Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Remembering the Soviet Invasion
In December 1979, the first Soviet tanks were seen on the streets of Kabul as the Russians began a “temporary intervention” that was to end only ten years later. A quarter of a century on, how do ordinary Afghans remember the invasion and the ensuing years under foreign domination?
IWPR interviewed a random group of Afghans about their memories of those times.
"I left home early one morning to go and buy bread,” recalled Fatima, 50, from Khair Khana, north of Kabul. “The shop was closed and there were soldiers patrolling the streets. I was very scared, and felt that devils had come to my country."
A taxi driver from Kabul city remembers, "I went to work in the taxi and quite unexpectedly I saw two Soviet tanks with soldiers standing in front of them.
"They were stopping vehicles going to the city centre. I was very angry and on the verge of ramming them, but then I recalled that I didn't own the taxi."
"I was a child when the Soviets came into Afghanistan," said 29-year-old Nasir Ahmad. "I left my home one morning and these soldiers were coming down the road carrying red shovels. They started digging holes to plant young trees.
"When I noticed other children around the soldiers, I grew more confident and went closer. One young soldier asked me to hold the tree while he dug in the soil around the root. He seemed quite nice but what frightened me most was his red face and big black boots."
Others found that the invasion changed their lives.
"When I first saw the soldiers I became so angry that I started cursing [Soviet leader Leonid] Brezhnev,” said Akram Khan, 45, a farmer from the Deh Sabz district in Kabul province. "I was so enraged and shouting so loudly that they eventually arrested me. When I was released 18 months later from Pul-e-Charkhi [notorious prison], I moved to Pakistan and began fighting against the invaders."
Mohammad Ajan Haqpal, a professor of literature at Kabul university, said, "In June, 1980, troops moved into Laghman province. As they approached my village, everyone fled into the surrounding countryside.
"One young woman was shot dead in the middle of a wheat field, and when her body was found, her baby was still suckling on her breast."
Haqpal said that the same day, mortars were fired at the village mosque and 10 people died. They were buried in a mass grave.
Rahimullah, 40, from Deh Sabz district, recalls, "During the Russian invasion I spent two weeks in jail for no offence whatsoever. When I was released, the tanks were still outside.
“I asked myself whether I’d ever live to see the day when they left my land - and I did."
As coronavirus sweeps the globe, IWPR’s network of local reporters, activists and analysts are examining the economic, social and political impact of this era-defining pandemic.
- Europe & Eurasia
- Latin America
- Middle East & North Africa
- Focus Pages
- Training & Resources
- Print Publications
- IWPR Spotlight