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. 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. 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.’
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. 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.’
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.’