The situation in the city was calm. Local residents received Soviet people - "Shuravi" - in a brotherly way. Soon we were sent from the capital to the city of Ghazni with a population of about 60-70 thousand people, about 120-140 km southwest of Kabul. The road leading to this provincial center from the capital is a serpentine road that stretches first through the mountains, then down into the valleys,and then back into the mountains.

At the airport, we were put on board an old An - 2 along with a group of Afghan civilians and military personnel. It was on this "heavenly slow-moving vehicle" in the sky over Ghazni that I received, if I may say so, my baptism of fire.

The plane was flying about five hundred meters above the road, using it as a reference point. Half an hour later, I saw through the porthole a column of military vehicles on the road below. The Afghan pilot looked out and shouted over the roar of the engine, " Hold on tight!" There were no seat belts on the plane, so we grabbed the iron benches attached to the sides where we were sitting. The AN-2 went down sharply.

Then the co-pilot appeared in the cabin with a huge, as it seemed to me, machine gun-DShK. The pilot opened the door of the plane, stuck out the barrel of a machine gun and began to pour long bursts at some targets below. I shot off all the ammunition, then reloaded the DShK and opened fire again, while the plane made large circles over the road.

The noise in the cabin was monstrous, and the old biplane was shaking as if it had caught malaria. Finally, the shooting ended, and the AN-2 gained altitude again. I asked the co-pilot what was the matter? He explained: "Our column was going to Ghazni, and it was attacked by the Ikhwanyun detachment" (the Muslim Brotherhood is radical Islamists, like the Taliban now).

We reached Ghazni safely. We were met and settled in the provincial governor's residence, on the outskirts of the city, not far from the airfield. Everywhere you look , there is arid land, deserted valleys, low mountains, almost no greenery, only small tree plantings around the cities.

Ghazni is one of the typical Afghan provinces, and the local population is engaged in agriculture - to the extent that the local harsh nature allows them. Ghazni is also a kind of transshipment base for nomadic tribes that move cattle, depending on the season, from Pakistan to Afghanistan and back.

The majority of the population is Pashtun. Over time, I became more familiar with many of the members of this tribe, and I began to respect them sincerely. By nature, they are open, true to their word, appreciate friendship, but God forbid to treat them unfairly-Pashtuns do not forget their grievances and seek revenge on the offender.

Our living conditions were close to Spartan. The residence of the local governor was not a palace at all - an ordinary Ghazni Afghan house, only a large, two-story one. There are ten rooms on each floor. There was a high wall around it, a small courtyard inside, a couple of trees, a well, and a small vegetable garden where vegetables were grown - rather stunted.

We had lunch and dinner together with the governor. He had no sons, his brother served elsewhere, and women did not enter the men's quarters. Both lunches and dinners were very modest: a small cup of thin soup without meat, for the second - rice and separately to it an additive - a small saucer with meat, one for all. There are a maximum of two thumb-sized pieces for each person. Finally, fermented dairy products with herbs and tea with a couple of "cookies". That's all. Later I learned that such a "diet" is typical for an Afghan official, and not from small ones.

Often after this meagre meal, the councilor would call me to see her-

Continuation. For the beginning, see: Asia and Africa today. 2013, N 2.

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be in the room to continue the feast. We took out canned goods brought from Moscow, cut up smoked sausage, and the adviser poured himself and me into glasses of alcohol, which he brought in huge quantities as a gift from a friend-the director of a local distillery.

The work was as follows: my adviser and I visited various party organizations in the morning and afternoon, including military units and local militia units of Tsarandoy. There, the adviser spoke to the command staff, and I translated. The lectures were on Marxism-Leninism, political economy, and Marxist-Leninist philosophy. He took the material from various textbooks, sometimes even school textbooks - "for greater clarity and better perception." And in the evenings, I translated it all, swearing softly, trying to find words that would be understandable to the Afghans-yesterday's illiterate peasants. I was convinced that they didn't understand anything they were trying to teach them. But they were all quiet, and seemed content to get at least a little respite from their hard work in the fields and at home.

The adviser soon realized that there was no point in speaking Russian himself and waiting for a translation. Therefore, he instructed me to conduct lectures independently. I droned on another of his opuses that I had translated, and my listeners smoked delicately into their fists and whispered softly about something of their own. We did not interfere with each other, and each time they thanked me warmly, and the next day it was all over again. There were never any questions...

Usually after lunch, the adviser talked with local party activists of the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA-then the ruling and only party in Afghanistan). They tried to analyze in detail the activities of a particular party cell in each of the counties and volosts of the province. The adviser gave "valuable instructions" on party matters, and I translated them. He focused on "teaching the Afghan comrades how to carry out party work among the masses, how to attract ever-larger sections of the working peasantry and artisans to the PDPA's side." In my opinion, it was just another chimera. The adviser himself knew absolutely nothing about this country before coming to Afghanistan. To be honest, even before I arrived there, I hardly understood how the Afghan peasants lived, what they thought, what they wanted.

The Soviet Union had many first-class specialists in Afghanistan-scientists, military personnel, diplomats, and country experts-and the long history of traditionally good-neighborly relations between the two countries contributed to this. But they also sent figures like my boss to Afghanistan-people who were not exactly "gray", but who were not suitable for this task.

...With the intensification of military operations, the work began to take on more and more the nature of compiling reports of a paramilitary nature: how many party members were killed, how many defected to the enemy, etc.

When we arrived in Afghanistan, Nur Mohammad Taraki was in power in the country. He soon left for Cuba for a summit of the Non-Aligned Movement. After Havana, on the way home, Taraki stopped in Moscow, where he was warmly received by Leonid Brezhnev, who kissed him on both cheeks. However, shortly after returning to Kabul, he was overthrown by Hafizullah Amin, who immediately declared his former ally a "traitor" and an " American spy." Taraki was soon strangled in prison on Amin's orders.

Taraki belonged to a cohort of romantic and idealistic revolutionaries, somewhat similar to Che Guevara. Amin, on the other hand, was a tough pragmatist, and an adventurer by nature. Circulars were urgently sent to all the provinces of the country claiming that Taraki was a spy.

As it happens, my adviser and I were in the same room as the provincial governor when he was informed of the coup. The governor sank heavily into a chair, dropped his head in his hands, and began to sob. Through his tears he said: "It was only our far-sighted comrade Hafizullah Amin who could see a traitor and a spy in such a person." He, poor fellow, thought, as it turned out later, that the coup took place with Soviet help and on the instructions of the Kremlin.

Meanwhile, the Mujahideen, whom Afghans loyal to the PDPA regime have always referred to simply as "dushmans" ("enemies"), have stepped up their activities. A machine gun was placed on the roof of the governor's residence, and a German-made armored personnel carrier from the Second World War was installed in the courtyard. Several soldiers were constantly on duty near it. They served very poorly, sunning themselves in the yard, loafing around. Thank God, it didn't come to clashes with Dushmans - our guards would have just run away.

We were soon joined by another KGB adviser and his interpreter, a Turkmen named Kurban, who shared a room with me. The residence was often shelled. Our Soviet superiors, together with the governor, made a decision: Kurban and I take turns on night duty on the roof of the machine gun. In addition, a box of grenades was brought into our room: the head of the province did not trust his guards.

...At the end of November, I got jaundice. At first, they could not determine what kind of illness, and my adviser began to expel the "ailment" from me with alcohol. But from this treatment I was getting worse and worse, the temperature went over 40 degrees. I felt shaky and weak all over. A local doctor was called. He immediately identified it as "Botkin's disease in a dangerous form." Urgent hospitalization is required-you must be taken to Kabul, otherwise a fatal outcome is possible.

The Afghans flatly refused to take me. By that time, the situation had already seriously escalated. The passes on the road from Ghazni to Kabul were under fire from the rebels. My adviser did not know how to drive a car and asked for the help of a KGB adviser. But Eid al - Adha-his translator-had no vod.-

page 69

driver's license issues. Planes did not fly to us either - the airfield was constantly under fire from Dushmans.

Fortunately for me, at that moment a major of the internal troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs was in the governor's residence-he was training the policemen of Tsarandoy, and he came to us for some kind of meeting. He spoke three-story obscenities at the address of both advisers and said: "The guy needs to be rescued immediately." The fees were short-lived. The Major loaded me into his UAZ and we drove off. I don't remember exactly how he drove me - I often lost consciousness. I woke up in Kabul, near a military hospital. The Major roused me: "We arrived, Oleg, we were lucky - only two holes."

The hospital mainly employed Soviet doctors. I fell into the hands of a good specialist. "Lucky you, lad," he said. "We wouldn't have been able to pump it out for another day or two." Our guys from the embassy and trade mission were also treated with me - they also had jaundice. Three weeks later, I was released from the hospital and ordered to stay in Kabul until I fully recovered, where I stayed for almost a month and a half.

One evening I was visiting a friend of mine from the trade mission. When it was time to return to the hotel, I noticed that in the area of the presidential Palace, the whole sky was covered with some kind of fiery flashes. There were muffled sounds of explosions, and traffic in that direction was blocked. I barely caught a taxi to the city center, to the hotel "Kabul", where I lived. We turned into one of the squares half a kilometer from the hotel and stopped - the entire road ahead was blocked by armored vehicles. The taxi driver refused to go any further. And I - there was nothing to do - got out and went on foot.

I went into one of the shops and asked the owner: what's going on? The shopkeeper himself didn't really know: "Some foreigners have invaded us-probably Pakistanis, or maybe Americans." I look at the equipment - it turned out to be BMD and BMP (amphibious and infantry fighting vehicles), which I, a non-military person, did not know anything about before. I leaned cautiously out of the door, looked back and forth, and suddenly I heard a Russian speech. Our Soviet soldiers were sitting on the armor. I walked over, said hello, introduced myself, and asked: "Guys, what's going on?" "We are overthrowing Amin. They will give an order, and the whole column will move there, " was the answer.

It wasn't until late at night, in pitch darkness, that I reached the hotel. The next morning I learned about the new revolution and the coming to power of Babrak Karmal.

During a month and a half of my life in Kabul, I experienced the now little-known "nationwide February uprising," as it was then called in the Western media; it was directed against the presence of Soviet troops in Afghanistan. In Kabul itself, at that time, there was only our small garrison, which carried out purely security functions - only two or three battalions. Everyone thought that Kabul was about to fall. All Soviet people were armed. We kept watch in the streets near the houses where we lived for two or three nights until the uprising was crushed. Life in the capital went back to normal.

In the meantime, the doctors gave a verdict that I could return to Ghazni due to my health condition. At that time, no one traveled on Afghan roads without an armored vehicle escort. The UAZ truck that was going to Ghazni was packed with so many people that I didn't have enough space, they promised to send me the next day. It turned out for the best - the car, which I did not hit, turned over and fell into a dry ditch - the driver lost control. Thank God, no one was seriously injured. And the next day I was given the keys to a brand-new UAZ truck, so that at the same time I could drive it to Ghazni - by that time I had already learned to drive a car. I got behind the wheel and drove my UAZ to Ghazni without any escort.

I arrived safely. There have been some changes in Ghazni. My former adviser was recalled to the Union - his six-month business trip ended. The new adviser was also from the CPSU Central Committee - the second secretary of some regional committee of Azerbaijan, but Russian by nationality. He was already in his late 70s, a quiet, calm man with a lot of worldly experience. The crate of grenades was still gathering dust under my bunk , but it had fallen off somewhere. And our landing company is stationed at the airfield.

Somehow very quickly I became friends with the commander of the paratroopers - a senior lieutenant. His name was Andrey, but I don't remember his last name. We were almost the same age, fellow countrymen - Andrey also came from the Moscow region. Several times we managed to sit in a local restaurant. They remembered Moscow, their friends and girls, and talked about modern music. The situation in Ghazni was calm - no shots were fired at night. Several times they roasted ground squirrels shot by soldiers on a spit - there were plenty of them on the airfield field. "Did you really eat rat meat?" - my Moscow relatives and friends were horrified. I just laughed - the meat of ground squirrels is juicy, very tasty, like rabbit meat.

The paratroopers were briefly held in Ghazni , a relatively quiet place. Heavy fighting broke out in the Jalalabad area, and they were transferred there. Later I learned that the company had stopped for the night near Jalalabad, and in the middle of the night it was suddenly attacked by Dushmans. The paratroopers suffered heavy losses - few were left alive.

I tried to find out the fate of Andrey, but I couldn't find out anything - maybe the readers of the magazine will help me find out at least something about him... It was the spring of 1980...

* * *

Oleg Kuzmin visited Afghanistan several more times, being already a correspondent for the ITAR-TASS news agency. He met Soviet troops there in 1979 and escorted them out 10 years later. The last time Kuzmin had a chance to visit the country in the late 90s - as part of a group of Russian intermediaries who negotiated with the Taliban in Kandahar about the release of the crew of the Il-76 plane.

page 70

this story is told by the famous film "Kandahar" (2007).


Oleg Zhukov talks about his work in Africa. In the 1970s, he was a student at the Institute of Asian and African Studies (ISAA). Lomonosov Moscow State University. An expert in two languages-French and Bamana. In 1982-1983, he worked in Mali as an interpreter for a group of Soviet military construction workers.

Africa greeted me with heavy, hot air. It feels like a lighted wad of cotton wool has flown down my throat and stuck there. My breathing stopped, and my vision went dark... It seemed that I would lose consciousness in a few more moments... I still don't understand whether the body turned on the "self-survival mode", or something else brought me to my senses.

A Soviet PAZik rolled out onto the tarmac, and our guys - business teams of Soviet military specialists - quickly jumped out of it and busily began unloading "our" part of the cargo brought from Bamako from the Il-24. Mostly bags of potatoes, cabbage, carrots, boxes of traditional stew and something else... Some of the greeters were dressed in light jackets and did not pay attention to either the heat or the stuffiness. "Well, if our people have adapted so easily here, then it means that I can live without suffocating," I thought, and immediately somehow let go...

Our group, which had just arrived, was safely loaded on the same groove, and we went to the village of military builders, located on the outskirts of the town of Gao. The business trip has begun...

Once, two or three centuries ago, Gao was a major trade center on the continent, a crossroads of caravan routes. But civilization came, and with it - new technology: railways, cars, airplanes. Camels were not abandoned - they remained eternal "ships of the desert", but already, as they say, "a regional-scale vehicle"... Our construction team was engaged in the modernization of the runway of the Gao airfield, located near the city.

A small town is, of course, an understatement. So, one-story houses, as if merged into one, a common building on both sides of the street a hundred meters long. Separately - the commandant's house, not a villa with a swimming pool, but an ordinary house. There are also repair shops and an outdoor cinema hall with low brick walls and a screen. Under it, usually, before the start of the movie show, the local children who came running were located side by side.

In the evenings, there was the classic boredom that usually prevails in towns like ours, lost on the outskirts of the planet. We watched everything in the cinema - from "Chapaev" to cheerful Indian films. Another batch of relatively recent films had just arrived on our plane, so the boredom was diluted by " the most important of the arts." With the lingering boredom fought and with the help of alcohol. It was also taken as a preventive measure against malaria - usually Three Elephants gin from some "international manufacturer". Fortunately, during my entire stay in the town, no one was poisoned by it, and the price-quality ratio was acceptable.

At 6.45 am, the working "verification" began with the issuance of tasks for the day - bulldozers, crane operators, tarmac operators, and the kitchen attendant. Two wives of construction workers and often I also "fell by lot" to go to the local market to buy food.

Even at this stage, the translator had a lot of work to do. Each task was accompanied by detailed explanations, some of which had to be repeated several times, making extensive use of local expressions, which I do not dare to reproduce here. So I gradually "picked up" the local slang, once again making sure that those who recommended it were right: forget everything you were taught at the institute - study here!

However, some of the translator's work was quite serious and responsible. This is a written translation into French of various construction instructions, instructions received "from the center", i.e. from Moscow, manuals on working with equipment and other necessary and not very necessary papers. Requests from local authorities for additional materials and equipment, as well as local instructions to guide workers from Russia, and legal documents related to various types of equipment were translated into Russian.

page 71

aspects of construction work. I think that for most translators, at least in Africa, that was the whole job. It's just that someone had more of it, and someone-less.

At 10: 00 they served the PAZik, and we, i.e. translators, went to the market for food. It was more fun there, because the market is the face of the city, with a special atmosphere, easy communication, where our women learned to skillfully bring down the price with the help of five or six words. The vendors, mostly women, some of them young and very attractive, haggled merrily, and it was never clear whether they were still profitable or not.

...If in the early morning many people went to work in jackets, because it was quite cool, after all, the desert, then by noon the situation changed. Bulldozers were especially hard pressed, the equipment was heated up to 60 degrees under the African sun, and thermal fainting was common - after all, our cars did not have even the simplest fans. In order not to burn their hands on the red-hot levers, they put on gloves and watered themselves with water (alas, also hot) made from plastic bottles... For such work, orders and medals were not given, but there was a salary with the addition of a "climate coefficient", which helped people to survive in such conditions for a couple of years, saving up for this period, as they say,"kids for milk"...

After lunch-mandatory rest, African "dead hour" until 16.00-16.30. Then life began again. In the "red corner" we were introduced to the latest international news, or gave some lectures. Then chess, volleyball-sometimes with a team of Soviet pilots: nice guys, well-trained, tall. Only three of us were able to match them - they were the ones who "pulled" the game.

But the real outlet was hunting. Approximately once every two weeks we went to the savannah "for wild boars". In addition to relieving psychological stress from hard and monotonous work, hunting also had a different effect: wild boar meat is simply excellent in taste. In addition, thanks to the "trophies" obtained, it was not necessary to buy meat at the market.

They prepared for hunting ahead of time, slowly changed kerosene from a local official for cartridges and took Chinese carbines "for rent". The official asked to bring him a goat "as a gift", since pork is taboo for local residents.

When we went hunting, we always stopped at Ansongo , which was the first big camp with an overnight stay. We were always greeted by the local elder, Mr. Moussa, and his immediate entourage-all in white boubou and turbans, looking solid and even majestic.

Ansongo is a mini-town that was also part of the shopping community at one time and is just as desolate as Gao. The local population lives in terrible, in the eyes of a European, conditions: low clay houses with a sandy floor. From the utensils - several different cauldrons and pots, and five or six pitchers. There were six or eight children of different ages and genders in each yard, and the much-needed "amenities" were nowhere to be found.

But you should have seen the cheerful faces of these children! And women, too, did not give themselves up to melancholy at all - they were always in care, they were always in love.

page 72

they were grinding something in tall pitchers with sticks, humming, and shouting without malice at their naughty children.

I must say that optimism and cheerfulness are a national trait of Malians. Along, alas, with a certain "pofigizm". Here is an example. One day a local man came to us Russians with tears in his eyes: "My mother is ill! My mother is dying! Give me some pills!" Apparently, my mother caught a cold. I had to leave immediately at that moment, and I asked the guest to come back in a couple of hours.

When I got back, I found the pills, went to the gate of the town, stood there, waiting. At least an hour passed, and no one came. The next day I meet my new friend in the town: "Well, how is my mother, is she ill?"- "Oh, Monsieur Oleg, he's very ill!" - " Why didn't you come yesterday?" - "Yes, my friends and I went to a disco, I forgot...".

In general, there was no communication at the domestic level with the locals. The Malians lived on their own, and we, the Soviets, lived on our own. A little more than twenty of them worked at the facility under construction, all family-owned. Our workers and specialists did not know the local language and did not seek to learn it. They were ordinary workers of various specialties, registered "under the military department" and who came to Mali "in the order of military discipline". But there were also highly qualified military engineers who wanted to "make money on the Volga". However, formally they were still listed as workers. Everyone was equal, except the commandant-Colonel, of course.

Among our workers were amazing craftsmen. Kolya-Carter ,for example. Nikolai was very similar to the then American President Carter. Malians saw him and immediately dubbed him "Carter".

In Ansongo, Kolya-Carter repaired a long-abandoned UAZ truck in just an hour with the help of simple tools. I ducked into the engine bay and rattled my keys. It wasn't long before "this useless piece of iron," as the Malians called it, began to rumble and soon became a regular rumble. Headlights flashed on. The Malians cheered like children at the sight of the "miracle" - and it was a man-made miracle: "Now our elder will have his own car"! In the blink of an eye, a "samobranka tablecloth" appeared with a huge dish of local pilaf, a dozen beers, and even some greens. Under the light of the headlights of the UAZ truck that came out of a deep coma, a real noisy, crowded banquet was held in honor of the Soviet craftsman.

Once upon a time, the great "Soviet empire" very significantly supported African (and not only African) countries that adopted the ideology of Marxism-Leninism and the principles of socialist organization of society. Someone-sincerely, someone - for pragmatic reasons. It is difficult to say what motivated the leaders of Mali in favor of expanding contacts with the Soviet Union. But it is impossible to forget that hundreds of Malians studied for free in Soviet universities, in military schools, and married Russian girls.

By the way, at that time the Malian army was considered the strongest in West Africa: in addition to tanks, cannons and aircraft, it was even armed with two Pechora rocket launchers. Another thing is that half of the tanks were not on the move, not all planes took off, and only one of the two installations was capable of launching missiles. But who knew about it?.. The army's combat capability was considered very high, and no one even thought of attacking Mali. Not to mention the fact that behind this country loomed the menacing shadow of a "great Soviet friend". Well, Soviet military specialists and their assistants - military translators, among whom I was lucky enough to be-were sent to the country to repair and maintain military and other Soviet equipment in a more or less combat condition.

...Many years have passed. And now, as I sit at the window of my Moscow apartment, looking out into the distance, I see cheerful, friendly Malian people, many of whom I have come to know and some of whom I have made friends with. And before the eyes of the mind often rises Savannah. Above it, a haze of hot air ripples, reflecting in a mirage slow-moving elephants, running antelopes, frozen flamingos and reproachful looking boars in my direction...

You can't leave Africa forever - it stays in your heart forever.

(The ending follows)


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