View Full Version : Soviet Deserters Still Living in Afghanistan - updated

05-17-2004, 12:27 PM
I don´t know what´s wrong with these ? marks, probably some system fault during conversion to .txt Hope It doesn´t affect the reading :)

Soviet Deserters Still Living in Afghanistan

from TCA

KUNDUZ, 3 December (TCA)--Nauk Muhammad is thin and heavily bearded. He speaks
fluent Dari and wears a shalwar kameez. He is a Muslim married to an Afghan. It
is only the staring blue eyes, red hair and Slavic features that betray him.

Muhammad?s real name is Genadyi Tsevma. He is Ukrainian. He is one of scores of
Soviet soldiers believed to be at large in Afghanistan 13 years after the end of
their army?s long war in that country. Now, two decades after he was declared
missing by his unit, Mr Muhammad finally told his story to The Times of Central
Asia this week, recounting how he left his home near Kiev as a 19-year-old
Soviet Army conscript and never came back. Hundreds of other Soviet servicemen
also remained in Afghanistan, buried in shallow graves in remote ravines.

?I hated life in the army,? he said slowly, recalling the long ago days when he
served as a radio operator at a Soviet checkpoint on a bridge in northern

?As soldiers we were constantly bullied and beaten by our comrades and officers.
I had injured my leg in an accident and was given no medical treatment. I was
exhausted and very unhappy. One night I decided I had had enough and escaped
from the camp. I didn?t have a plan and didn?t care whether I lived or died.?

Having deserted, Muhammad said that he voluntarily defected to the Mujahidin. He
converted to Islam as a way to stay alive, but as time passed professes to have
embraced the religion as his own.

?The Mujahidin treated me better than the army,? he said. ?They fed me, looked
after me, taught me about Islam and treated my leg. Later they gave me a job as
a driver for one of their commanders.?

In 1989, after a decade of war in which up to 15,000 soldiers were killed in
Afghanistan, the last of the Soviet personnel withdrew from the country.

?I couldn?t have gone home after the last soldiers had left Afghanistan, even if
I had wanted to,? he said. ?I would have been thrown in jail as a deserter, so I
stayed on.? He married a year later.

Muhammad did once manage to get word to his family that he was still alive
through a letter he gave to a Pakistani courier. He has also had opportunities
to go home.

In 1992 as civil war raged in Afghanistan, a rendezvous was arranged between
Muhammad and his father on the Afghan-Tajik border by brokers from Ukraine and
the International Committee for the Red Cross.

He asked to return to Ukraine after being assured that an amnesty had been given
to all deserters. But after he left the meeting he disappeared once more into
northern Afghanistan.

Then in March this year he met Sergiy Illarionov, head of the United Nations?
mission office in the city of Kunduz. Himself a Ukrainian and a former special
forces officer, Mr Illarionov resurrected the prospect of repatriation for

?At first he was very wary of me,? Illarionov said. ?He thought I was sent from
the KGB to get him. He only had memories of the old Soviet system. ?It took a
long time before he gave me his real name even after I assured him he would not
go to jail in the Ukraine and that there had been an amnesty.?

One night in May, Illarionov played Muhammad some Ukrainian music, including
guitar ballads which were a favourite among Soviet soldiers in the 1980s.
?Muhammad wept and said he wanted to go home,? Illarionov said. ?He said he
hated Afghanistan and wanted to go back to where he was born.?

In July this year the Ukrainian authorities arranged for their forgotten soldier
to be repatriated along with his Afghan wife and three children. He was
guaranteed a full pardon, as well as a three- bedroom apartment and job.

But in Kabul, Muhammad?s wife had second thoughts and refused to get on the
aircraft. He was devastated, but was unwilling to travel without his family and
so he stayed. ?I still dream of the Ukraine,? he said wistfully.

Back in Kunduz, Muhammad does have one link with his homeland--another deserter,
Ahmad, whose real name is Aleksandr Levenets.

Ahmad, 39, escaped from a cell on the Soviet base in 1983, where he was being
held for disciplinary offences. He joined the Mujahidin, and fought against the
army he once served.

Now a rather stout minibus driver married to the daughter of a Mujahidin
commander, he says that he no longer considers returning home. ?There were times
that I did think about Ukraine,? he said, but he had heard his family had died
and said, ?I?m a criminal to my country anyway.?

Thirteen years after the Red Army withdrew as many as 72 Ukrainian soldiers, and
even a larger numbers of Russians, remain unaccounted for in Afghanistan.

05-17-2004, 12:58 PM
What about POWs? Could they still be held?

05-17-2004, 01:14 PM
I don´t know ... I am not sure. I think that they mostly converted to islam, got married and settled down there in A-stan. I have never read anything about russian POWs. Maybe someone from RusUsers will contribute to this, huh?

05-17-2004, 02:09 PM
Thanx for info. Also I have read recently about POWs who deserted and mostly joined French Foreigh Legion. BTW, your contribution to this forum is excellent, thanx for posting. ;)

CAG 147

anonymous individual
05-17-2004, 02:29 PM
Didn't someone post some pictures of the deserters living in Afghan?

05-18-2004, 10:03 AM
I have a Life or Time magizine from 1982-83 that has a good article and descent photos of it. Ill see if i can dig it up.

06-01-2004, 03:45 PM
Not all the Soviet Soldiers left Afghanistan

By Ilkhom Narziev *
Not all the Soviet soldiers came home when the war in Afghanistan ended in 1989.
Nekmuhammad is a perfectly ordinary Afghan. He studies Islam, has a wife and three beautiful children, and a good job as a driver for an international organisation. What sets up apart from his neighbours is his secret past life as a Ukrainian conscript, left behind when the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan 15 years ago this week. *
He lives on the outskirts of Kunduz, the Northern Afghan city his unit was stationed in when it was attacked by mujahedin in the early Eighties. The young Gennady Tsevma, as he was then known, was captured and held prisoner for so long that he adapted fully to Afghan life.
By the time the Soviets cut their losses and left Afghanistan, Gennady was living as Nekmuhammad. *
But Gennady, and more like him, were still there. As Russians, Ukrainians and the rest began shutting off from the Afghan war as a nightmare best forgotten, those who were left behind faded from memory, too.
Many would find it hard to go back – some were deserters, while others converted to Islam after being captured and held by the mujahedin. In the interim, the Soviet Union they had known collapsed into 15 different countries. *
A few achieved some fame – notably the two Russian citizens known as Mohammadi and Islamuddin who served as bodyguards to the famous commander Ahmad Shah Massoud after converting to Islam. As late as 1996, they were rumoured to be at the front line, fighting with Massoud’s Northern Alliance against the Taleban. *
During a recent trip to Northern Afghanistan, a taxi driver tipped me off about someone called Ahmad, a former Soviet soldier now living as an Afghan. This was far more than a rumour – I was given the address of the building where he rents a small room with his family.
Only half an hour later, I was sitting in a local store talking to a man in the typical flat “pakol” hat, with all the mannerisms and dialects of a native Panjsheri – but still looking like a Russian.
He looked so intimidating that I didn’t dare speak to him in Russian, switching over only after an initial conversation in Dari.
When I asked him what name his parents had given him, his face remained immobile as he whispered an Islamic invocation. *
But after a long conversation in the dark, mud-walled room, Ahmad relaxed, and gradually revealed some of the characteristics of the young man he had once been – Private Alexander Levenets. The incongruousness of the situation was accentuated by the music he put on – Alexander Rosenbaum’s Soviet-era ballads of army life.
The 19-year-old Alexander, from the Ukrainian village of Melovadka, joined the Soviet army in April 1983. He thought his troubles were over, that he had a ticket out of a hard life of providing for his blind widowed mother and an elder brother with diabetes.
At first army life was good, as his unit was transferred around the USSR and eventually deployed at an airbase in Kunduz. *
But things took a turn for the worse as – like many Soviet conscripts – he was subjected to beatings and other forms of humiliation by other, more senior soldiers in his unit. Eventually he could bear it no longer, and deserted.
One cold October night in 1984, Alexander fled into the night. His life was saved by a kindly old Afghan, who took pity on him and allowed him to hide at his house. *
The man introduced the deserter to some mujahedin, who fortunately for him belonged to one of the more moderate factions. They listened sympathetically to his story, and treated him with a respect he had not had from his countrymen.
“I stayed in the group,” he said. “And after a month, I accepted Islam.”
So Alexander became Ahmad – but not expected to take up arms against the army he had once served in. The Afghans’ acceptance of him grew into respect as he became a more observant Muslim than most of them. *
In 1989, after the Soviet withdrawal, Alexander was able to send a letter home via the Red Crescent Society. He found out his mother and brother were alive, and they asked him to return – but he did not have the means to do so.
Alexander lost contact with home in the chaos that accompanied the end of the USSR and the emergence of an independent Ukraine. Meanwhile, his other life, the Afghan one, developed - he married in 1993, and now has two daughters, Hadicha and Soro. Neither his wife nor the children speak Russian. *
When the Taleban were toppled in the winter of 2001, United Nations personnel helped Alexander to get in touch with his homeland by telephone, but there was no good news waiting for him this time. His mother and brother had died over the long years of his exile.
He has since given up all hope of going back to Ukraine, saying, “Where would I go, and to whom? Anyway, my life back home was terrible – fatherless, with a blind mother and an ill brother, poverty and no prospects. *
“Here I have relatives, my clan. Even if I am unemployed now, my wife’s brothers are helping me. They respect me; they need me. Who needs me back home?
“Mother passed away waiting for me. My eldest daughter Hadicha is the very image of her,” said Alexander sadly, hugging the child. “Now I want my children to get a good education and become teachers. Inshallah, God willing, if everything is settled, I’ll send them to Kabul to study when they grow up.” *
As the interview drew to a close, and Ahmad took over from Alexander again, he said he was resigned to the way things had turned out, “I don’t blame anyone for what has happened to me. Everything is the will of Allah and apparently this is my destiny.”
Later, Alexander drove me from the centre of Kunduz to a suburb, where he was to introduce me to his friend Gennady Tsevma – Nekmuhammad – one of about ten former Soviet soldiers he knew of still living in northern Afghanistan. *
Alexander strode up to a large wooden gate and hammered on it, shouting, “Nekmuhammad! Open the gate, guests from the motherland have arrived!”
The gate opened to reveal a man lit by the flicker of a kerosene lamp, and looking for all the world like a Russian Cossack despite his "pakol" and Afghan dress.
Gennady was barely 18 years old when he was drafted into the Soviet army in the spring of 1983. His parents and younger brother Sergei waved him off at the Donetsk enlistment office. *
After training, he was stationed in Soviet Uzbekistan and then transferred to Kunduz. *
On his first night on sentry duty, Gennady’s unit was attacked by the mujahedin. He tried to shout out a warning, but one of the attackers put a knife to his throat. He was bundled into a sack and taken prisoner.
He gradually adopted the Muslim faith and soon lost all hope of seeing his homeland again.
“My parents died waiting for me to return. I feel guilty that they suffered because of me – because I was unable to escape from here,” he said.
Gennady has a good job working as a driver for an Italian non-government organisation. *
But although he is younger than his friend Alexander, he looks much older. His health has recently begun failing as a result of a leg injury he sustained two decades ago while still in the Soviet military. His leg suddenly shortened last year and the pain has become chronic and almost intolerable.
“It’s getting more and more difficult to go to work, but I have to, as my daughters Sangimo and Malposha are still small, and my son Fazylo has not fully grown up yet,” he explained.
“Every morning, while it’s still dark, I limp over to our Kamaz truck with him to teach him to drive so that he can support his sisters and mother if something happens to me. *
His wife Havo, who married Gennady when she was only 12 years old, told me, “Thanks be to Allah that I was married to him – he is kind, he doesn’t beat or curse me, and takes care of us all. But now he is getting sick.”
While Gennady has so far been able to hold his job, his life is not without other worries. His daughters are afraid to go out to play in the street because the neighbours’ children bully them, taunting them with the term “shuravi” or “Soviets” – an insult apparently learned from their parents.
Gennady worries about what future his daughters will have in this devastated country, with so few schools or job prospects. And as the days pass, his thoughts are increasingly turning to his homeland.
His younger brother Sergei – whom he last saw when he went off to the army – still lives in Ukraine, and Gennady was recently able to trace his telephone number.
It was a draining emotional experience for all concerned. The children couldn’t understand why their father was crying, or why he was talking to some far-off relative in a strange foreign language. *
“Sergei, don’t cry, I will definitely come to you,” Gennady told the brother he hadn’t spoken to for two decades.
“I will come home for sure.”