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which might help, I suppose, understand that they stem from differences in their mentality from American one.
Thank you so much.
FREEDOM HOUSE Ms. THORNE. Mr. Chairman, first of all, I would like to thank you and your colleagues for allowing me to come here today and to share with you a problem which has been of great concern to me for more than four years, namely, the plight of Red Army defectors in Afghanistan.
To save time, I know we are very short on time, I would like to familiarize you with the problem by reading just a few excerpts from my prepared testimony.
Senator Nunn. We will put your entire testimony in the record, without objection. 1
Ms. THORNE. Thank you.
The immensity of the Afghan people's suffering caused by the Soviet Union's invasion is immeasurable. When I was inside Afghanistan four times, most recently last March and April, I myself have seen many Mujahedeen wounded. I myself have seen young Afghan children with arms and legs blown off by so-called “butterfly bombs." I have seen the masses of Afghan refugees huddling on the Afghan-Pakistani border. The tragedy is immense, and once you have seen the face of this tragedy, you can never, ever forget
But the Afghan conflict has also been tragic for the Soviet people, whose young sons must die in a war in which they do not believe. Many people in the West don't realize that the mighty Red Army in Afghanistan is composed primarily of Soviet teenagers. And the war has created a hopeless situation for Soviet Red Army defectors and POWs.
As Senator Nunn has mentioned, I have made several trips inside Afghanistan for “20/20” and Australia's “60 Minutes,” Life Magazine, and last year I took in a group of Canadian journalists. During these four trips to Afghanistan, I interviewed 22 Soviet soldiers. Out of the 22, 20 had deserted voluntarily, and two were captured. Out of the 22, nine have been brought to the West so far, and 13 are still inside Afghanistan, waiting to be rescued, if they are still alive.
Because I was born in the Soviet Union and speak Russian fluently, these boys could sort of spill their guts to me. Some of the soldiers' pleas for political asylum were heartrending. For example, when I was in one of the Mujahedeen strongholds, one young soldier, called Sergei Meshcheryakov, screamed, with tears running from his eyes, "Ludmilla, take me back with you to America. Please take me back.” When we were saying goodbye, he slipped this little note into my hand and, in part, this is what it says:
See p. 388.
"You, who are Orthodox Christians, must help us make our way to America. We hope that you will help us in striving to come to America. Please help us come to America. We want to become American citizens."
The reason that these boys mentioned Orthodox Christians in this note is simply because they happen to have seen my Orthodox cross. But actually, Khasanov and Fayzulayev were Central Asian Uzbek Moslems. Meshcheryakov is Russian. I have also interviewed many other nationalities, young men who are Ukrainian, Crimean Tatar, and Armenian, and so on.
This note was given to me in February of 1983, sir, and I have shown it to many American government officials, again and again pleading that these four young men be given asylum in this country. Unfortunately, so far nothing has been done about it. As a matter of fact, I am not even certain whether Sergei is still alive, because when I made a second trip to the same stronghold, Sergei's legs were swollen, and he had to crawl on his stomach just to go to the bathroom.
The main reason that Soviet soldiers are deserting in Afghanistan is because of what they call "the cruel, unjust, dirty war." Many of the Red Army deserters that I spoke to had witnessed and took part in the killing of Afghan people, and it was precisely for this reason that they defected, because they could no longer bear to carry out their hideous orders.
For example, one Red Army deserter, Igor Kovalchuk, who had to take part in very vicious attacks on Afghan villages, described to me such an attack. He said, "When we were finished, I peeked into the hut and saw 15 people, men, women and children all slouched together in blood. It was like a butcher shop." He told me, after seeing such brutality, “I decided I'd rather be a 'traitor.'” He told me, "But in the eyes of God I will not be mired in this dirt and blood which the KGB has unleashed here."
A young man, by the name of Andrei Skoropletov, was in charge of a tank unit, and he defected with 700 rounds of ammunition and a brand new Kalashnikov rifle, because he could not bear to order his men to shoot at Afghan men, children, and villages. Andrei Skoropletov, today, is still inside Afghanistan waiting to be rescued.
Unfortunately, during my many meetings with United States Government officials during these past four years, they were usually aghast at the idea that if they will bring out a few Red Army deserters, there may be a whole stream of Red Army defectors coming out.
But so far, the United States has brought only six Soviet Army deserters to this country, while in one year alone, 1985, 22 others were killed during desperate attempts to gain asylum in this country or some other Western country. I believe that this is not a very good record for freedom-loving America.
It is estimated that there are several hundred Soviet Army defectors and POWs inside Afghanistan. I have brought with me today a list of 17 others whose names and photographs I have, which I have presented to this government again and again.
I have been told again and again during my many meeting with government officials that the main problem with spiriting Red
Army defectors out of Afghanistan is that they have to transit very briefly through a third country, and that this country doesn't want to participate in the effort in fear of the Soviet Union's retribution. Yes, there are some problems with the use of transit countries, but they are not unsurmountable.
I have now come to the sad conclusion that the main problem has been in this country, and not in any third country, as I have been repeatedly told. There has been an apparent lack of resolve on the part of this Administration to get these boys out. Bringing Red Army defectors to America, who have been pleading for asylum in this country, has simply not been a high priority project for our Administration or our government.
If it were, I feel confident that all of the Soviet soldiers whose names, photographs, and asylum requests I have forwarded these past four years, they could all be here with us today and have given you testimony, very dramatic testimony.
I think, at this point, I should close my comments and give Nikolay Movchan a chance to read his statement. Senator Nunn. Are you going to interpret, or is he going to read?
Ms. THORNE. He is going to read his statement in English, but if you have questions, I may need to help him a little bit.
Senator Nunn. Could I ask you a question now, or two questions. One is: How are the Soviet soldiers being treated by the Mujahedeen?
Ms. THORNE. It all depends on which group is holding them. As you know, there are seven major resistance groups now. The treatment I described for Sergei Meschcheryakov was somewhat of an exception. He was held by the most fundamentalist resistance group. I have also visited many Mujahedeen hideouts where the boys are treated with extreme care.
Šo the treatment differs and it can vary from harsh to paternal. On the whole, they have been treated well, considering the fact that the Mujahedeen themselves often have nothing to eat. They have to share their last crumbs of bread with their POWs. It is very difficult for them to keep Red Army soldiers, defectors. I believe we should not put all the burden on them, sir.
Senator NUNN. Are any of them fighting with the Mujahedeen?
Ms. THORNE. Yes, sir. Three Soviet soldiers, Sergei Busov, Vladislav Naumov and Vadim Plotnikov, all three Russian, fought and took part in 20 combat operations for the Mujahedeen. They are all in Canada now. I have also known several Central Asian soldiers who actively fought with the Mujahedeen. They are a rare exception, I should add.
Senator Nunn. All right, Mr. Movchan.
TESTIMONY OF NIKOLAY MOVCHAN, FORMER SOVIET ARMY
Mr. Movchan through Ms. THORNE. Before, I begin, I would like to apologize for my bad English. I have just recently begun to study it extensively.
Senator Nunn. We are glad to have you here today.
Mr. Movchan. Mr. Chairman, I would like to thank you for giving me the opportunity to share with you some of my thoughts
and hopes regarding a cause which is of great concern to me-Afghanistan-and especially the problem of Soviet soldiers in Afghanistan.
My name is Nikolay Movchan. I was born on August 15, 1963, in a small village near the City of Zhitomir in the Ukrainian USSR. In 1978, I completed eight years of school in this village, and then entered the Zhitomir Technical School of Carpentry, from which I graduated in 1982.
On March 22 of that year, I was drafted into the Soviet Army and sent to Ashkhabad, the capital of the Turkmen SSR, for six months of military training, which I completed with the rank of sergeant.
In Afghanistan, I served for 9 months in Ghazni, where I was on guard duty and was in charge of a grenade launching unit. After
a spending a relatively short period of time in Afghanistan, it became clear to me that the entire Afghan nation was fighting against Soviet forces stationed there.
We were not allowed to visit Afghan villages and we practically had no contact with the Afghan people. We did not see any of the Chinese, Pakistani and American mercenaries that our officers described to us before we were sent to Afghanistan. Thus it was easy to see that Soviet troops in Afghanistan reprensented an intervention force. The reason I left the Soviet Army is that I did not wish to take part in the terrible war in Afghanistan and in the cruel annihilation of the Afghan people. I made the decision to leave in a split-second when the opportunity availed itself.
Early one morning, when everyone was asleep and unarmed, I left my base and started walking in the direction of any Afghan village. But the Soviet command soon noticed my absence, and helicopters and tanks were sent after me. However, the Soviet officers were afraid to send the other Soviet soldiers after me.
As I was nearing an Afghan village, I met an old Afghan man on the road who understood what was happening. He gave me Afghan clothing into which I changed and took me to the Mujahedeen. I was saved by the fact that the helicopters were searching for me in a different area than the one in which I was hiding:
When I was still with the Soviet forces, the Soviet Union began to use scorched earth tactics in Afghanistan. By destroying the harvests and villages, the Soviet forces were depriving the Afghan resistance of the support that Afghan villagers were giving them, and thus the Afghan people were forced either to flee to Pakistan and become refugees or to go to big cities in Afghanistan where they could be under the watchful eye of the Communist government.
A village which was located close to our regiment was completely destroyed by Soviet tanks because the residents of the village had aided the Mujahedeen. The Afghan Communist government forces do not represent a truly fighting force. At least, this army is not capable of carrying on the war by itself without the support of Soviet military troops.
Our regiment used equipment which was capable of covering large territories, such as the “Grad,” rocket-propelled launchers and automatic grenade and mortar launchers, as well as helicopters and tanks. Chemical reconnaissance platoons had fired launchers, and mines were everywhere widely used.
Senator Nunn. Excuse me just a minute. I am going to interrupt. Senator Cohen is coming right back, and he will continue. He is over there voting right now. We have about four minutes left before the vote is concluded. If you could just take a brief recess, as soon as Senator Cohen comes back, we will complete this. Then we will hear from our final witness.
I will be back in about ten minutes, but I think that Senator Cohen will be back in less time than that.
[Short recess, following which Senator Nunn and Senator Cohen returned to the hearing room.]
Senator Nunn. Mr. Movchan, we were right in the middle of your testimony, and we want to hear the end of it. We had two votes instead of one vote, that is the reason we had to wait for the second one.
Mr. Movchan. I personally was trained to use anti-tank weapons, such as the "Pturs" directional rockets and anti-tank grenade launchers (SPG-9M). But because the Mujahedeen do not have tanks, these weapons were not widely used. Our anti-tank platoon, where I served as commander of an anti-tank unit, was located approximately one kilometer outside our base. An Afghan government tank regiment was located near our base and it was considered to be unreliable and in a sense, we were guarding the Soviet base against this Afghan tank regiment.
One of the major problems in the Soviet Army, especially in Afghanistan, is the bad relationship between the new recruits and the senior enlisted men, who have already served for one year or more. The senior enlisted men ush all of their work onto the younger soldiers. They humiliate them and often beat them up.
Sometimes, this hostile relationship reaches tragic proportions, when the young draftees resort to shooting the older men or to throwing grenades into tents where they are sleeping, or under the wheels of their vehicles. In my platoon, there was a case where a young soldier wounded a senior enlisted man after the older serviceman, a sergeant, hit him.
When I was with the Mujahedeen, my life was quiet and uneventful. Our relationship was friendly, but they did not trust me completely. I spent 13 months with the Afghan resistance, from June 1983 to July 1984, at which time I was brought to the United States.
I cannot describe to you how I was transported to this country because I very much hope that other Soviet POWs, who are still in Afghanistan, will be brought in the same manner. Unfortunately, since July 1984, when I and three other Soviet Army deserters were conveyed to the United States, no other Soviet soldiers were brought here.
Of course, after arriving in the United States, I encountered numerous problems. I was facing different kinds of surroundings, different opportunities, and a different language. The main problem is that Soviet Army deserters are emotionally not ready for all this change, because they were thrust out of the Soviet Union by the Afghan war. Many of them need support.
In our case, we were helped by the International Rescue Committee and Freedom House, but their assistance, which they offered to the maximum of their possibilities, was not completely sufficient.