On the 20th of April, 1985 at 22.00hr, orders were given to the 1st Company of the 500th Separate Special Force to move forward from Asadabad to the Kunar River, where they would ferry men and equipment across, and make a sweeping movement into the area of the village of Sangam, which was located in the Marawara Ravine only 3 km from the base camp. According to earlier reconnaissance reports, there was a Mujahadin observation post located here manned by eight, maybe ten soldiers.
During the movement, two other companies were assigned as cover units. The 2nd and 3rd were ordered to cover the movements of the 1st from the predominant hills overlooking the area. These units consisted of eight armoured cars and two tanks, which were to make a flanking movement and at the same time provide support for the advancing infantry in case of an emergency.
Here we must emphasize that these soldiers, both officers and enlisted men, had never taken part in an actual combat operation, except for once when they'd provided cover support, and they had no real combat experience under fire. Even in this role, they hadn't actually ever met the enemy in a combat situation and now, with morale high among the troops, they hoped at last for action against the enemy. (Let us remember the events which led to the Shutul Tragedy.) Upon crossing the Kunar River, spirits were so high among the troops that even hints from the ferrymen and the disappearance of the local guides upon reaching the other shore could not deflate them. Everyone thought of this as another training operation rather than a combat operation.
As the company arrived on the eastern outskirts of Sangam, which was located only about 5km from the Pakistani border, at 05.00 hr on the 21st of April, they began sweeping the area in search of the enemy. Though they found no enemy forces in the village, they did, however, find proof that they had once been there not too long before the arrival of the Russian forces who were now moving into the area. At that point in time, according to official records of the operation, Major T. lost contact with the 1st company Special Squadron, which had now separated into four groups and begun advancing towards village of Daridam by way of the ravine. Eyewitnesses confirmed that the company Commander Lt. Cmdr. Nicolay Tsebruk was operating under the orders of the Battalion Commander to move forward.
The four operation groups went into Daridam with two groups to the left of the ravine, and the other two to the right, directed by the Company Commander and thus remained without cover from above. The operation was observed by the Commander of the 3rd
Company, who could visually observe Daridam and report the situation to the Battalion Commander. Lt. Kuznetsov was first to make contact with the enemy and reported that his forces were chasing two Dushmans trying to escape by way of the village of Netav, and on to Chinar.
Upon hearing slight and then intensive gunfire, Lt. Tsebruk left his messenger with the group and took four soldiers forward in the direction of the gunfire. They climbed the right slope of the ravine and took a position on a stone terrace. Witnesses who were questioned later all came to the same conclusion, which was that when the Company Commander realised that he'd walked into a trap, he climbed to the terrace and there he was killed by a bullet in the throat, by heavy fire from the Dushman and Pakistan spetsnaz (Black Storks), which was being directed at the soldiers of the 1st Company.
In the days before the operation, the Battalion Commander along with the Company Commanders observed the area in which they now operated from an observation post of the Afghan Army (the Greens). Anybody who fought in the Afghan War was well aware of the leakage of information by way of the Greens and its visual effects in combat. But in this particular day of planning, this was not taken into consideration and the results were disastrous for the Russian units who participated in the battle. The Commander of the 3rd group became an eyewitness to the entrapment of the 1st and gave this account:
Having come down a dry riverbed, the enemy began taking up positions to the rear of the 1st Squadron and cutting off their escape route. The observing Commander, supposing that they were Russian troops coming to the aid of the trapped 1st, did not call for artillery support upon seeing them. This allowed the enemy enough time to bring forward fifty more soldiers. The heavy fire from the enemy using captured heavy Russian machine guns, small arms, and mortars prevented the attempts of the 2nd and 3rd from coming to the support of their trapped comrades. While Russian forces who were trying to help were being held off, the enemy was calmly shooting small groups of trapped soldiers, some of whom sent up smoke signals to attract helicopter support and thereby gave away their positions to the enemy.
Meanwhile as the situation was steadily deteriorating, the rest of the combat forces who were presently in Asadabad were being rushed forward to reinforce their comrades who were engaged in the battle. These troops were slowed when their tanks struck mines and the armoured personnel carriers got stalled on the rocky ground; one tank was lost to the mines. For the trapped men who were now surrounded by the enemy, precious minutes were lost. The mounting casualties and the lack of ammunition reached the point where those who had no ammunition in their rifles began to throw what hand grenades they had at the advancing enemy forces.
Lt. Kuznetsov, himself wounded, dragged a wounded soldier to cover (he survived) and then returned to his group, only to find that the encirclement was complete and further escape was now impossible. Trapped without ammunition and seriously wounded, Lt. Nicolay Kuznetsov blew himself (and everyone within 200 m.) up with an F-1 grenade. At the same time there was another act of heroism which stands out in the history of the Afghan War. Seven soldiers of the 1st Squadron who chose death over capture and torture, which was the normal treatment of Russian POW's during this war, also took their own lives with a grenade made from an OZM-72 mine. They were as follows: Gavrash, Kukharchuk, Vakuljuk, Marchenko, Musika, Mustafin, and Boitchuk. Long may their memory survive this war.
Later in the same day of operation, when the combined forces with armoured carrier support arrived at the scene of the Marawara battle, they rescued the surviving soldiers who had escaped the encirclement and were bringing out wounded comrades.
Towards the morning of the 22nd of April, those who'd survived told stories of the frenzy of the massacre and the mutilation of the dead and wounded Russian soldiers by the enemy forces where they fell on the battlefield.
The fallen were disembowelled, their eyes were poked out, and then they were burned. Many who were wounded and still alive when this was going on a suffered a horrible death at the hands of the enemy. One such soldier was Lance Corporal Vasiliy Fediev, who was ordered by an enemy soldier to surrender. He in turn cut the enemy's throat with his knife and suffered horribly at the hands of his captors. He was tormented far longer than the other prisoners, and in the end his bones were crushed with stones and their rifle butts.
Over the next two days, having lost three more soldiers, the survivors and the reinforcing troops brought the maimed bodies of their fallen comrades away from the battlefield. One such body was that of Sgt. Victor Tarasov. He was said to have been taken prisoner and killed by a volley of rockets fired from a Russian air support helicopter. Perhaps the pilot thought he saw a soldier wearing the light sand-coloured uniform of the Special Forces and opened fire, but in reality Tarasov was wearing the usual uniform.
This and other reported cases led to the speech of Professor Sakharov to the 1st Session of Delegates in 1988 when he accused our troops in combat of killing their own comrades who were prisoners, rather than letting them fall into the hands of the enemy if they couldn't liberate them. But he failed to say that those prisoners would be tortured to death anyhow. It was better to die quickly than at the hand their enemy captors.
At the end of the battle, reports show that on that day, three dozen Special Forces soldiers resisted an onslaught of a combined force of 400 Dushman and Pakistani soldiers and met their deaths. Their names shall go down in the history of this war and their heroism and self sacrifice will be remembered by all who served during the conflict in Afghanistan.
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