The heroic history of two wars is intertwined at Saur-Mogila. And, for Abdullah—even of three.
A fighter from Donetsk’s Vostok Brigade told us how he was sent to the USSR on a semi-secret programme, called ‘Watan’, and why he came to the Donbass.
Nephew of Hekmatyar
We became acquainted with Abdullah at Saur-Mogila. Meeting extraordinary people in war is always a random affair. They cannot be invented; there is no schedule for meeting them. They just appear in your way, painting the harsh greyness of combat with unexpected tones.
In the Donbass, wearing beards is fashionable among the Militia. Thus, we did not immediately recognise the swarthy lad with a sub-machine gun as a native of sunny Afghanistan. The more so because he spoke Russian very fluently.
“Where are you from?” asked the writer, Alexander Prokhanov, at the top of Saur-Mogila.
Abdullah was accompanying him as one of his guards.
“I am a Pashtun from the Alokozai tribe,” smiled the bearded guy. “It is from near Waziristan.”
“Kipling has a poem called ‘Ford o’ Kabul River’,” recalled Prokhanov.
“He was a British spy,” Abdullah continued, unexpectedly. “They had this institution of Political Agents in Afghanistan a hundred and fifty years before the Russians came.”
“What is your Alokozai tribe famous for?” we asked.
“My second uncle is Gulbuddin Hekmatyar,” (leader of the Hizb-e Islami political party -auth.), the Pashtun explained, unembarrassed.
Hekmatyar is infamous. In 2003, the USA declared him an international terrorist for collaborating with al-Qaeda.
“I visited him in Peshawar after the war, to negotiate the release of our prisoners. He received me as a guest and treated me to some tea,” continued Prokhanov cautiously, trying to work out which side the Afghan supported. “Were you in Tora Bora?”
“Hekmatyar controlled the place; he helped bin Laden.” Abdullah shook his head. “Now, in his old age, he has realised that he will soon stand before God and that his hands are covered in blood. He is trying to do good deeds. Did you hear the story about the uprising in the Pakistani prison, where our KHAD [Afghan intelligence agency between 1980 and 1992 -ed.] officers and Russians were being held? Together they raised a revolt.”
“Nobody survived it there…”
“No, they hammered them with howitzers. Just like that,” the Pashtun indicated the ruins of the Saur-Mogila complex.
We try to talk with him, but Abdullah politely—gallantly, even—apologises that he is at work, guarding the important guest. We meet the next day in order to understand what brought him to Novorossiya.
The ‘Watan’ Programme
Abdullah came to the Soviet Union in 1985 as part of the semi-secret ‘Watan’ programme. Orphans, whose fathers had been killed by the ‘dushman’ [name used by Afghans and Russians for the mujahideen, from the Pashto word for “enemy” -ed.], were gathered from different cities, provinces, and different tribes. Ninety percent of them were the children of pro-Soviet government officials and soldiers. In the USSR they were to be given a strongly secular education in order to infuse a new vitality into the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan.
“My father served as the Governor of Badakhshan province,” Abdullah recalls. “He was lured into a trap and then fired at with explosive ammunition. First they shot his hands, then his legs. They were yelling ‘Allahu akbar!’ It is not good to do such things in God’s name.”
“Are most of your family back there?”
“My family is divided into two camps. One—pro-Soviet; the other—pro-American, under the idea of jihad. It turned out that my family destroyed itself. The same can be said for all of Afghanistan, where we destroyed one another. The paternal line of my entire clan has been expunged. Incidentally, those who once fought against the Soviet forces now truly regret it.”
“What did you do in the ‘Watan’ programme? Do you remember your childhood?”
“Of course. We studied a lot. We had both Russian and Afghan teachers. We studied the secular sciences, and the religious… We were even taught Islam. The Christians did not tell us: ‘Here is our patented, unique God.’ They knew that we would return to our country, they respected our predispositions, our genetic features. As far as I know, 1,800 children were involved in this programme. But now, half of them are gone. In the turbulent ’90s a lot of guys who had received an excellent education just happened to end up on the streets. We were given no citizenship and no documents: “You are here illegally. Go back to your…” By that time there were already strangers there [in Afghanistan -ed.]. In power were those against whom we were trained. And here [in Russia -ed.] we were not welcome. Some were deported and they were killed there as ‘Russian agents’. I have been on the streets since I was fourteen years old. Everything was turned upside down then. All those who spoke to us about the bright future instantly became democrats. From Comrades they turned into Masters.
Parallels between two wars
“What do you think about what is happening right now, here in the Donbass?”
“The war is the same as it was in Afghanistan. America stirred up everything over there, and so my people are still beggars. The most impoverished country—ours. The most devastated infrastructure—ours. They want to do the same things here. This is a well worn scheme. They want that Russians bomb the mother of Russian cities—Kiev. It is calculated beforehand. In any case, we shall be in Kiev.”
“Is there any similarity between two wars, Afghan and Ukrainian?”
“Aside from the terrain, the mentality and the religious component—everything is identical. In our team there are guys who served in Afghanistan, people who are already aged. Once they helped my people. And now I have the opportunity to help them. I do not want your family to be destroyed, as was mine.”
“What is going happen next, in your opinion?”
“If you do not find common ground, genuinely, from the heart, not just on paper, it will be a tragedy—for centuries. There will be no quiet life, either for Poroshenko or for anyone else. They will forever be awaiting the assassination attempt, even in exile. The day before yesterday I was passing down the street and a granny was standing, asking people for money. She stopped me, crying: ‘My son, well, when will we get pensions? I’m hungry.’ For four months retired people have not had their pensions. I do not know how they manage to survive. Everything we have we share with them. In fact, the outcome of the war depends not only on those who are here. There, in Kiev, people jump and shout: ‘Who does not jump is Moskal.’”
‘In Kiev they are jumping and waiting for us’
“They are clearly not for peace…”
“In fact they are thinking: ‘You should have come quickly.’ Those who are there should have their say. Especially the middle class, with their starched sheets and their apartments… Otherwise, Grads will come and fall on those starched sheets, as they did here. It is the middle class, the intelligentsia, about whom Lenin spoke so unflatteringly, who allow the Grads to batter the cities of the Donbass. The elite, who can stop everything, is cravenly silent. So, the time has come to replace it.”
“Do you think peace is possible?”
“Listen, Ukraine and Russia—they are one and the same. You are being simply surrounded. Look: Central Asia, Libya, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan—they are all Russian allies. Us, they almost finished; now they came for you. And they will not stop. The main objective—not us, not Ukraine, but you, the Russians. You, who spend your holidays by the sea, who work in posh offices—they will come for you too. You will go ever further away to other cities thinking that Russia is vast. One cannot calmly look on at what is happening here. Either you will be slaves, or you will rise up and have your say. One of your greats said: ‘The Russian language will save both itself and the world.’ I think that what is happening now—this is a trial from God. To see who has what it takes. Television and western values virtually expelled God from the soul. But not from everyone. There are still very many people who remember who they are and where they came from. The huge number of volunteers is proof of that. Many times attempts were made to take this land; now they try again. But they shall never take it. And we shall not bomb Kiev as they want us to do. This is our city, this is our country. The people who are sitting out there, they are waiting… They leap, they jump and watch for when we will come. And we shall come. Be patient just a little.”