Before you start reading the first chapter of this great novel, made by the talanted writer Nikolai Prokudin (St. Petersburg, Russia), I am pleased to give you some comments. They are concerned with grammar and stylistic peculiarities of the text. Linguistic analysis suggests studying of fiction with documentary elements in two aspects:
1. aesthetic and social value (author"s idea);
2. composition, stylistic devices, tropes as well as words (different skills to have specific reading effect).
The second aspect is of great interest today to present some ideas about N. Prokudin"s style.
The novel was written at the beginning of 2000s to tell one of a great number of life stories experienced at the Afghan war (1979-1989). One of the text features is the first person narrative. Moreover, the story is full of things typical for young men, accurately, the way of thinking and speaking. This could be mentioned not just for Nikofor Rostovtsev, the main character of this book, but also for other ones, which manners are characterized as colloquial thick with curse words (these words are of special type in Russia to be used in dangerous, unusual, and unforeseen situations; these curse words were changed into less expressive English variants). To analyze way of speaking is like to study life experience of some charactors, for example, Mikola (Nikifor"s friend) came from the Ukrain, the Soviet Republic in the west, that meant he did have some phonetic peculiarities like all other people lived there. It is of no chance to show the readers the Ukranian way of speaking, it can be stressed here before start reading. In this book you can find one female character and a great number of male characters, which are known to be of another way, than ladies, to present ideas. They usually do this in elliptical sentences, that is not complete sentences to save time. They rarely use interjections or epithets to give opinion about something. The name of the main character is Nikifor, which in English has got no real equivalent, but the reduced form is "Nick" used by other book characters.
At first I give army ranks (set from supreme to junior) of the Soviet Union, which are not similar to the British or American ones, then army subunits of the same goal, as well as fighting equipment (Russian abbreviation with definitions in English). Georaphical names and some unclear words are in italics to read explanations after the text.
А lot of years have already passed, after the last war was waged by the last world empire - the Afghan war for nobody. One after another my friends are getting dead. They and me took part in that terrible conflict. A great number of officers and men are leaving this world without telling us their stories about everything happened there ...
Any guerrilla war is, the hardest and nastiest war type, with trend to be developed into aggression against all the people together with young and old ones. Enough to say in 1980 in Afghanistan 20,000 of mujahideens were in action, but in 1987 quite a greater amount was about 300,000. Cheerless statistics ...
This book is coming out today with no Soviet censorship, which gives a chance to show the war, as it really was, taking into consideration the point of view suggested by a young infantry lieutenant without any embroidery and false valour. For somebody, this book seems to be quite gross, but any war is always full of violence. Army is not a noble men house. For sure, I haven"t included the majority of all curse words in the text, but there are some episodes, which were impossible to construct without them not to sin against the truth.
All the time we were told, "Train hard, fight easy." But studies were hard as well as real fight. From time to time, I thought somebody invisible aimed at making life for army men intolerable (I"m joking!), but living conditions and vital tasks actually looked like survival experiment.
Main book charactors were just ordinary people, who were roasting in the ruthless burning sun and getting frozen on snow-covered ground; who ploughed through mud and crept with bleeding arms and legs; some sweat of them was absorbed by vast desert and Hindu Kush range.
This book is dedicated to officers, praporschiks, sergeants, and soldiers. To those, who were not in action with maps and schemes in quiet comfortable rooms, but on a front line in any weather and any time. Some of them have been dead, some have become disabled soldiers. A great number of officers and soldiers died, after the Afghan war was over. They did have wounds and different diseases - hard things got at passed fighting.
I can"t help thinking of what, military chieves and government are making today the same mistakes in the so-called anti-terrorist operation, as it was in the Afghan war. There is a strong myth about unconquerable and all-powerful Russian army, but it has no connection with reality. For my readers, with little in common to problems discussed here, the book seems to be lampoon against the military forces, however, I took part in the Afghan war and I try to tell truth. This is my main goal.
Moreover, in the book you can find complicated, sometimes conflicting international relations between people in army everday life. Such things helped basing nationalism in the society, being sometimes spread by military men.
Russian Army has been having serious problems for a long time. For the past years, this neglected and sluggish disease has escaped in the open. At present, army corruption as well as stealing of long standing take place. The army is reaping the fruits of government labour and attitude to people with shoulder-straps. Draftees" personal qualities result in increasing number of crimes committed by future military men.
War-veterans, this is particularly of local war-conflicts, are the most miserable people. Their sacrifices, losses, nervous break-downs, physical and psychological suffering are of no society interest. One of the well-known sayings today is, "Has nobody got real problems?".
After just another war, veterans keep having a lot of problems to solve them alone. Phychosis, stress, failure, drunkeness, drugs, criming...
I have taken all ruined in the Afghan war officers and men to heart, but I get more worries about everyday "losses" in peace time.
This book is dedicated to Russian Army, which among others of the same type in civilized world, has fewer rights and is not hard to please.
Chapter 1. Before my starting the Afghan war
Red suitcase went down the concrete airdrome highway in Kabul. That was a good German suitcase of great size, I"d say, giant size, which was usually said to be "the invader"s dream". In it one could find a pea-jacket, two greatcoats: one - for everyday, the other - for ceremonies, also two high-necked tunics - for the same goals, boxcalf boots and the stuff of everything.
I deeply breathed hot Kabul air.
My name is Nikifor Rostovtzev. I am a young lieutenant. After graduation from the Military Training School, I served in a garrison, located in far away Turkmenistan. That place was not the god forsaken , it was nothing to what the Soviet soldiers experienced sometimes. Since drunkards and foolish things of the garrison had enraged me, I sought a decision to be moved "abroad". My "abroad" was Afghanistan, which had been fighting for many years. How things did stand - neither I nor other officers knew anything. The war seemed to take place, but quite unlike real fight.
Despite this, in my regiment a lot of officers participated in starting Soviet military force into Afghanistan five years ago, nobody could say something definite, because they had just served about two months there.
After my leave-taking of three days, which appeared as a colossal drinking-bout with the majority of battalion officers, and also after pleasant time with one pretty girl, I got tired. Two of my friends wanted to get to bed with her before my goodbye.
The train had to arrive in Khedzhei at 3 a.m., and our garrison was of thirty minutes away from there. I drank a glass of vodka in parting, ate a slice of water-melon, and embraced my friends. I fastened my suitcase to the motorcycle carrier to go being heavily drunk to the railway station. Serega, our platoon chief, saw me off. I embraced him. Before racing back to take my sofa, he wished me,
"Nick, do your best to survive."
"OK", said I. "I"ll try."
I bought a ticket ahead of the train departure. All compartments were occupied by sleeping passangers. I didn"t want to shout at the Turkmen-steward, but took one hinged seat. That night, sitting on the suitcase at the opened window, helped me keeping my spirits up, while I was shuddering to think of uncertainity. Not every day is for fighting at the world"s end.
* * *
The huge headquarters building looked like an iceberg made of glass and concrete. There were a lot of entrances, vast number of colonels and generals, scurrying cars like "Volga" and UAZ. I couldn"t stop saluting - did this one, two, three... hundred times.
Soon, I did have a fellow-traveller. This was a good-natured lieutenant with last name Meleschenko. He looked, as if he was a bee-keeper. He didn"t want to go "abroad". For three days, he had been trying to dodge, but no chances to change something. Cannon-fodder was of great demand. Nobody wanted to take his place. Nikolai (that was his first name) got to know my story and turned one finger around the temple. He couldn"t believe my wish to go to Afghanistan. There he dreamed of becoming a guard deputy commander for political affairs in a hospital or something like this. "Doing well will be really possible there" in his words.
I stayed at a hotel, full of people either on business or leave, which came from that another "abroad" life. To put the passport in order I had some days. I spent my free time in a muddled manner, but without harm to liver and stomach. At last, I was called to get my papers to the personnel department. The small conference-hall was crowded with people, that was about fifty officers of military ranks higher than ours. With great pleasure men were discussing their fututre career perspectives in Hungary, GDR, Poland, Czechoslovakia.
Nikolai and me realized these talks not to be for us. We sat on the back row dozing. Several times somebody wanted us to help, but we repelled attacks.
Before having a dinner, one colonel entered the hall and said to give some money for a present, because one officer was conferred a major-general rank. Then and there, a lieutenant colonel in good spirits, one of those, who was going to Europe, began carrying a cap among officers to put some money in it. His first "victims" were Nikolai and me.
"Lieutenants, hey, gimme twenty five roubles. Be active, guys!" he said these words in tone with no our arguiing to answer.
"Well, well!" Nikolai smiled maliciously. "No money! At all! I"m not gonna give money for nobody and for nothing. You"ll get fuck all!"
Smiling sarcastically Meleschenko lounged, then closed his eyes.
"Cheeky guy! And you, comrade lieutenant, the same thing? Would you like staying here, not coming to Afghanistan? I"ll do it! Just now!" this well-groomed secretary of the Regiment Party Committee foamed at the mouth.
"Yeah! The same about me!" said I.
"All the time, bustard like me was thinking to evade journey to Afghanistan. It appears, I mustn"t bribe someone, but cheat the chief of his present."
* * *
We laughed all together. This made the lieutenant-colonel enraged. Moving away from the row, we were sitting at, he said loudly,
In answer Nikolai said these words in a quite clear voice, and it looked like being true,
"For this, in the open air, your mug will get a strong fight. Easy to do. But your photo in passport for travelling abroad will be different a bit, as in real life."
All officers had malignant glances, but realized better had nothing, whatever to do with us. However, the flagged lieutenant colonel couldn"t refrain from informing against us to the staff manager, had come to take money for a present. Twisting with indifference, the lieutenant gave us up, but didn"t forget us: we got our passports just in the evening. After last directions, much to my astonishment, I knew us to be inoculated against different diseases.
I had to do it at the repple-depple: from there were to have departure. Fuck it! I disliked injections!
The repple-depple was lost in Tashkent back streets, so found we this with great efforts to register for a trip to Kabul, then searched for first-aid station. There was just one medical instructor (sergeant in rank) and no more people. We asked him about having injections, but he answered, he had to boil some syringes. In his words then, it was impossible, because he had dinner and we were to come in an hour and a half again. I banged the door in irritation and made up my mind to put it off till morning.
Either sobering officers, detached for service, and new comers, or getting drunk ones, were going alongside the repple-depple. I cleared up the matter about having two bottles of vodka per each person. I didn"t feel like having such things, but all the other officers expected drinking. They made a group you were to be a part of.
I was short of money, however, bought vodka, something to eat, and went to bed; devoid of falling asleep at all, I walked to the hostel at 3 a.m., where Nikolai lived in. He was scarecely able to stand, but with three pretty hussies. Awful shit! He kept silent without inviting me to join this bitching company. Stingy person!
We could hardly get two cases in the taxi: one - in the boot, the other - in the passanger compartment. The taxi-driver wanted to fleece us of all our money, but Kolyan proved to give nothing more than he could. If I had had money, I would have given it to him. I was surprised, if I could need money any time. If I could, then, when exactly? The girls were squealing and waving a farewell to the taxi.
In the first-aid station we hardly knocked till the door was opened. The same sergeant promised injecting us in an hour, but we were to go to the airdrome in twenty minutes. He offered to solve this problem by means of ten roubles per each person.
Micola turned around and fucked all inoculations off, for this the medical instructor told us, without inoculations stamp we wouldn"t be let in the airplane.
* * *
What the devil! I had got just three roubles. We couldn"t go by plane today: next is going to be tomorrow. How could I live one day and night short of money?
"Sergeant! I"ve got three roubles per two of us, take this, and register. We don"t need any inoculations! Settled?" I took a lot of persuasion to get him to agree.
The medical instructor started complaining his hard service, vitamin shortage, and wound got in Afghan war, for this showing his hand without one finger.
He finally persuaded of having no money, after I turned my trousers pockets inside out, and submitted to three roubles.
In high spirits we got into the bus, where heard the driver speaking the fare of one rouble per a guy.
Cheaters! Looters, I"d say!
Some officers had money to toss them in a cap on the PAZ bonnet, they did it laughing, but teasing the driver gently. Careless to money guys, like me, didn"t have anything to pay. They cussed and refused paying. The driver offered to toss some coins in the cap, which was qiute well for him, because we wouldn"t need money in Afghanistan at all. Some change from our pockets helped filling the cap on the whole.
The pleased driver gathered the coins up, then raced down the night streets of Tashkent to the military airdrome. After we had been humiliated by customs examination ,because of turning the pockets inside out, all the officers left the hall to the airdrome concrete runaway.
We were expected by the old, scuffed with sooty motor one cargo-plane AN-12. Old campaigners started being outraged. No luck at all! We"ll have a hell of a time! If we planed by IL-76, this would be quite well, but the given plane type had only a pressure cabin with the wind, played freely through the sides. That meant ear pressure and oxygen starvation.
After one more thorough examination of things and documents, all eighty officers embarked to the plane board. One general and two colonels entered the pressure cabin, accompanied by some women with great make-ups.
Tipsy praporschiks laughed,
"New! ... Fresh blood! Cherry!"
The fight mechanic battened down the hatch, forbade smoking and moving along the board. He told, if we hadn"t got enough air for all of us, we were to breathe by means of oxygen masks hung down. But there were much fewer masks, than we needed.
The flight mechanic (praporschik in rank) took his hinged seat, then fastened the parachute, so everybody could watch it, at last thoughy something over.
Near him two corpulent praporschiks came into indignation at this fact,
"Ivan! Look! What"s going on here? This "flyer" has fastened the parachute, but for us nothing!"
"Never mind! This is not the parachute, this imitates the real parachute, just one thing to come down here."
"No, this is the parachute, you know. He is scared."
"What fuck put this "flyer" the parachute on? He thinks to jump out of the plane in case of its bringing down? He wants to desert us, yeah?"
"Stupid man! Who"ll let him? All together will crash."
Around passangers started laughing with approval. The "flyer" got angry at the chatters. He barked skittishly, "No smoking!" - he left us, carrying his parachute to the pilot cabin, then battened down the hatch.
"And that"s that! As if he has put the lid on the coffin. We hurt his feelings, really?" one praporschik resulted.
"He is one of the newcomers: not long ago the officers from Belorussia arrived. They felt nervous," one officer pronounced like an expert.
"No matter! Let"em feel nervous," responded the other officer. "They fly to and fro and nothing more, but I"ve, for instance, fought in the mountains for two years already."
Soon, after taking-off, the passengers started drinking. They could take some stewed fruit and tea, however, in fact these drinks were coloured spirits, vodka, home-made alcohol. Neither Nikolai nor I had such reserves, so could we doze, lying on the suitcases.
We couldn"t feel less like sleep. It was stuffy, we need to get a breath of fresh air. Above the mountains at the maximum height it was cold, but air was much less than before. We had by turns to use the oxygen masks.
"We"re running up!" some drunk shouted at the top of his voice. "Bagram! Now we"ll see Kabul in the horizon behind the mountains."
All the passengers clung to the windows.
I watched the scenery below, as in Turkmenia. After the mountain range, the city appeared. The plane listed heavily to circle over it, then to reduce altitude.
"The most dangerous moment is going to be now,"said my neighbour officer (senior lieutenant in rank). He came back after his furlough, and everything was not for the first time. "The plane are usually brought down at taking-off or landing."
In answer, I nodded to show I realized. I started trembling with fear. Terrible journey! Particularly I was frightened by motor howling as well as plane creaking.
"What a creaky! Son of a bitch!" with a thoughtful air mumbled the totally intoxicated praporschik. "Ivan! The flying engine won"t fall to pieces? How d"you think?"
"Not for the world! But if it does, it"s not a great height here," laughed Ivan"s boon-companion.
The plane hit the wheels down the airdrome concrete highway, giving a jump gently. Then, it rushed past with motor howling by reverse thrust. Take-off running, braking, turning - OK, we arrived.
The passengers cried, beside themselves, with joy, "Hurrah!" then clapped. Guys drank the parting cup, if they had some alcohol. We got off the airstairs. Here my red suitcase in red colour fell with a wallop down the airdrome concrete highway in Kabul.
* * *
A compartment praporschik met all the coming officers in the repple-depple yard. Reluctantly, we fell in single rank with each other to listen to the idiotic instructions of the REMF.
"Comrades officers and praporschiks! Now you"re in the repple-depple number ... ! This objective has strict discipline and hard daily regulations, which are obliged to be done by everybody," said the praporschik, as if knew all things there.
His well-nourished face was shiny with grease, and his clean pressed field dress had never known mountain dust and desert sand. His new boxcalf boots were shining in the sun; one could understand this man was satisfied with service and didn"t trouble himself, participating in war operations. We looked at this dandy, and his speech seemed to be unlikely.
"You, Comrades, arrived to have war operations, and here, like in any other front line, the enemies give us regular artillery bombardment, particularly, our repple-depple. If it happens, you"re to take up your position in some slit trenches, which are dug behind the barracks. Barrack is a small house, made of wood, to be easily shot in the line of fire, that"s why I recommend you to take place in trench. If you hear machine-gun shooting, you mustn"t be afraid of, this is the caponier. War is war. Everybody should behave in a fitting manner, then follow the repple-depple chiefs" instructions. I"ve got power to help the garrison commandant. This gives me a right to send the most storming officers to the guardhouse. Don"t go around here doing nothing. Wait for being allocated."
His own eloquence and rear heroism helped him to rise to the commanding height. He shouted at one officer in answer of his question, then barked at a praporschik.
At last, the burning sun made one lieutenant-colonel interrupt the going too far "militray leader", who was saying just nonsense. Everybody was sick and tired of his lecture,
"Commandant! Don"t forget yourself! Senoir officers in this single rank!"
"Yeah! Dismiss! Take bed-linen, hand in your food certificate papers and travel orders."
One young major was standing near us. He listened to the instructions with impatience, tapping his high shoes on the suitcase.
"Ass him," he pronounced. "It"s high time to do a bunk as soon as possible. Or the home front heroes could steal my suitcase, I think. Where"re you going to?"
"We are to the Army Political Administrative Office," answered Nikolai. "He"s going to Shindant, me - to Kunduz, but we"ve got no idea, where these places are."
"Fine! I"m also going to Shindant to the division headquarters. My friends will come here and I can give you a lift to the army headquarters. You may held up here for a long time, if you hand in your documents to this Jack in the office."
"Nice to join you," I said with enthusiasm. "But first of all, we"ll leave our things in the store-room, then ready to go with you."
Nikolai hissed at me angrily,
"What"re you talking about? Why are you in a hurry? Why should we go some place? We are to be taken by some chieves. Two years in Afghanistan is enough for us. Time has started. Let"s have a rest, let"s listen to other officers about life here to be better or worse."
"Kolya! You may run to seed or may become the repple-depple deputy commander for political affairs. But I"m not going to listen to this ravings of a madman and do his orders. To the regiment - as soon as possible! What will be, will be. Are you with me?"
"Yes! For sure! To be the repple-depple deputy commander for political affairs is not for me. Tempting words! But, I believe, these good births have been already occupied. The officers came from Moscow to take them. It seems to have one year as, if he served in the army for three years. This will be great to say, you have been at war, and have got minimum risk of life. Oh! This place has got obvious advantages!" Nikolai had a dreamy face expression.
Soon, the army headquarters bus appeared; the major suggested us joining and getting in. Some lieutenant-colonel getting off said hello to him.
"My fellow student. We served in one company," explained the major, then addressed to the lieutenant-colonel. "Let"s take them to the Army Political Administrative Office! They are moving to Shindant, as I do."
"No problem. We"ve got enough seats. Guys, you can take off your ties and loosen high-necked buttons. Take it easy!"
We"re pleased. As I served in TurkVO, we had got the same order about uniform, but regiment commander admitted all the officers to have tie and high-necked tunic, even in hot weather like forty-five degrees. Funny farm we had! After we came to the Army Political Administrative Office, everything was in another way, we wished.
"You both should join the motorized rifle division number eight, more precise, the mototrized rifle regiment number eighty. This regiment has got some advantages, it"s situated in Kabul.""
"How about Kabul?" I was shocked.
"No way. In this regiment two officers should have come back to the Soviet Union two months ago, but no new guys to replace them. Where are they? Nobody knows. Some disease or take time."
"Where"s the regiment now?" Mikola asked with care.
"Don"t know? Really? Behind the fence next to that kishlak. In Kabul."
"You don"t say so!" I moaned. "No Kabul! I am to go to Shindant. I"ve got the travel order."
Nikolai pushed my foot, then, his face expressed horror.
"Comrade colonel!" I"ve got one more chance to change my future. "I longed for real war, no for the regiment in Kabul. Let me join Shindant according to my travel order."
"How funny!" the colonel started examining me with surprise. "Volunteer?"
"Exactly! I prepared a report as a student, then serving in Turkmenistan Command the same did."
"This regiment is what you need."
"What d" you mean?" Meleschenko was interested in his words. "The regiment hasn"t got real war actions, right? Just like guards?"
"No, the regiment and war are like bosom friends. Not all officers and soldiers, for sure, but one battalion regularly has got combat operations, two others serve like guards."
"Not all of them... OK," Nikolai sat with thoughtful air.
"Yeah! That"s true!" the colonel smiled in encouraging manner. "Just one battalion is enough to war, but it has got real fights. Here your documents. Ask for taking some car to get to the destination. Good luck! If you mind, I can let you join the battalion under the command of the dead major Kozlovsky. Got any idea?"
I had got an objections to his words,
"No. We"d rather join the motorized rifle regiment number eighty."
"What do you know about this damned battalion?" asked Mikola passing the corridor.
* * *
"This regiment was gunned down. I"d served in Termiz for some time, that"s why, I"ve got this tragedy. To the Soviet Union one tank regiment went, but it was replaced by one motorized rifle regiment. In two months practically all guys, from the regiment under command of the major Kozlovsky, were killed. I"ve got no details, but a lot of women today are widows. More than one hundred soldiers, praporschiks, as well as officers, were gunned down. That is the question. No good things in this regiment with bad luck."
"I"ve got no wish to serve there!" Meleschenko came to agreement.
* * *
We went out the headquarters building to watch on both sides of the road. As we were getting in the bus, the lieutenant-colonel told us, the Army Command of the Soviet Union had functions in the former royal palace, which was conquered in December of 1979. The palace yard, the place of Amin"s death, suffered from fire. After that, nobody could say, the royal building was in burning, neither bullet signs nor shell-splinters were there. The royal palace was a magnificant architectural ensemble. The Afghan Defence Ministry also worked in an old palace, but in another district of Kabul.
The headquarters building number forty stood on the picturesque hill, surrounded by parks and avenues. Its appearance was of no so beauty, because there were a lot of camouflage nets, dug-outs, trenches, caponiers, as well as barracks, every place. Around the headquarters building put on the barbed wire, the deformed fences, with information boards like "Take care! Mine!", "No getting through!", "Mine!", "Stop! Post!", leaned over on one side.
We had no time to make a guidetour there. Meleschenko and I questioned the road to the headquarters building. We were moving forward to the traffic control point.
The submachine-gunner, man on duty, couldn"t say anything clear about the road. He could explain the guard battalion, he served for, stayed at the moment.
Orderly officer carelessly waved his hand to the barracks. He said, we could go on foot, if we longed for the destination as soon as possible.
"You should go to the crossroad, then turn to the left, pass by the museum along the fence. Then, go straight, pass by the anti-aircraft regiment, and you see the trafic control point. But you mustn"t step the roadedges or you may experience mine defense behind the trenches, because all ditches have got dozens of mines. After such journey, you may loose either legs or life. You may stay here, for sure. But moving forward is just two kilometres, no more.
It was scorching. We couldn"t stand hanging about the gate.
We passed by the dukan, the shopassistant"s crying wanted us to buy something, but we did have no money. What a pity! One could find "Coke", "Fanta", water-melons there. We grew in thirst. Along the road, young ragamuffins flang stones at the cars, in moving.
"Wild animals," Meleschenko smiled. "What are they saying, I"m interested in? Probably, they"re fucking everything and all."
"They do, I think. Don"t want to get stones in my back. That"s the main task now."
The turn showed us the straight road with watch-towers of Soviet subunits.
We had to go faster. The angry boys flang stones in us, followed by the men with gloomy faces - this Afghan reality made mending our paces. Without saying a word, we didn"t walk but run.
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