On Friday, February 15, it has been 30 years since the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan. It is where Oleg Nikitin from Voronezh had his documents taken away from him and was given an unmarked uniform and an unregistered gun. They said: "If you are captured, you are a geologist".

A year later, a letter from Oleg’s parents, which they had written to their son in 1983, returned back to Voronezh with the words: “Gone away.” Oleg has kept this yellowed letter with a faded stamp for 35 years. It is like the evidence of a miracle - his might-have-been funeral.

How a foreign war had changed Voronezh the native, what was the hardest thing in it and why he shouted in his sleep for entire five years after he had returned – read in the RIA “Voronezh” article.

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Photo – from Oleg Nikitin’s archive

A work trip

In 1982, Voronezh policeman Oleg Nikitin was among the two who, in the Afghan province, taught local law enforcers the basics of investigation art as part of the Cobalt-3 unit. At the height of the Afghan war, the name "Cobalt" belonged to a special-purpose detachment formed from the staff of the USSR Ministry of Internal Affairs. In those times, the Soviet police helped the Afghans build a new system of law enforcement agencies - Sarandoy (Sarondoy).

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The Cobalt-3 unit
Photo – from Oleg Nikitin’s archive

The war began casually for 26-year-old Oleg Nikitin. One morning, he was summoned to the district party committee and offered to go on a semi-yearly official work trip to Afghanistan. In 1982, Nikitin was working in the Central District Department of Internal Affairs as an investigator - he investigated thefts and robberies.

– You will help the local police put things in order, – they explained the purpose of the trip to him.

At that point, Oleg had a tragedy happen in his life (the son died), and a work trip to the war looked in a way like salvation.

In Moscow, the select delegation of police officers from all over the Union, including five Voronezh residents, was put in large cargo planes and sent to Tashkent. There, they taught others to defend themselves, to survive in any conditions, to use weapons, to jump out of helicopters on the move without parachutes.

One night, their unit was alerted, loaded into cargo planes and sent to Kabul, and from there, en route, to Kandahar. The airplanes landed on the local city square, and the newly-arrived were plunged into dusty armored personnel carriers sent to their place of deployment.

– That day we first came under fire, – Nikitin recalls. – There was a feeling that someone was throwing handfuls of stones at the APC. It didn’t look scary, although the guerillas were actually pounding at us with machine guns and assault rifles... They took away our documents and warned us: if we get captured, we are geologists. The form we had was without insignia, the weapons, too, were unregistered.

The detachment lived in Kandahar for several days, then it was divided into small units. The Voronezh native ended up in the one that was sent to the south of Afghanistan.

God-forgotten Zabul

In the province of Zabul, where Nikitin was sent, there were neither electricity nor Soviet troops. It was a stony desert surrounded from all sides by low mountains dusty like everything around.

During the day, the temperature rose to +60 degrees, at night the ground was covered with frost.

- The two-storey house made of stone and clay in which we were accommodated stood on the edge of the town of Kalat. It is located exactly on the border with Pakistan, at about the same distance that is between Voronezh film theatres Proletariy and Spartak. It had a highway used to smuggle weapons, drugs, and bandits from Pakistan and Iran. And not just smuggled, but smuggled in enormous volumes!

When caravans from Pakistan were expected to pass by, “Soviet geologists” arranged the Sarandoy and told them what to do.

- Nominally, we had a T-34 tank, two armored personnel carriers, and a Niva. In reality, the tank was hit before our arrival. His charred body was lying on the side of that very road. By and large, the Soviet police did not have the capacity to resist such an avalanche of criminal traffic.

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The Cobalt-3 unit
Photo – from Oleg Nikitin’s archive

Alien land

The green uniform in which they had arrived in Afgan became white in a week - from the sun, sweat and... water in the well. The only source of moisture within walking distance was poisoned. Everyone knew this and, of course, did not drink from there, but still washed the clothes in that water.

In the mountains - their place of service - there was no morning and evening. As the sun was rose, the day fell with its unbearable heat. And after sunset, the night fell shrouding you in pitch darkness and cold.

– During night duty, I had to wear cotton trousers, a pea jacket, and a hat. But you couldn’t even tie it up, not to mentions putting on its earflaps (as shown in some films). You had to listen closely all the time, – Nikitin recalls. – Those who were friends during the day (Sarandoy, for example) could easily shoot you in the back during the night.

If at night they heard shooting from both sides, they slept peacefully. As soon as it became one-sided, they jumped up. This meant that the watch was killed and they had to fight back. The assault rifle was at hand all the time. Their outpost almost got destroyed twice.

– There was a massive shelling, we ran out of ammo. I remember a guy rushing at the enemy with a grenade, shouting: "For the Motherland! For Stalin!". I saw this in real life, not in a movie... When we already seemed to have no chance of fighting back, the sun rose and saved us - the guerillas did not fight in daylight.

Within the year that Oleg Nikitin spent in the town of Kalat, their “fortress” was not shot at for only a month - during Ramadan.

As good as gold

– It was like we ended up in the Middle Ages. There was no electricity, you could only shave with an ordinary razor. But that required water, and it was worth its weight in gold, –Oleg Nikitin explains why in a month their entire team looked like the local dušmani.

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Kalat, the Zabul Province
Photo – from Oleg Nikitin’s archive

Getting water meant doing a real combat raid. A large barrel was attached to the armored personnel carrier, and every few days the “geologists” went down to the water under the cover of a team of machine gunners.

– When we went down there, the guerillas just fired at us, and the way back could have been mined. But when everything was behind, we drank from the heart. And it was happiness! It was then that we learned the price of simple things. We bathed, by the way, once a month - in the river. And also under fire, – the former policeman sighs.

A remedy for all diseases

In a month, each soldier received a bottle of cognac or vodka. Within a year, Nikitin says, they only received the promised twice. Alcohol, meanwhile, was needed as a medicine. So they had to make moonshine.

- When you drive on the armored personnel carrier, dust is clogged in every part of the body, in your throat. It is not ordinary dust, but thick, mixed with particles of decomposed corpses of people and animals. it’s scary to even imagine how many microbes were there! This dust was not shaken off but stripped off like a shell. We washed ourselves the best we could, and then we drank a small glass of moonshine. If it wasn’t for it, I don’t think would have made it through that year.

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The Cobalt-3 unit
Photo – from Oleg Nikitin’s archive

Yellow-eyed night

Once Oleg Nikitin was put down by, as it is called in the local jargon, the "yellow-eyed night" - Hepatitis A.

– Because of the water, my skin and eyes turned yellow. And one time I could not get out of bed, – he recalls.

When the helicopter picked him up, he was already unconscious. In the hospital of Kandahar, where he ended up, "they gave us sweet, syrup-like water - this was the only local medicine." Then they were sent to Kabul, from there to Tashkent, and then on to Voronezh.

Before leaving for his homeland, Nikitin found himself in Kabul at his Voronezh colleague’s place. He visited him at his military base.

– I turned on one tap - there was cold water running, turned on the second one – hot water. I started crying, – he admits.


In Afghanistan, the policemen received their pay in Vneshposyltorg checks, but for the Afghans, they were just pieces of paper.

– I had to get from one place to another, but I had neither money nor any weapons, –Oleg Petrovich says. – One of the commanders who escorted me gave me a grenade, put me in a taxi and said: “When it comes to paying, give him this grenade and pull the pin. And you pay off with the pin”. I did so, and the taxi driver thanked me... It was normal.

Then the Voronezh resident could not get to the military base he was sent to:

– The unit commander stared at me: "Why are you here?" He was not told that I would come. They just lost me! It was then that my parents received the returned letter with the “Gone away” stamp.


– When I was already in Tashkent, I spent the night at my cousin’s place, –Oleg Nikitin says. – At night, I didn’t find a machine gun next to me, so I screamed so loud that I woke the whole house. Later, I scared everyone at night with my screams for another five years — I was looking for my machine gun...

According to the former policeman, his year-long work trip to Afghanistan was not in vain.


– We made a contribution, taught the locals to work. In addition, we had delayed the advancement of Americans there for a while. And another thing - our army received a great combat experience. In Afghanistan, I realized that there were more good people than bad ones. Before the trip there, I strongly doubted this, – our hero admits.


Oleg Nikitin has received many combat awards for his trip to Afghanistan, but he considers his life the dearest.