Angola diary of the wife of a russian advisor
Our appreciation goes to…
Specifically grateful to …for support and assistance…
We have special words of thanks…..
Words of thanks are extended to…
Text Copyright © Tatiana Khoudoyerko 1985, Russia
Edited by Alexander Bouchnev , 2013, Russia
Translated by Igor V. Ignatovich, 2014, Russia
Edited by ……..
Final editing of Johan Schoeman, 2014, South Africa
Photos – courtesy of …
September 11, 1985. (Note: the writing has been started almost four years after the described events)
I shall commence my narration from the very beginning. So, I went to reunite with Alex in September 1980. In Moscow, my dad and Yury saw me off. The plane headed towards Luanda, and it took us 13 hours to get there, with a stopover in Budapest (Hungary) and Brazzaville (Congo).
The meals and beverages were perfect on the plane, we were even served some wine! In Luanda, we were welcomed by a representative of (from???) the Soviet Military Mission. The bus took us to the Mission. While driving around the city, I experienced a wonderful feeling that it's not happening to me, as if I'm watching a popular Russian TV program - "Watch TV and Travel with Us" (1).
It is hot, air temperature is plus 45 to 50 degrees Centigrade; and the air is looming with sultriness. The soil is red, as if sprinkled with red chili pepper. Large buildings…scuffed, unkempt. The streets are filled with traffic and people, as black as tar (ebony???). Cars were painted in all the colors of the rainbow, and were almost all smashed or beaten: without a side door or without a bonnet, or without a roof. And palm trees, lots of them everywhere...
Tulip trees and some other fanciful flowers: bright red, deep purple… And then I saw the ocean! The Atlantic ocean! It seemed to me that it goes high into the sky: because white clouds were floating low above the surface. Very beautiful and unusual sight! Later, I bathed in the ocean in January (2), and it no longer seemed so awesome or amazing to me. Just like an ordinary sea. But I still remember my first feelings.
When en route, I got acquainted with Natasha Sytenko. Afterwards it turned out that her husband had been working together in the same group with Alex. We spent 2 to 3 days in Luanda, before flying to Lubango on board a Cuban plane. We flew over the mountains and forests. Then we stayed for another 2 or 3 days in our Soviet Mission and there were no volunteers to take us further. So the day came when we were told: "Off we go!" We were flying (yes! actually flying!) in a white "Volga" sedan (3) with frightening speed of 130-140 kilometers per hour (4)!
Our escort - Advisor to the Chief of Staff and other officers – permanently joked with us, singing songs all the way. And maybe in jest, maybe seriously, they told Natasha and me, "Natasha, you watch the sky in the rear, Tanya (Tatiana), you watch the port and starboard, we watch ahead – just in case South African aircraft appear!"
"We laughed: what aircraft?! And we were driving so fast, that rushed past the convoy, in the first car of which I noticed my Alex waving his hand to us: "Halt!”. But we went on racing, and when we realized that these were our guys who were driving, we’ve been far away already. They have already made a U-turn and caught up with us. As later Alex explained, they received a cable, saying we were on our way, so they moved to meet us. And as we hurried past, they had to catch up instead of meeting us. And what's interesting: after all, there were no oncoming cars at all. There were very few cars, if any, on this terrible road.
At last we arrived at our notorious Ongiva and Alex showed me to our room: a double bed, a fridge, a cupboard , a table, two chairs, a large cabinet for keeping food products. That's all. In the evening we all gathered on the terrace, and the process of adopting us as members of their group started. They made Natasha and me tell our curriculum vitae, and eventually voted in favor of us being accepted to the group.
From that moment our African weekdays began. Alex used to leave for work at 8:00 am, at noon return for lunch and rest - "African time ". And at 3 pm he used to go somewhere again, around 5 or 6 pm was already at home. Sometimes he didn’t have to go anywhere in the afternoon, or stayed at the Mission as a DO - the duty officer. We mockingly called them "Domestic Officers."
There were also some other inhabitants in our house: the Egorovs - Raya and Yury, Lida (Lydia) and Vitaly - the Rakovs, Natasha and Vovka (Vladimir) Sytenko and two so called "bachelors ". One of them – Seryozha (Serguei) Lachine was an actual bachelor, while the other – Tolik (Anatoly) Poznakhirko - lived alone, because his wife stayed with their children in Leningrad (presently Saint Petersburg). Another house was occupied by our commander Yury (Grigorievich) Boyarski and his wife Nina (Ivanovna); Oleg, the Advisor to the Chief of Staff; Viktor (Petrovich) Grebeshkov, the Advisor to the Brigade Political Commissar, with his wife –Yelena; as well as the Kireyevs - Eugeny (Victorovich) and Lydia (Pranovna), the Tikhonovs - Alla and Sasha (Alexander), the Adviser to the Brigade Chief of Logistics.
But all the women mentioned above came after my arrival, except Nina ( Ivanovna), Raya (Raisa) and Lida (Lydia) Rakov. I remember that there were no South African aircraft during the first week. Our group commander and political commissar briefed us on our actions in case of bombing.
We felt no fear then - just interest. But still, there was a shelter in our yard – an old dugout and a new one was being built of reinforced concrete - right in front of our house. There were also guards for protection – Segurança (5) in Portuguese. The first time South African aircraft crossed the border, our guards knocked on the artillery shell case (awful ringing noise!). And would knock on our windows. We all would rush to the shelter and stay there till the all clear signal. Then such things started to happen every day, even several times a day, as well as at night. We used to run to the shelter (a new one), as it should be.
I remember one day: Kolya (Nikolay) Pestretsov's wife, Galya, has just arrived. There was an air raid the following day. Angolan anti-aircraft gun fired at South African airplanes, in short, there were lots of shooting and poor Galka (Galya) - she was so horrified, she grabbed my hands and was shaking all over, then she burst to tears. We were already accustomed to this horror. But we still did not know at the time, that what we are going to experience in the future – will be even more disastrous. If there had been no this terrible road by which our guys had to transport sitreps every Thursday, or those damn planes, we would have lived quite well.
We were having fun in the evening. We had tea parties under the stars. We drank Kolya's (Nikolai) special tea with allspice and Victor’s (Petrovich's) - with garlic. Delicious! We had some holidays: on November 7 (6) we received Angolan friends - fifty people or so. The banquet was a real success! Angolans would drink our Russian vodka with lemon, ice and candy through a straw! Yuck! One of them had been sipping his only glass throughout the night - and eventually was beastly drunk. And moreover, Angolans used to propose such long toasts ... And when meeting each other, you should kiss them twice on both cheeks.
They treated us well, even with respect. The African summer starts in November. December - January is a rainy season. I had never seen such rains before. Here flows a solid wall of water, accompanied by such a strong thunderstorm! It is so scary at night: thunder reverberating, lightning flashing so bright, all is bursting to pieces! And what's more, at night we were terrorized by crickets and cicadas. I couldn't fall asleep - cicadas produced such an unpleasant metallic ringing noise, and crickets, they lived in our room. It would crawl under the cupboard and chirp, if you chase it out – it would escape under the bed and you have to go on hunting for it all night long. As for fruits and vegetables - we had everything, except potatoes. Once Alex brought - probably from Luanda - very small potatoes wrapped up in a paper bag, like candies. And we fried them. Yummy! We grilled bananas instead of potatoes regularly. We baked home bread, rolls; we salted herring ourselves.
We had family vegetable gardens adjacent to the house. We cultivated onions, radishes, beets, tomatoes there. Cucumbers would not grow there - ants ate them in the bud. There were watermelons, cabbages. Onions were very nice, brought from the Xangongo fazenda. White. Large bulbs and sweet too. Bread supplies were erratic: due to the lack of flour, or yeast. Sometimes we ate cookies instead of bread. Beef meat was very tough. We had our own farm consisting of a pig. Three times a day I cooked a soup of rice, tomatoes, cabbages and tangerines for it. There was also Masha, a nanny-goat and Boris, a billy-goat.
Two orange trees and a lemon were growing in the courtyard. They bore fruit all year round: you could see ripe fruit, green ones and flowers on one tree simultaneously. Once a week, our guys alternately travelled to Xangongo or even further - to Cahama, Lubango. They used to go there on their official business, and for food procurements as well. Well, as soon as a convoy of vehicles (and they usually moved within a column with guards, with anti-aircraft guns, vehicles camouflaged with tree branches) departed from Ongiva, enemy planes would appear, some 15-20 minutes after their departure. All the convoy elements and people would disperse in all directions: looking for shelter under a tree, in a pit, a roadside ditch, and our anti-aircraft guns start shooting at the planes. But they used to fly in circles at high altitudes, tease and fly away. It was an agonizing waiting process for us women, whose husbands went with the convoy. My Lord! I took it so hard - when Alex was leaving with a convoy like that!
I had heebie-jeebies, was beside myself with anxiety, waiting for him to return. Sometimes I even asked to let me go together with him, to be closer to him and see all for myself - it is easier that way, than to wait. Our team leader has been rotated: the Boyarskis left for another military district; and Fyodor Zhurbitski arrived and another political officer - Joseph (Illarionovich) Vazhnik with his wife Yeugeniya (Grigorievna). Everything has changed in the group at once. Previously, us, women, every Saturday used to go for practice driving. We went to the airfield and there our guys taught us to drive cars. Then, after lunch, we usually proceeded to the shooting range and trained firing AK submachine-guns. I could even fire a pistol. We threw hand grenades over the hill. I was the chairman of our Women's Council (7). There were 9 women in our team only.
We all enjoyed driving cars, and were waiting for those Saturdays as if they were holidays. In fact what were we doing for days? We were cooking (I also cooked for our translator – Seryozha (Serguei), knitting sisal, making various bags and toys - owls, dwarfs. Reading books. We did not go anywhere on our own, just sitting in our backyard. From time to time our men took us with them to show us shonas. Shona is a plain with low saplings and shrubs. I remember Alex taking me to visit Gola, his advisee. First, to the battalion deployment area, and then to his home. The "house"- which was made of boards, branches, and some kind of iron sheets – looked like a small shed or barn and was located near the battalion. Just at that time Gola's wife Violetta, a primary school teacher, came to visit him. We hesitated outside the "house", and then entered it and ... Oh my God! It was stinking inside! As if we were in the zoo!
All their belongings, blankets, pots – everything was scattered around the house. One could not guess where they slept and where they ate. Dry intestines - or may be dried meat? - were hanging above the table. One couldn’t breathe! We rushed outside, and sighed deeply. One day they also came to visit us with their son - he was 1 year old. Blacky (Ebony?), ugly. They called him "grande bandito ", cause he used to take an orange and throw it into his mother! She also told me that he once stabbed her with a knife! Actual gangster that he was! I've presented her a necklace, earrings, brooch – and some cheap jewelry things that I brought from Moscow. She was happy! And then on my birthday they presented me a roll of cotton cloth with a portrait of their leader - Agostinho Neto- and a map of Angola.
We also had other friends there in Angola: Vergilio and Talma, they had a five year old son Jo and later she gave birth to their second son - Mario. He is Angolan, and black, but European-featured, like a black cute kewpie doll in the "Children's World" shop (8). She is Portuguese, with light-colored skin and straight hair. Both of them were teachers.
Their house was situated next to ours, across the road. They often came to visit us to watch a movie or just for fun, for no particular reason. We spoke by signs using gestures and words, which we had learned in Portuguese. To tell the truth, 6 or 7 months on- and I could easily communicate with them. I even taught one Angolan - Rosa (she was also our neighbor) – to speak the Russian language. Her husband, Angelo was the chief pioneer of the town - the Secretary of the Angola Pioneer organization, and she worked in the police as a secretary. But she was simple minded, dullish, slow to learning. She usually came to my house in the morning and then sat till the evening came. And we had some tea. When I was cooking soup she stood near me and was watching. Well, she tired me out! She had a daughter - 1 year old - Rusana. Such a cute little girl! We, Russians, liked to nurse her. We even have photos of her - she was such a sweetie!
The New Year -1981- was coming in. Naturally, we didn't have any Christmas or New Year tree there. But Alex fetched a huge eucalyptus branch and we put it in the artillery shell case on the refrigerator. I decorated it using everything I had: badges, my beads and covered it with cotton wool wads, cut out a paper star to be mounted on top of the tree. And so we got a wonderful New Year tree – everybody dropped in to look at it. In the evening of December 31 there was a heavy tropical torrential downpour. As always, we were going to celebrate the NewYear together, all members of our group. We've cooked all sorts of dishes, even aspic of meat! The cuisine was just grand!
The very moment we began our preparations, choosing dresses, the rain started. Heavy shower! And ... The lights went out! We began to look for candles but we couldn’t even venture out in pouring rain, still we had to move to another house. We waited until the rain abated, and then hurried over to another house carrying umbrellas. And sat down at the table by candlelight, but at 24 hours, Moscow time (22 hours, local time) the lights went on. We had a barrel of fun; our Angolan comrades were enjoying with us too.
Then we celebrated my birthday - I turned 30! It's a Date! And the next day Alex and I went on vacation. We left early in the morning, at 4 a.m. The Sytenkos decided to go to Lubango with us: three of them - Natasha, Vova (Vladimir) and Tolik (Anatoly). While we were on the move, before reaching Xangongo, right in front of us a plane flew across the road, coming in low, lower than the tree-level (there were no Angolan aircraft - only South African). We sharply turned towards the roadside. I still have a reminder of this turn left on my back after a strong blow by the radio-receiver. All us took shelter and hid our cars under the trees and waited. No one was heard or seen.
Half an hour later we resumed movement and safely reached Xangongo. We had some rest in our compound and went on, and then planes swooped down on us somewhere between Xangongo and Cahama. It was so unexpected: we didn't even hear them approaching from behind. The truck with guards was moving ahead of us and we saw that the anti-aircraft gunner began shooting just above our car. Vova (Vladimir) Sytenko was driving at the moment: he swerved to the left roadside and it saved our lives. The vehicle with the guards dodged to the right and the plane launched non-guided rockets at it. The anti-aircraft gunner, poor guy, who had been already dead by the moment, still continued shooting. Obviously he did not hit any aircraft...
Their truck was smashed, and as for us, when our car turned and stopped, we started to jump out of the car and run away from the road towards the brushwood paling. And as for me, having opened the UAZ jeep (9) door I noticed puddles and mud. All of a sudden I remembered that I wore my white open-toe sandals, and the first thought which came to my mind was that I would make them dirty! So foolish of me! But when I heard explosions – I simply tumbled out of the car! One sandal came off the foot, caught by a snag, and I fell down and couldn't disengage and release my foot! Meanwhile another plane approached and came directly towards us ... It flew so low that the skirt of my greenish dress was over my head because of the afterwind. I rested on my elbows and knees, crouched in a heap, curling into a ball.
Alex scolded me afterwards: "What were you doing?! You had to lie down on your stomach and stay lying as flat as you can, so not to be hit by bullets! "The aircraft launched 28 non-guided rockets, aiming at us and our jeep, and then opened machine gun fire. Bullets rained down like peas – with the similar noise. When things settled down, I pulled the leg out, releasing it from snag and also jumped over the fence to the place, where all our guys were taking cover. Everybody was alive, safe and sound - no one was wounded. Even our jeep remained intact.
Later, in Moscow, we laughed at those pilots-non-achievers, botchers. But at that time we lost our nerve and chickened out: oh, how terrible it was! One has to go through it to understand. A truer word was never spoken: "Those saying that there’s nothing frightening at a war – haven’t been at any war, or haven’t seen a war." It's scary! It’s frightening! Very much! There were wounded among our guards - three or four people, I do not remember for sure. They wept like children when they wailed over the killed anti-aircraft gunner – it made us feel creepy all over! An old Angolan woman, who was working in the field and was wounded in the back, came up to us, crying with pain.
We remained in place for a long time, waiting for the anti-aircraft gunner and wounded soldiers to be taken to the nunnery, then resumed marching. We had to cover some 30 to 40 kilometers (10) to reach Cahama, but it seemed to us as if there were 400 kilometers (11), no less! We were all on wires, drove as if sitting on pins and needles, holding the car door-handles, so that we could pop out quickly if aircraft appeared. In Cahama we were met by our guys, Soviet people - who came out to have a look at us – as we all, tattered and stained, dismounted the car. And Tolik (Anatoly) Poznakhirko had a blue eye and a huge bruise under his eye: bad luck, he hit a tree branch when the airplane attacked. All our bruises and scratches were treated, we were fed and I fell asleep. As for me, I feel sleepy, when I'm scared. An hour later, we resumed our movement – this time up to Lubango: that is additional 200 kilometers (12).
That's how they saw us off on our vacation. After that we proceeded to Moscow, while our guys had to do this terrible way again, this time – going back.
Those remaining in Ongiva believed I would not come back to Angola after the vacation, that I would stay in the Union (13), that I would be scared and stricken with panic, but Alex and I returned back together. How can we be separated and live apart? How can I let him go all alone?
We went on living this way for another five months, life as usual. Raya (Raisa) and Natasha came back after their holidays too. Eugeny (Victorovich) brought his wife Lida (Lydia) with him. We settled down to a good life. There were five women in our group altogether.
And then, on August 21, 1981, THIS ALL began. In the morning we saw off the Advisor to the Chief of Staff in Alex's team, who was leaving for Lubango: he took along our letters home, in which we wrote that everything was nice and we were satisfied with everything. But in the evening we learned that this afternoon Cahama, which was 200 kilometers (12) northwards, was bombed, the road was cut and blocked and all the incoming roads have been closed down, but our Chief of Staff had barely made it, he passed before the bombing commenced. Then chaos and confusion started off among us: some insisted that women had to be evacuated using any possible ways, and suggested a guide is to be found among the local population to accompany us, but such person was not available. The next day we received information that Xangongo had been bombed - it was located 100 kilometers (14) further north.
On August 25, South Africans dropped leaflets on our Ongiva informing us that the next day, August 26, our compound would be razed to the ground. And those wishing to stay alive should proceed to the road, without weapons, wearing civilian clothes and move in the northern direction - no one would do us any harm. But it was a trap!
At night, the planes were flying and shelling the town and military forces positions. We spent all the night taking shelter in the refuge (a shelter, dugout). It is terrible to recollect what we went through, pondered over. So on the 26th of August, at sunrise, we all left our Mission and moved over to the shelter at the HQ. It was bigger and deeper. Because the space in our shelter was not enough: students from a boarding school were brought in there. Poor children lived in our "Red Corner " (15) and hid in our shelter.
Everything has been quiet throughout August 26 and on the same night we left the shelter and returned to our compound. We heard it on the radio that Moscow, and Cuba, and Portugal have lodged a note of protest. We presumed this might have scared away the South Africans, so they withdrew, leaving the town untouched. It was a quiet and peaceful night. In the morning the guys left for the HQ, while the women as well as Kolya (Nikolai) stayed at home.
I started the cooking –boiling the meat for the soup, Segurança guards were busy with cleaning and tidying up the yard and suddenly…We heard the droning sound of an aircraft, sprang out into the street and saw a tiny twin-boom airplane ??? and Angolans opened AA fire. It seemed to us to be a Cuban plane (suppose it arrived to pick us up – who knows!), but they started firing at it – we even felt sorry for it!
Alas! It turned out to be a South African spotter plane directing the jet fighters. Few minutes later a huge aircraft darted out from behind the building, heading toward us, and dropped a bomb which hit the AA gun position, followed by another plane, and one more. We rolled down into the dugout.
There were unimaginable goings-on there! The air itself was trembling, small stones were falling on our heads, blast waves shook and rocked us. The shelter was packed to full capacity, kids were screaming, and we were standing close to the exit. Lydia (Pranovna) managed to reach our shelter (she was sleeping in her room and came wearing her nightgown, pressing the jacket and trousers to her chest). After a while Kolya (Nikolai) warned us that it will be the end of us if we do not escape from the Mission compound. The whole town was set ablaze.
Us, women, grabbed each other’s hands and remained motionless, as though thunder-struck. Then he started shouting at us: "Get out, I tell you, or they’ll blow us sky-high!" All of us rushed out. Initially I was the first, leading, but having reached the first building, all of a sudden my legs became feeble and almost gave way under me and I couldn’t pluck up my spirits to continue running, my lips became parched. Somehow we reached the road, and up there Kolya (Nikolai) in his jeep caught up with us. We jumped inside and moved to the main CP where our husbands were at the time.
The shelter there was spacious: a long corridor and a lot of tiny rooms on both sides of it, veiled by curtains. We were accommodated in one of these rooms. Then Talma with her kids and Nene, with her children too, joined us. We didn't hear those terrible explosions any longer –just earth was falling slightly off the dugout walls, and muffled bangs were audible. A radio operator could be heard screaming something in the neighboring room: he was transmitting over the radio station. There were rumors that Cuban forces were about to arrive and help us out. Meanwhile heavy fighting was on in the town, and at noon we’ve been informed that South African tanks had entered the town. Still, we cherished hopes for the Cubans.
A sort of stewed sweet cherries were brought to us in tins. Lyonya (Leonid), our translator, was greedily tucking them away, Lida (Lydia) was nibbling dry sausage (saveloy?). But I felt so sick at the stomach – on the edge of vomiting: probably caused by the horror we endured when we were running away. I don't understand how it is possible to eat in such situation. And Lida (Lydia) kept on saying: "Come on, girls, eat! We might have no meals at all for a long time!" As if she had a presentiment that this was her last meal ... Then the lights went out in the shelter, creating terrible panic. The dugout was overcrowded: children, women; everything was whirling and swirling as we rushed towards the exit. Our guys instructed us to remain in our room and go nowhere until all others leave.
Angolan forces started retreating, and we – leaving our asylum. Alex held me by my hand (we took along the most necessary things: warm clothes, water, lemons, crackers – everything has already been loaded on the car) and made our way towards the exit. Brilliant sun momentarily dazzled us, the sky was blue and entirely cloudless, and one could hardly believe that people were dying somewhere there, that shells were tearing them to pieces, that bullets were punching holes in them (pierce???). Everything was roaring and rumbling around as we rushed to our car: I couldn’t see it, Alex was pulling me along. It turned out to be parked in a camouflaged entrenchment. Inside it there were: Alex – on driver’s seat, Lida (Lydia), Eugeny, Tomas and myself, and several Segurança men clung onto it, holding on its sides. We drove between trees on the sand.
We were driving with difficulty. Fyodor, our team leader, was calling after us, urging us to follow the departed combat materiel, while he himself remained together with Leonid, our translator. Kolya (Nikolai) was driving another jeep with Galya (Galina), Vovka (Vladimir), Natasha, Yura (Yury), Raya (Raisa) and Joseph in it. Aircraft overflew and attacked every 5or10 minutes, everything around was thumping and thundering. And this spotter plane kept on flying, circling around. We were in the leading vehicle; moving from tree to tree, and as soon as a plane approached, all of us would dismount and run away from the vehicle. We followed the convoy in this manner, though we couldn’t keep up with it and were lagging far behind: the convoy proceeded without any halts, and it was seriously beaten down and disheveled by airplanes.
Then we remembered suddenly, just in time to notice that the second car was seen nowhere. We waited fairly long, no sign of it. So my Alex dropped us off and drove back to look for our guys. He was absent for quite a long time, Lord, I took it so hard! Everything blows up, quakes, but if we are together – seems to be not that scaring. I looked for him with all my eyes after he left. Just at that moment something exploded nearby, the earth swayed under our feet and all of us fell down. Tomas, commander of our Segurança guards, was close to me. So I cuddled up to him, put my head under him and just kept on reiterating : "Tomas! Dear Tomas! ", but he remained silent, just bending my head lower and lower, so my nose finally buried in the sand.
Something exploded nearby with such a thunder that the air quavered, and our guys as well as Alex have been absent for a long time .Then we saw them driving our car: they had to leave theirs as shell fragments had punctured all the tires. Obviously there was no room for all of us in it, and we were scared to go by it anyway: all the same, we often had to jump out from it. Kolya (Nikolai) was at the wheel of the jeep carrying all essential things, while we followed it, running from a tree to a tree. Lida, poor Lydia (Pranovna) Kireeva! She was 40 years old at the time and suffered from asthma. Do you realize what she felt when she was running!?
She was constantly lagging behind us and her husband Eugeny ( Viktorovich) dragged Lida (Pranovna) by her hand, so we would reach the nearest cover and wait for them. Lydia (Pranovna) turned red as a cooked lobster, as a beetroot. And then all of us suddenly started coughing due to the tickling feeling in the throat. Having noticed small yellow clouds appearing, bursting along the road, we realized that South Africans employed chemical weapons. We immediately began to move away from the road, deeper into shonas. We abandoned the car, but forgot to take all our products and water in a hurry! We must have taken along at least one lemon! Nobody thought of it then, we couldn’t care less! Anyway, how could we assume that we wouldn't return to the car again!
So we ran further, moving deeper, and all of a sudden we heard the roar of helicopter rotor blades. We lay down under a tree and small bush, buried ourselves in leaves, having hidden all white, red and other bright strips and spots on our dresses, those who had them... The helicopter came flying low, very low – we even ceased breathing, but it persisted circling overhead. I lay with my face downwards, while Alex was looking upwards and therefore he told us what he could see there: helicopter’s door was wide open, and a huge robust guy, white, with the sleeves rolled-up, stood with his submachine gun in the opening and was shooting beneath the trees and at bushes. I can't tell how long it was circling overhead, possibly 15 or 20 minutes, but it seemed to us an eternity.
It flew away, but we decided to remain on the scene and wait till the twilight, as there was no sense moving forward: the spotter plane was there all the time and could direct helicopters at us again. Suddenly we heard submachine and pistol fire next to us. There was fighting nearby and we were withdrawing all over again. We kept on running until we stumbled on a South African tank camouflaged with green branches. We quickly retreated, sat down in the bushes, and our men started conferring on what to do next. We, women, squatted silently in a circle: only Lida (Lydia) was enraptured with flowers and fluttering butterflies. I remember telling her: "Lydia (Pranovna)! What are you looking at? You have to look around, so that South Africans would not spot us!" Poor thing! She was inhaling the last minutes of her life …
Men decided on my Alex, Iosif and Tomas coming nearer to the road, where they would estimate the situation; and then - if there were no South Africans – we would join them, cross the road and go northwards. So they got up and left. They moved away some ten meters, I turned round and saw South African soldiers behind us and yelled: "Here they are!" We scattered in all directions, and they started shooting at us. There was a small cattle enclosure with a fence made of brushwood and snags, and I vaulted over this fence like an arrow (don't know where I got the energy from!). South Africans fired several bursts at us, and then shifted fire towards the road. Running to the fence, I spotted Alex: he headed to the road, to a palm tree.
Later Alex explained that when he saw about thirty South African soldiers encircle us, he rose to his feet and fired his submachine gun at them. Our Political Commissar Iosif ( Illarionovich) joined in, and South Africans neglected us and engaged them. After Alex threw a hand grenade, they couldn't understand where we disappeared and started moving towards the road. Alex told later that bullets were whizzing overhead and he saw Iosif dashing across the road as well. South Africans have been pursuing them till the dusk fell. It was getting dark very quickly there: once the sun set, and it is night already; virtually there is no twilight at all.
It saved us. The shooting moved off and subsided but we lay behind this ill-fated fence: Raya (Raisa) and Vovka (Vladimir) Sytenko lay next to me, and Galya (Galina), Tolik (Anatoly) and Kolya (Nikolai) were a bit more to the right, closer to the fence, one after another. Galya‘s (Galina‘s) right shoulder was almost torn away by a bullet – even the bone was splinted. She croaked thrice and drooped down, her hand turned blue. I pulled out the sterile bandage from my pocket and wanted to throw it over to Tolik (Anatoly) who lay nearer to her, but Tolik said: "Not necessary anymore …" At this instance I heard Natashka‘s voice calling from behind the fence : "Volodya! Volodya (Vladimir)! I seem to be wounded". Volodya asked her: "Can you jump over this fence?", and she hopped over to our side at once.
Natashka was wounded in her back. I threw the gauze over to Vovka (Vladimir), so he could bandage her, but he waved his hands at me: "I can't!", and then I crawled over to them and started dressing Natasha’s wound. The hole, made by the bullet, was huge - the jacket and a shirt were pressed inside the flesh. When I was dressing her wound, I heard Nikolai yelling at the top of his voice, bending over Galka (Galya). He was fisting the ground in despair and shouting: "Galka (Galya) is killed! Galka is killed!" The firing was heard somewhere near the road. Hardly had I finished bandaging Natashka and then the running and shooting resumed – South Africans have returned. An open forest cleaning lay in front of me with some 15 to 20 meters to the nearest tree, but my feet became numb and I couldn't run.
Having taken several steps I hid under that fence, to the top of my head –just my feet didn't fit under the thorny hedge. At this very moment, at once, it became so dark that I could hardly discern the trees behind which all our guys escaped. I heard very well the South Africans approaching Nikolai: he told them something and they guffawed, neighing as stallions. Kolya (Nikolai) remained by Galka‘s (Galya’s) side: he was in such condition that he seemed to be perfectly indifferent to anything, he just didn’t care. He was captured, POWed. My God! What a scary word! But he did tell the day before: "Guys! I am afraid of nothing! I am just afraid of being taken prisoner!"
Single shots could be heard from time to time, but I was unaware who shot and at whom. The radio station went on the air, a South African was transmitting something, but I heard scraps of phrases from which I understood a few words: "Quarto tem! Onde estão os outros? " - "We got four of them! Where are the others? ".
Then they walked one by one, to and fro, on the opposite side of the fence behind which I lay , and the dust, raised by them, got right onto my face, and I heard their (them?) breathing. I must have been in a subconscious state, as if I was falling down somewhere, and all my feelings were as if in a dream. But then I roused myself and I thought to myself: "Well, why am I sleeping? Such terrible things happen here, and I’m falling asleep?! ". I raised my head a bit higher: if they are going to shoot, so let them shoot in the head – why tormenting myself?..
I also took off my earrings and threw them into the hole into which my elbows got when I was hiding under the hedge (or could it have been somebody’s burrow?) – because I thought they would tear the earrings together with my ears! Then a car passed by on the road and came to a halt nearby. The throng of South Africans paced along the fence past me again. My God! What I lived through at the moment? ! ! !
The car finally left and everything calmed down. I started moving, stirring, thorns - as big as that of acacia tree - stuck into my back, my legs grew dumb and I couldn't even move them. And I was fortunate that I couldn't do it, as I heard voices close to me once again. They spoke either Portuguese or some other language – I couldn't make it out.
Thousands of thoughts flashed through my mind, the prime one being – "Where is my Alex? ! " I saw them shooting at him when he was running towards a palm tree. That’s all! Since then I lost the sight of him. I saw Raya (Raisa) and Natashka hiding behind the nearest tree. “That is it!” I thought,” They will leave now, and I will remain all alone! Where shall I go? Which way? Besides, it is very hot in the daytime, and I lost my headgear … And what’s most important - where is my Alex? What has happened to him? And why they said "We’ve got four of them! Where are the others? ". Why” four”? Who else of our guys, apart from Galka (Galya) and Nikolai will it be? What will happen next?
So many questions, questions, questions... And those strange voices in addition! Why haven't they left by that car? Why did they remain? Had I known then that I lay right under their tank, under South Africans’ noses, near their check-point, by no means would I have dared to get out from under those thorny shrubs! I would have stayed there till the morning, taking no steps! However, I waited until the clanking of spoons on pots subsided (probably they had their supper), and, having assumed that all of them left, I decided to make a signal to our guys. But I couldn't whistle as my lips absolutely parched up, so I coughed quietly, and immediately heard Raya’s reciprocal tussiculation! I coughed once again and she replied!
Then I heard Yura (Yury) scolding her: "Hey, Mother! Whom are you signaling with your coughs? Maybe you are signaling to the South Africans? "And she replied: "No! This is Tanya (Tatiana) over there! "Thus I realized that they haven't left and I should crawl out of the shelter and move to join them, towards the tree. But getting out of those thorny bushes was not a simple task – they crackled awfully and it seemed to me that all shonas could hear the twigs snapping! I don't know how long it took me to get out, but I was doing it very carefully and slowly. Then I went on all fours, and the leaves – dead and dry – were rustling underneath! I would clean the leaves away in front of me with my hands, then move one knee, and then another. After that I would listen: all is quiet, and move forward again. Thus I reached a small tree and leaned against it, kneeling, put my arms round the trunk and looked back at the place I was before. I noticed a tank there, with twigs and branches heaped on it, and a man was walking along the fence.
He approached my hideout and stared in my direction. The moon rose, making the milieu perfectly visible. My heart sank into my boots! He stood there for a while and headed towards the road. Meanwhile, having taken a couple of steps, I jumped into the hole behind a big tree where our guys were hiding: Yura (Yury) and Raya (Raisa), Natasha and Vovka (Vladimir). Actually it was not a hole but a foxhole, a slit trench. Natasha told me that when she jumped over the hedge, she caught a glimpse of Eugeny (Viktorovich) bandaging Lida (Lydia) who was wounded in her back. That’s all; no more information about them. Both of them perished - Lida (Lydia) and Eugeny (Viktorovich). We were unaware at the moment as to when and under what circumstances the enemy got their bodies –we learned the details later on.
Natashka was bleeding profusely, the wound started hurting, she has lost a lot of blood. We were sitting in this hole and wondering where to go: up north – but South Africans must have been controlling the road and we wouldn’t have been able to pass there. Southwards? Returning to the place from where we came? So we sat in the hole and waited for the wind to start blowing. Yes, that’s right -the wind! So that the foliage would rustle. Because it was so quiet and calm there that one could hear our bodies shivering from cold and from everything we have endured. The bombardment - that we went through today - was so deeply engraved on our memory that we barely closed our eyes – and at once everything started thumping, exploding as if in reality, and you could even feel the air fluttering! We were scared even to close our eyes, several times I asked: "What’s up? Bombing? "That was not the case with me alone. Everyone else experienced it. Hallucinations.
At last a breeze began to blow and we started moving southerly – where our town was situated. At first we crawled, afterwards we ran, bending down, then - straightened. The day was breaking and we began to look for a cover, but, as ill luck would have it, nothing suitable could be found. Everything looked naked – all trees were without leaves and bushes too. August is a winter season in Africa. Finally we found a small bush surrounded by big cactuses. So we settled down inside. Hardly the sun rose - and helicopters and airplanes immediately resumed their flights, the bombardment in the city recommenced. People were passing by: for some reason all of them headed towards the very particular spot where the bombardment continued. Then we noticed a man and a woman carrying a bucket. We called them up and asked them to let us drink some water from their bucket. My God! What an awful bucket it was! Dirty as hell, I just can’t tell you! I was able to make a single sip - the second one I spat out! The throat at once grew stiff as though I drank a cement solution! Everybody had the same feeling.
Having shared our impressions of the water that we drank, we heard somebody shooting in our direction. The pursuit began: the people that gave us water must have betrayed us to South Africans. We found out afterwards that a helipad (HAA???) was located close to our hideout. They tossed hand grenades right behind us and fired submachine guns. We ran by leaps and bounds. But they didn't chase us too deep: they were also afraid of going far into the shona, therefore they were moving along the road and shooting in a hit-or-miss fashion. We’ve been running around shonas three days on end.
Our tongues resembled brushes – cracked and chapped, and swelled. Lips were chapped and sore too and turned white, and we couldn't speak clearly and distinctly any longer; we could only mumble. We tried to chew bush and cactus leaves, but the sensation they left in the mouth was even worse. My tongue began to (fall back ??? down???) – I started choking with it, so I held its tip with a handkerchief. Then Raya (Raisa) – our "mother"- says that people drink urine to treat catarrhal diseases, why not have a try?
At first it seemed awful to us, but as we were terribly thirsty (intense heat reaching + 40 to 45 degrees Centigrade, coupled with this rushing for cover from bombs and bullets) so we made up our mind and decided to try. But how could we drink, if no vessels were available? Neither a bottle or even a tin could be found anywhere. How to drink? Yury groped about his pockets and found an empty cigarette pack. He made a cup out of it and we started to drink urine one by one – everyone drank his/her own urine. A person whose turn to drink was the last was the unlucky one, as the pack got sodden and fell apart… Well, it seems funny now, but then we were so distressed that it made us to tears. By the way, we had no tears whatsoever. Us, women, purposefully tried to force ourselves to cry, in order to moisten lips by tears. In vain! Not a single tear! Thus we started to drink urine, and we felt a little bit better but it didn’t last long.
This cigarettes pack was carefully dried in the sun, we thought we might use it again. We slept on the ground: we would rake the leaves away so that they do not rustle and sleep on the bare ground, cuddling up together. It was warmer to sleep in the middle, but those who slept on the edges chattered with cold. It was hot at midday, and cold at night: due to the high rate of temperature fall. We used to swap sleeping places in order not to offend or hurt each other. Poor Natasha! How she suffered when Raya and myself changed her bandages! I stuffed a lot different medicines – antibiotics and Sulphidine and antiseptic brilliant green and bandages - into my jacket’s pockets. Natasha would take (i.e. chew) them as I was filling her wound with Sulphidine, having grinded the tablet between the bandage tissues. And when we were removing the dressing, she, poor girl, was becoming rigid with strain, but never moaned. At first, we tore off the dry bandages, without moistening them, but later we hit upon the idea of wetting the bandages with Vovka’s (Vladimir’s) urine, making the removal of dressings easier.
So we sat in the bushes and in the trees. Both, planes and helicopters were flying around. And on the third day we saw a man, an Angolan, far away, walking along the road. He was a black man, wearing a yellow shirt and tattered pants. We beckoned him and explained to him who we were and he began waving his arms, signaling that we should go away as there were a lot of South Africans present. We asked him to bring us some water, holed up and got ourselves ready to wait. A long time elapsed since his departure: we have already lost any hope of him coming back. We started to think that if he returns he would bring South Africans with him - because he could have received a lot of Dollars for the life of a Soviet man. But he came back alone and brought us a full bucket of clean water, some fried liver and meat. We were so grateful to him! I presented him a pendant with a neck chain.
He explained to us by means of gestures that we should go farther away, that his son would come to collect the bucket. He didn't understand Portuguese, but spoke kwanyama, the local dialect, so we had not really been able to talk and find out the direction to Ongiva and who was there in the town. We just moved a bit further and found a nice place: a small termite mound surrounded by shrubs and trees. We spent another six days there. All the while this Angolan old man would come to us, bringing us water in a pot. Initially the water seemed to be clean, later only silt came.
We would filter the water through someone's sleeve, allow it to settle, and then drank it: everyone got two gulps, and three more - for Natasha to wash down the medicine. After you filter this water, the sediment contained sludge and some sort of jumping “shrimps”. We drank this awful water, but it seemed to us very tasty then! We slept on the ground: women's body sides, hips and legs were of bluish colour - solid bruise. All these days we haven’t eaten anything, and in fact we were not very hungry. What is remarkable: we slept on the cold ground, drank that mud and none of us got sick!
For three nights on end SA artillery delivered fire over our heads - it's scary to recall! And one night we just kept awake and didn't fall asleep – we were scared of a goanna, a monitor lizard. Or it could have been us who scared the creature: it crawled close to our improvised "bed" – it was so big and white. At night it was terribly cold, and in the afternoon there were myriads of flies nagging at us. Roughly on the sixth or seventh day the old man brought along two FAPLA soldiers. One of them was a military student from Luanda. In the afternoon they used to fetch us water, dressed up in civilian clothes - sneakers, shorts and bare torso, stripped to the waist. Later we sent them into the town, so they would find out what forces occupied it.
They left, but only one of them returned, the cadet whose name was Mateus, while the other one ran away, escaped. He returned to us with good news: there was an ambulance car from the Ongiva hospital waiting for us on the road. When we approached it, we were bewildered: we found it strange that the two men who were at the car were very clean, in white overalls, the car windows were curtained with white sheets. I imagined that the ambulance doors would swing open and South Africans with guns at the ready would jump out. But no one came out – so we got in the car and drove off.
As the saying runs: "Fear sees danger everywhere" - hose guys seemed to speak other than Portuguese and were taking us in an obscure direction. Gosh, what we lived through! They brought us to a certain house, they gave us water and one South African rat pack, but we weren’t even hungry then. In the evening Doctor Nange came to our place, we knew him very well. Only then we relaxed, having received evidence that we were not among South Africans. He operated on Natasha, and I assisted him. Poor Natasha! After all, no anesthetics were given: just two injections of painkillers and that's all.
And after that we had our meals: there were a tin of cooked corn, a tin of liver pate, a tin of condensed milk, some glucose, dry fuel, chocolate, vitamins, coffee. In short - it was quite enough for all six of us. When I sipped at my coffee, I fell unconscious. Holy Moses! They stuffed my nostrils, my eyes with the Vietnamese "Golden Star" ointment ( ), poured water over me! By and large, South African coffee was not good for me. The next day a man dropped in, greeted us and left. We believed the man to be Doctor Nange’s partner but Nange explained later that he was a very bad guy and he could give us away. So, at the sunset we were moved to another house – Nene’s house.
We knew her very well, as she and her children lived not far from us. She herself cooked meals for us, never allowing us to help her. Normally Vergilio and Talma would bring food to us - coffee, pasta and meat. They caught chickens and pigeons for us, as we stayed inside. They would laugh, telling us all this, while they themselves felt cold and were hungry, they slept in the street outside the hospital. The whole town population was there, as people were afraid to return home. Besides, there was no light, no water, no food in the town at all. While in the hospital they were able to find at least something suitable for living. There were four rooms in the apartment where we lived.
We curtained the windows with blankets, and Mateus used to sleep close to the entrance door, as the door locks were broken. The doors were blocked with an improvised barricade made of a table and a huge flowerpot. We were talking to each other in a low voice and lit candle lights at night. Hence my tears returned. My Lord, how I was weeping, remembering my dear little Alex! Where is he now? What happened to him? Each time Talma would try to soothe me down, saying that a tall mustached Russian has been spotted nearby the river or – next time – somewhere in the shonas. I nursed hope that it was my Alex.
Later we heard on the South African radio that during the operation two Soviet Lieutenant Colonels and two women were killed, and one taken POW – Nikolai (Fyodorovich) Pestretsov. We felt a profound shock! We simply couldn’t believe it! It couldn’t have happened! How come they are killed?! Our comrades are killed?! We were perfectly sure about one woman – Galya - at the time. Later on it was confirmed that Lida (Lydia), and Eugeny, and Joseph – all of them were killed. And Kolya (Nikolay Pestretsov) was taken prisoner.
Later Tolya (Anatoly) Poznakhirko joined us – all this time he was driving his car through shonas. Eventually he settled down in one of the shonas together with Synedysh and invited us to join them, but we decided against it and stayed in the town. There was no government in the town whatsoever: South Africans have left, government forces – FAPLA – have left: no friends, no foes. Looters were roaming about the town at night, searching the houses, thieving and pinching residents’ property. They tried to break into our house one night too. I lost my weight noticeably. Only a waist belt would keep my trousers in place. Vovka (Vladimir) Sytenko quarreled with everybody, a selfish man. Still more we hated our team leader – Fyodor. Looks like he betrayed us: having sent us in one direction to follow our vehicles, while he himself and Afonco Maria setting out in another direction, where there were no air raids and bombings. Gosh! We’ve been so angry with him!
All in all we spent nine days in this apartment. The road northwards was closed – the bridge had been demolished. On the tenth day Rida Costa, our Provincial Commissar, dropped in - like a bolt from the blue – and led us out of the town. Up to Xangongo we were driving a Fiat Fiesta: not driving but flying at frightening speed – that would be more appropriate words to describe the process - as South African helicopters and airplanes monitored the road.
Then we crossed the river crawling on the demolished bridge. Then we walked another seven kilometers in a single file, one after another, treading on each other’s heels, while Rida Costa was moving ahead of us, carrying a stick – probing for possible mines. Then we drove by truck and having detected South African airplanes flying along the road, we would run helter-skelter as there were two drums of gasoline loaded on the truck!
But everything went on smoothly and we were taken to a nunnery of the International Red Cross. Wearing silver crosses Irish nuns gave us a hearty welcome. But we were warned that among them there were several nuns working for South Africa and we were worrying our head off (nerves were wearing thin). The nuns fed us, serving five or six dishes and provisioned us with water and tangerines for the journey. So at night we resumed our movement. A whole convoy of vehicles was formed: 10 or 15 pieces. We were driving in an ambulance car. Driving through the town of Cahama we could see that it lay in ruins.
Another 200 kilometers () and we would reach Lubango and all those 200 kilometers I counted the milestones. I couldn’t believe that we would soon reach the Soviet Mission and everything would soon be over, the whole nightmare would come to an end. We groped in the dark with the headlights switched off and were ready for anything. And at last we came into Lubango! We drove up to the Soviet Mission and rang the bell at the entrance to call the Officer on Duty. He looked out from the balcony quite stunned: “Where have you come from? We have already lost you!” The Advisor to the District Commander was sent for. It was 4 o’clock in the morning. He emerged and ordered to provide accommodation for us. The fact that we had returned didn’t make him especially happy.
And while we were going upstairs I saw my Alex rushing towards me downstairs. Oh my God! My dear Alex! Alive! Words can't describe the feelings we experienced at that very instant! He grasped me by my hands and kept saying: “Alive! Alive!” and I was crying…..My poor Alex! He had covered 450 kilometers (285 miles) on foot. He had had no water or food for many days, nor had we. He was walking together with Tomas, a faithful Angolan. Once he had assembled a whole army from separate groups of FAPLA soldiers, but afterwards they ran away, scattered. Cowards! He also met our guys: Fyodor and Igor. Fyodor’s feet were bleeding after the long walk and Alex was carrying him to the Cubans. Later Fyodor was sent back by plane and Alex stayed with the Cubans for a few more days - they were busy preparing a squad to search for us.
Then they gave it up and Alex was urgently summoned to Lubango. So he arrived at Lubango in the evening, and at night we were there too. Lots of inspections from Lubango and Moscow appeared immediately and in numbers. We were asked numerous questions and interrogated extensively. After that some seniors got it hot and strong. Those interrogations were a kind of torture for us: it was very painful to recall and speak about what had happened to us. A week later we, women, were sent to Moscow, but our men had to stay there. My Alex was to live there for another 6 months. It’s a whole half a year!
When we were parting I didn’t cry so that he would come back home alive – crying is a bad sign. But when onboard the plane, I kept weeping all the way home. Yury (Vasilievich) Sountsov, our curator from the 10 Department of the General Staff, was welcoming us in Moscow with flowers. We departed from the Sheremetievo Airport by bus. We were driving along the streets of Moscow. Russian signs, yellow leaves on the trees, autumn. The people are white, and are walking down the streets as if nothing had happened, they were talking, laughing, hurrying somewhere. Our dear Soviet people! Dear faces! We were driving down the street, looking out of bus windows and crying – tears were running down the cheeks and I couldn’t help it. And Yury (Vasilievich) kept saying all the way: “My dear ladies! You are my dearest!”
We got accommodation at the hotel of the Ministry of Defence in Mosfilmovskaya Street. I sent a telegram to Slavyansk, my home city and made arrangements for a long-distance telephone call. (Colonel) Yury (Vasilievich) Sountsov issued 50 Rubles (USD 1equalled 0,6 Soviet Rubles at the time, official exchange rate) to us for dinner – as we had no money at all, not a penny! I remember that we had our dinner in the hotel restaurant and while we were sitting there to be waited on, we ate up all the mustard and rye bread on the table. And the waiter at once guessed it right that we had returned from an African country. A week later I was already at my home, in Slavyansk.
Half a year passed, the long and slow half a year, agonizing half a year. Who knows how much I waited for my dear Alex – only he and I know about it. I kept on thinking about him every minute. How I longed to hear from him! He remained in the country where anything could happen to him at any moment. Hadn’t I seen all the horrors, it might have been easier for me to wait for him. And so I was very anxious about him. Eventually the happy day has come - when my Alex returned home. I was welcoming him in Moscow. Since then we never part.
1. a popular Russian TV program "Watch TV and Travel with Us." ( “TV travellers club” literally translated from Russian) - A recorded coverage of a trip or a tour inside the country or overseas, broadcast on TV.
2. January is midwinter in Russia, characterized by low and extreme low temperatures.
3. “Volga” sedan – GAZ-24 car, a middle-class vehicle, rather expensive in the USSR at the time.
4. Approx. 82 – 88 mph.
5. Segurança –Security Service in Angola.
6. November 7 - Great October Socialist Revolution anniversary (1917).
7. Women's Council - a body, comprising female members of a team, organized to assist in carrying out their respective activities, day-to-day life.
8. "Children's World" shop –a shop of the famous network, selling various children’s goods.
9. UAZ jeep – Soviet- made cross-country 4-WD vehicle, UAZ-469.
10. Approx. 19-25 miles.
11. Approx. 250 miles.
12. Approx. 125 miles.
13. Soviet Union.
14. Approx. 63 miles.
15. A Soviet-era term: a common room, a room in an institution, dormitory, hotel etc. that can be used for various joint activities - information, conference, study, meetings, briefings etc.
16. Sulphidine – the first Soviet-produced synthetic anti-bacteria medicine.
17. Vietnamese "Golden Star" ointment – herbal ointment produced in Vietnam, extremely popular in the Soviet Union, thought to be a nearly universal cure.
18. Approx. 62 miles.
19. "Red Corner "- a Soviet-era term: a common room, a room in an institution, dormitory, hotel etc. that can be used for various joint activities - information, conference, study, meetings, briefings etc.
------??? LIST OF CHARACTERS ???---------------------------
1. Alexei Khoudiyerko ( Alex\ Alyoska\Lyosha\Lyoshik – diminutive\preferred given names), Advisor to…… in …., Lt. Colonel
2. Tatiana (Tanya), Alexei’s wife
3. ???Fyodor….., Colonel, Advisor to ….., Soviet team leader (senior)
4. ???Nikolai Pestretsov (Kolya), technichian in …., Praporshchik ( Sergeant Major)
5. Galina (Galya\ Galka), Nikolay’s wife.
6. ??? Vladimir ( Vova\Vovka\Volodya) Sytenko, Advisor to ….
7. Natalia (Natasha\Natashka), Vladimir’s wife
8. Anatoly ( Tolya\Tolik),
9. Raisa – Raya
10. Yury – Yura\Yurka
11. Leonid – Lyonya
12. Eugeny Victorovich) Kireyev , Advisor to???….. – the middle name is normally a patronymic, a name derived from the name of a father or ancestor.
13. Lydia \Lida (Pranovna), Eugeny’s wife
14. Serguei ( Seryozha) Lachine, translator
15. Anatoly (Tolik) Poznakhirko, translator
an excerpt from
"WE'VE GOT A RUSSIAN!"
Copyright © Jim Hooper 2010
Protea, one of the biggest cross-border ops of the war, blitzkrieged into Communist Angola from SWA/Namibia on 21 August 1981. Included in the OPLAN was Ongiva, an important SWAPO logistics and staging base protected by a FAPLA brigade. As SADF mechanized infantry units advanced on Ongiva from the south, the 110 men of Charlie Company, 32 Bn, under command of 23-year-old First Lieutenant Thinus van Staden had already infiltrated to block the enemy's escape route.
"There were two parallel roads coming out of the town," Commandant (LtCol) Van Staden recalled in an interview with SOF thirteen years later, "one with a tarred surface, the other just a dirt track, and I deployed my men between them about six klicks to the north." At 0700 the South African Air Force opened the attack, giving Charlie Company a ringside seat as the Mirages and Buccaneers roared overhead into heavy anti-aircraft fire. They saw one Mirage hit with a SA-7, but it survived and turned for home, trailing smoke.
By 1300 hours hundreds of refugees began streaming up the dirt track. A few FAPLA soldiers had been culled from the civilians and taken prisoner when the sounds of vehicles were heard. Van Staden advised headquarters by radio, but was told it was captured equipment being brought out of Ongiva by South African military intelligence personnel. When the first vehicles hove into sight Van Staden was reassured by the sight of two Land Rovers, one white, the other blue, followed by a column of heavy Soviet-made trucks.
But something was wrong.
Within the SADF only 32 Bn and the Reconnaissance Commandos wore camouflage uniforms, rather than the standard brown "nutria" battle dress. The troops Van Staden observed in the Land Rovers and other vehicles, however, were neither "Recces" nor 32 Bn soldiers, yet all were dressed in camouflage-pattern battle dress. He relayed the information to his tactical headquarters, but was told not to worry. "Just show them where to park," he was told laconically.
"I decided they had to have a better picture of the situation than me," Van Staden said a little ruefully to SOF, "so I stepped into the middle of the road with my hand out and pointed to the left, indicating where they should park. The Land Rovers stopped, and the people got out and began directing the rest of the trucks to pull off and stop under the trees."
Something else was wrong. Although the South Africans had a number of mixed black and white units, Van Staden was acutely aware that there were no whites among the disembarking troops. At that point his sergeant eased up to him and whispered: "They're FAPLA!" The enemy had mistaken Van Staden's black troops for FAPLA soldiers with Cuban or Soviet advisers. Another radio call to HQ that, "We've got big problems here," brought the order to withdraw.
Charlie Company moved fast to the west, and once they were clear Van Staden radioed for an airstrike from a flight of Impala ground-support fighter-bombers. The flight leader advised him to mark his position with yellow smoke and mark the enemy position with white phosphorus mortar rounds. Van Staden complied, but when the Impalas arrived, their 30mm cannons were empty.
Charlie Company had deployed inside a treeline bordering an open savannah when they observed enemy vehicles moving through the trees on the far side of the chana. Van Staden again advised HQ, but as the result of confusing reports from other sources, he again received an order not to fire for fear of killing friendly forces.
"Well, when two BRDMs moved out of the far treeline with about 20 troops, all of them shouting 'Avanca!' (Forward!) in Portuguese, we definitely knew they were FAPLA," Van Staden said. "I moved the company up the side of the chana into a better ambush position, with eight RPGs in the center to face the side of the advancing enemy. At that point I received another order from HQ not to fire. As they came abreast of our position the first FAPLA soldier saw us and his eyes bugged out, then he just looked straight ahead and kept on walking without even telling his own people." Charlie Company watched impotently as the enemy moved past them.
The FAPLA unit was still within range when Van Staden received the order to withdraw again. He pulled his company back to the NE and dug in. "At that stage I was feeling bloody frustrated," Van Staden admitted. "Finally I said the hell with it, left one platoon there and returned to our last position. The BRDMs were gone, but we could still see the log vehicles on the far side of the chana. I knew there was still the first group of vehicles and troops - the one with the Land Rovers - stopped between the two roads behind us, but decided to first attack the one we could see."
Under covering mortar fire they attacked across the chana. A BM-21 MBRL started to burn, sending its load of 122mm rockets streaking wildly across the sky. A flight of Alouette III gunships which had responded to Van Staden's call for air support arrived but were ordered out of the area by the young CO until the rockets had finished cooking off.
"At about 1600 hours we moved forward again and found over two dozen children hiding under the trees. There was nothing we could do at the moment, so I left them there and we began checking the vehicles, all of which were full of ammo. Then I received a call from one of the Alouette pilots to tell me they'd spotted what appeared to be tank tracks."
Fully aware of the destruction heavy armour could inflict on thin-skinned mechanized infantry vehicles, Van Staden took one platoon, found the tread marks and began following them at a run in the fading light. When they came across a new Soviet-made jeep, he assumed it belonged to the FAPLA commander. He left one section to guard it and carried on with two sections. More and more abandoned vehicles were discovered, and Van Staden continued dropping off men to guard them. He was down to one section when automatic weapons fire exploded from their right. Van Staden and his men attacked immediately, killing three of the ambushers. Of the four seen to break and run, three were chased down and killed.
Van Staden quickly turned his attention to the bodies, noting that the second one was wearing new FAPLA fatigues. "When I turned him over I was stunned to see he was white. I can't tell you why, but I knew instinctively that he was Russian." He was right: the Buffalo soldiers had just killed a Soviet lieutenant colonel. Night had fallen and Van Staden ordered six troops to guard the body. With Lt Naude, one of his platoon leaders, and his last two troops, he continued following the tracks. Within minutes the four men stumbled across two PT-76s. Van Staden climbed silently onto one with a grenade, listening for any sound from the crew. When he found both abandoned, he radioed back for one of the two remaining platoons to move up and guard them.
Exhausted, the four soldiers headed back to rendezvous with the platoon and lead it to the PT-76s. On the way, they passed a kraal and detoured slightly away from it. Van Staden was leading, followed by Lt Naude and the two troops, when an AK-47 opened up on them from a thicket alongside the kraal fence. They immediately returned fire and advanced to find two bodies, one of them white. It was the second Soviet lieutenant colonel to die that day, and, as Van Staden would later learn, the commanding officer of the Ongiva logistics base.
"I was examining the body when Lt Naude suddenly shouted at someone not to move. On the other side of the kraal fence were three whites in FAPLA uniforms, one trying to crawl away. I jumped over the fence and took the weapon away from him, then saw that the other two were women, both dead. Although we didn't know it at the time, one had been the wife of the lieutenant colonel we'd just killed, and the other the wife of the Russian sergeant major we'd just captured. The prisoner was uninjured, and as we were tying his hands he began speaking in Portuguese, desperate to know about his eleven-year-old son, who had been with them just before the shooting began.
"Lt Naude interrupted to say someone was approaching from the direction of our troops. I knew it had to be one of ours, but as I knelt to pick up something he started shooting. One of my men who had been lying on the ground returned fire and killed him. Five minutes later my platoon arrived, and I had them take the three Russian bodies back to the PT-76s where the other dead Russian was, and to bring back the jeep. I put the prisoner in it and drove back to the temporary base we'd established. As we questioned him we learned that his name was Nikolai Pestretsov, a 36-year-old sergeant major in charge of FAPLA maintenance at Ongiva. He was a big guy, absolutely terrified, which was understandable, but obviously no combat soldier.
"At 2330 hours we heard vehicles starting up all around us. I ran north with two platoons and set an ambush. The next moment we heard a shot. Immediately every vehicle was switched off. After a while we heard people starting to talk, then laughter and shouting - one of the FAPLA soldiers had accidently fired his weapon and the others were giving him shit. They all started again and began moving across the road to the west, then into a sand quarry and out the other side. I redeployed my men farther up the road to a new ambush position. We were still setting it up when one of the trucks blundered into us and we opened fire. Four vehicles were immediately shot out and started burning. As we moved through the area we found 27 abandoned vehicles, doors open and personal effects still inside. We booby-trapped all of them, then returned to the TB. It wasn't until 0200 that we finally got some sleep. The next morning we contacted HQ and they sent in the Pumas to take out the PoW and the Russian bodies."
Charlie Company's last act before leaving the field was to rescue the children they had discovered the day before. After feeding them, Van Staden saw that they were returned to Ongiva and placed in the care of the civilian population which had remained behind.
In a complicated prisoner exchange involving an SADF PoW, two American mercenaries captured while fighting for the FNLA in 1975, and an American ferry pilot forced down in Angola, Sergeant Major Pestretsov, two Soviet pilots and three Cuban soldiers captured by Unita and about 40 FAPLA PoWs were repatriated through the International Committee of the Red Cross ten weeks after Pestretsov's capture. Hoping to get his account of the attack on Ongiva and his capture, the author wrote twice to the Russian Ministry of Defense to request Pestretsov's address. There has been no answer.
• Участники событий
• Местность, окопы, быт
• Б\Техника + «Волга», УАЗ, «Форд Феста?»
• Авиация ЮАР
• Ангольская деревня, крааль
• Карты б/д