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Visit the new Photos page to browse the old photos taken by Andrei Shumilin and his friends during their service in Afghanistan.  Share the link with friends!

Look at the mountainous desert landscape on those photos…  Look at the people’s faces…

Most photos are not very well preserved, but this makes them look even more authentic, wouldn’t you agree?

The following is a brief summary of the content that is generally available on the Wikipedia and in other sources:

The Soviet war in Afghanistan was a nine-year conflict involving the Soviet Union, supporting the Marxist-Leninist government of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan against the Afghan Mujaheddin and foreign “Arab–Afghan” volunteers. The mujaheddin received unofficial military and/or financial support from a variety of countries including the United States, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom, Pakistan, Israel, Taiwan, Indonesia and China.

The initial Soviet deployment began on December 24, 1979. The final troop withdrawal started on May 15, 1988, and ended on February 15, 1989. Due to the interminable nature of the war, the conflict in Afghanistan has sometimes been referred to as the “Soviet Union’s Vietnam War.”

For the entire duration of war, a total of 620,000 soldiers served with the forces in Afghanistan (though there were only 80,000-104,000 serving at one time). A further 21,000 personnel were with the Soviet troop contingent over the same period doing various white collar and blue collar jobs.

The total irrecoverable personnel losses of the Soviet Armed Forces, frontier, and internal security troops came to 14,453. Of the troops deployed, 53,753 (11.44 percent) were wounded, injured, or sustained concussion and 415,932 (88.56 percent) fell sick. A high proportion of casualties were those who fell ill. This was because of local climatic and sanitary conditions, which were such that acute infections spread rapidly among the troops. There were 115,308 cases of infectious hepatitis, 31,080 of typhoid fever, and 140,665 of other diseases. Of the 11,654 who were discharged from the army after being wounded, maimed, or contracting serious diseases, 92 percent, or 10,751 men, were left disabled.

Estimates of the Afghan deaths vary from 1 million to 2 million. 5-10 million Afghans fled to Pakistan and Iran, 1/3 of the prewar population of the country. Another 2 million Afghans were displaced within the country. In the 1980s, half of all refugees in the world were Afghan.

To understand the impact of the Soviet-Afghan war on an average Soviet family, it is important to remember that the late Soviet Armed Forces were manned by mandatory draft (with some exceptions) for all able-bodied males for 2 years (3 years in the Navy), based on a 1967 law. A bi-annual call-up in spring and fall was introduced then, replacing the annual draft in fall. Men were subject to draft at the age of 18. The draftees were normally sent to serve far away from their place of residence. During the war, a high percentage of mobilized soldiers were sent directly to Afghanistan. There were severe criminal penalties for draft evasion.

As luck would have it, a soldier goes to war far away from home. He has no other choice but to serve the best he can and to survive the dangers and the hardships he faces. He learns that even in the harshest conditions life goes on, people remain human, and there is time for hope, laughter, friendship. This theme is as old as the human history itself yet as new as every new generation of soldiers called to fight. This theme is also one of many that run through the book you are about to read.

The original version of this book was published in the Russian language in 1998. I came across it by a chance: a family member received a copy as a present from the author and lent it to me. Having no expectations of any sort, I randomly opened the paperback in the middle and started reading. I couldn’t put it down.

I have to confess: as a reader, I generally avoid reading war novels. When I read about people suffering, I am often overcome with the urge to help, to jump into the book to stop hurting. Gory details give me nightmares. As Luck Would Have It, however, is not a typical war novel. On these pages, you will barely find any scenes of combat. The author, Andrei Shumilin, wastes no ink on lengthy or complex philosophical generalizations. He crafts each chapter with fascinating plots, often with very unexpected endings. He skillfully balances humor with sadness while never losing his profound sense of compassion. When I realized that I had fallen in love with the book, a felt I just had to bring these stories to my fellow American readers and to a broader international community.

So, what is the book about? The protagonist, a young Soviet officer Alexei Dymov, deployed to serve in the 1980s Soviet-Afghan war. Each chapter is a short story about every-day life in the rugged mountainous war zone as seen through his eyes. Every story is historically accurate and true, and all characters are real people, although their names have been changed to protect their identities.

The author and I collaborate to bring this interesting and meaningful book to the American reader and to show that Dymov’s simple and fascinating narrative could be from any war, any country, any generation.