OF THE WIFE OF A RUSSIAN ADVISOR
Our greatest appreciation goes to the author of the diary, Tatiana Khoudoyerko and her husband Alex, without whom this piece would have never found its proper place in the controversial puzzle of history.
We are specifically grateful to Alexander Bouchnev for support, assistance and necessary insistence.
Words of thanks are extended to our South African friend, Johan Schoeman, who gratuitously converted Russian English into understandable SA English.
We are thankful to Jim Hooper and Carlos Picado whose materials were used to add some colourful strokes to this personal diary.
And finally, we‟d like to mention with gratitude the translator‟s wife, whose tolerance, pressure and wisdom materialized in this work.
Text Copyright © Tatiana Khoudoyerko, 1985, Russia
Edited by Alexander Bouchnev , 2013, Russia
Translated by Igor V. Ignatovich, 2014, Russia
Converted to SA English by Johan Schoeman, 2014, South Africa
Appendices – courtesy of Jim Hooper, UK and Carlos Picado, Australia
September 11, 1985. (Note: the writing of these notes only started about four years after the
events described below)
I will start my story from the very beginning, from around September 1980, when I left for Angola to be reunited with (my husband) Alex. My father and Yury saw me off at Moscow and the plane to Luanda took 13 hours to get there, with the stopovers made in Budapest, Hungary, and in Brazzaville, the Congo.
The meals as well as the drinks on the plane were perfect, and we were even served some wine! Upon our arrival at Luanda, we were welcomed by a representative from the Soviet Military Mission, and we were taken to the Mission by bus. As the bus travelled through the city I experienced a wonderful surreal feeling, like it‟s not really happening to me, almost as if I was watching a popular Russian TV program, called “Travel with Us watching TV” (1).
It was hot, with the temperature varying between 45 and 50 degrees Celsius and the air heavy from the humidity. The soil was red, as if it was sprinkled with red chilli pepper. The large, battered buildings all seemed dilapidated and untidy; the streets overcrowded with vehicle traffic and mostly black people… with skins as black as tar! The cars, almost all dented and smashed up, had been painted all the colours of the rainbow, some without bonnets and/or doors, or sometimes even without their roofs! And there were palm trees… lots of them…everywhere!
There were tulip trees and many other exotic flowers which I have never seen before, with bright red and deep purple shades. And then… the ocean! I saw the Atlantic Ocean – rising seemingly high into the sky because of the low cloud on its surface – a stunning and unusual sight! Later, in January (2), when I went for a swim in the ocean, it no longer seemed so awesome and amazing to me… suddenly it was just another ordinary sea. But, I will always remember that first impression it left with me!
On our way there, I met and got acquainted with Natasha (Natalia) Sytenko. I eventually found out that her husband had been working together with Alex in the same group. After spending two or three days in Luanda, we were flown to Lubango in a Cuban plane, over mountains and forests. At Lubango, we stayed at the Soviet Mission for another two or three days, as there had been no volunteers who offered to take us any further. So when the day finally came that we were told: “Off we go!” we found ourselves almost literally flying (yes, actually flying!) along the road in a white “Volga” sedan (3) at the frightening speed of between 130 and 140 kilometres per hour! (4)
Our escort, the Advisor to the Chief of Staff, and some other officers accompanying him, were all making jokes and singing songs all the way. We could not be sure whether they were joking or serious when they told Natasha and me: “Natasha, you watch the sky to our rear, and Tanya (Tatiana), you have to watch our port and starboard sides, while we watch the sky ahead – just in case South African aircraft appear!”
We laughed! “What aircraft?” we thought… All while we were going so fast that I almost failed to notice my Alex waving his hand at us from an oncoming vehicle, calling for us to “Halt!” By the time we realized that it had been our husbands driving and waving at us, we had already progressed some distance. They quickly made a U-turn and soon caught up with us. Later, Alex explained that they had received a cable saying that we were on our way to them, and they drove up to meet us. So, as we had just sped past them, they were forced to turn around and catch up with us, instead of meeting us as intended. The interesting thing was, though, that there had been no oncoming traffic at all, in fact, there were very few cars, if any, which would travel this terrible road.
Finally we arrived at our destination, the notorious Ongiva, and Alex took me to our room which had a double bed, a fridge, a cupboard, a table, two chairs, and a large cabinet for storing food products. That was all! That evening while we were all gathered on the terrace, they started the process of adopting us as members of their group. Natasha and I had to recount our curriculum vitae to them all, and they all eventually voted in favour of us being accepted into the group.
Immediately after that our real African day of the week started. Alex would leave for work at 8 am, and return at noon for lunch and some rest – according to “African time”. Then, at 3 pm, he would have to go somewhere again, to return home by 5 or 6 pm. Sometimes, when he didn‟t have to be anywhere in the afternoon, he would remain at the Mission as a DO – the duty officer (whom we mockingly called “Domestic officers”).
Other people also stayed in the house with us: the Egorovs – Raya (Raisa) and Yury; the Rakovs - Lida (Lydia) and Vitaly; Natasha and Vovka (Vladimir) Sytenko; and the two socalled “bachelors”. The one - Seryozha (Serguei) Lachine - was an actual bachelor, while the other – Tolik (Anatoly) Poznakhirko - lived alone because his wife had remained in Leningrad (presently Saint Petersburg) with their children. Another house was occupied by our commander, Yury (Grigorievich) Boyarsky 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), who was the Adviser to the Brigade Chief of Logistics.
Most of the women mentioned above, except Nina, Raya and Lida Rakov, arrived after me and I distinctly remember that there were no South African aircraft during that first week. We were all briefed on what we were expected to do in the event of bombing by our group commander and political commissar.
We were not scared at all, just interested. Even so, there had been an old dugout shelter in our yard, but a new one was being built of reinforced concrete, right in front of our house. There were also guards for our protection, called Segurança (5) in Portuguese. The first time South African aircraft crossed the border, our guards knocked on a hanging artillery shell case (which made an awful ringing noise!) and afterwards they would also knock on our windows to warn us. We would then all rush to the shelter and remained there until the all clear signal was given. By the time these things started to happen every day, and even several times a day as well as at night, we would run to the new shelter as prescribed.
I remember that after Kolya (Nikolay) Pestretsov's wife, Galya, had just arrived, there was an air raid the following day. An Angolan anti-aircraft gun fired at South African airplanes. In short, there were lots of shooting! And poor Galka (Galya) was so horrified that she grabbed my hands and, while shaking all over, burst into tears. By then, the rest of us were already used to this, but little did we know at the time that what we were going to experience in the near future would be much more disastrous! If it was not for that terrible road along which our husbands had to travel carrying sitreps (situation reports) every Thursday, and those damn planes, we would have been able to live quite well.
We were having fun in the evenings. We even had tea parties under that stars! We would drink Kolya's special tea with allspice and Victor‟s with garlic… Delicious! On some holidays, like 7 November (6), we would receive and entertain Angolan friends, up to fifty or so people, and have a really successful banquet. Angolans liked to 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 became horribly drunk. Even worse, Angolans would give such long toasts (to anything and everything)… and when greeting one of them,
you are expected to kiss that person twice on each cheek!
They treated us well, even with respect. The African summer starts in November. December though January is the rainy season. I had never seen such rains before, as it would form a solid wall of water, usually accompanied by a strong thunderstorm! It was so scary at night, with thunder reverberating, the lightning flashing so bright that everything seems to shatter into pieces! To top it all, at night we were plagued by crickets and cicadas. I just could not fall asleep, because cicadas produced such an unpleasant metallic ringing noise, and with all the crickets, which all lived in our room, the sound was sometimes unbearable! They would crawl under the cupboard and chirp, and when you managed to chase them out, they would run under the bed, having to hunt them all night long! As for fruits and vegetables, we had everything we needed, except potatoes. One day Alex brought some very small potatoes wrapped up in a paper bag, like candies (probably from Luanda), and we fried them. Yummy!
We regularly grilled bananas instead of potatoes, and baked home bread and rolls. We even salted herring ourselves.
There was a family vegetable garden next to the house where we grew onions, radishes, beetroot, and tomatoes. Cucumbers just would not grow there because the ants ate them in the bud. There were also watermelons and cabbage. Onions, which were brought from the Xangongo fazenda, were very nice with large, white bulbs that were sweet. Due to the lack of flour and yeast, bread supplies were scarce. Sometimes we had to eat cookies instead of bread. I cooked a soup of rice, tomatoes, cabbage and tangerines three times a day. The beef was very tough to eat, and we had our own farm with a pig. There was a nanny goat called Masha, and also a billy-goat called Boris.
Two orange trees (and a single lemon tree) were growing in the courtyard which bore fruit all year round and you could actually see ripe fruit, green ones and flowers on one tree simultaneously. Our men had made arrangements to alternate in driving to Xangongo, or even further to Cahama or Lubango, at least once a week. They would go there for their official business, and to buy some foodstuffs while they were there. Vehicles that left Ongiva would usually move in a convoy of vehicles in column, accompanied by guards and anti-aircraft guns, with the vehicles camouflaged with tree branches. Well, within 15-20 minutes of a convoy departing from Ongiva, enemy planes would appear and the convoy elements would disperse in all directions, trying to find cover under a tree, in a pit, a roadside ditch. Antiaircraft guns would start shooting at the planes, and the planes would start flying in circles at high altitude, teasing the guns and then eventually flying away. It was an agonizing experience for us women whose husbands were away with the convoy. My Lord! I took it so hard every time Alex had to leave with a convoy like that!
I got the heebie-jeebies every time he left in a convoy, and I was beside myself with worry, waiting for him to return. I often asked to go with him, so as to be closer to him and see it all for myself. It would have been better that way than having to wait. When our team leader was rotated (the Boyarskys left for another military district), Fyodor Zhurbitsky and another political officer - Joseph (Illarionovich) Vazhnik, with his wife Yeugeniya (Grigorievna) arrived soon after. Everything in the group suddenly changed, all at once! Previously the women used to go to the airfield every Saturday for practice driving where our men would
teach us to drive cars. Then, after lunch, we would go to the shooting range where they would train us to shoot with the AK submachine-guns. I could fire a pistol and we used to even throw hand grenades over the hill. I became the chairman of our Women‟s Council (7) which comprised of only 9 women from our team.
Photo courtesy Russian Angola War Veterans (www.veteranangola.ru)
We all enjoyed driving cars, and were looking forward to Saturdays as if they were holidays. In fact, what were we doing for days on end? We were cooking (I also cooked for our translator, Seryozha ); we were knitting sisal; we were making various bags and toys – owls, dwarfs; we were reading books… we did not go anywhere on our own and just remained right there in our own back yard. Occasionally, our men would take us out to see the shonas. A 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 at first 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, like blankets, and pots, everything was scattered around the house. One could not presume where they slept and where they ate. Dry intestines - or maybe dried meat? - were hanging above the table. You couldn‟t breathe in there! We rushed outside, desperate for some fresh air! One day they also came to visit us with their son - he was 1 year old: very black and rather ugly. They called him "Grande Bandito" because he used to take an orange and throw it at his mother! She also told me that he once stabbed her with a knife, like the real gangster he was! I gave her a necklace, earrings, a brooch, and some cheap jewellery items that I brought from Moscow as presents. She was so happy! And then, on my birthday they presented me with a roll of cotton cloth printed with a portrait of their leader, Agostinho Neto,
and a map of Angola.
We also had some other friends in Angola, like Vergilio and Talma, who had a five year old son, Jo, and she later gave birth to their second son, Mario. He was Angolan, and black, but with European features, like a black cute kewpie doll in the "Children's World" shop (8). She was Portuguese, with a light-coloured skin and straight hair. Both of them were teachers.
Their house was adjacent to ours, just across the road. They often came to visit us, either to watch a movie, or just for fun, for no particular reason at all. We communicated by using and combining gestures and words, some of which we had learned in Portuguese. In fact, I could easily communicate with them after 6 or 7 months, and I even taught an Angolan, Rosa (she was one of our neighbours), to speak a little Russian. Her husband, Angelo, was the chief pioneer of the town, the Secretary of the Angolan Pioneer Organization, and she worked at the police station as a secretary. But she was simple-minded, dull and slow to learn. She would usually come to my house in the mornings and then stay until sunset. And we would drink some tea. When I was cooking soup she would be standing there next to me, watching… she was draining me and I got tired of her. She had a one year old daughter, Rusana, who was such a cute little girl! We, the Russian women, liked to look after her. We even have photos of her because she was such a sweetie-pie!
The new year of 1981 was coming in. Because we obviously couldn‟t get a Christmas or New Year tree where we were, Alex had found a large eucalyptus branch somewhere and we placed in the empty artillery shell casing on the refrigerator. I decorated it with everything and anything I could find… badges, my beads… covered it with cotton wool, and I also cut a star out of paper which I mounted on top of the tree. That way we had a splendid New Year tree, and everybody dropped in to have a look at it. We experienced a heavy tropical, almost torrential, downpour of rain that evening of 31 December, but, as always, we celebrated the New Year together, with all the members of our group present. We had prepared all sorts of
dishes, even had some aspic (9)! The cuisine was grand!
The rain started at the very moment we began our preparations, as we were choosing dresses, and it quickly became a heavy shower! Then… the lights went out! We began looking for candles, but could not go out in the deluge, and we had to move to another house. We had to wait for the rainfall to lessen before scurrying over to another house under umbrellas. We sat down by candlelight, but at 24h00, Moscow time (10pm local time), the lights suddenly came on again. Then we had a barrel of fun, which our Angolan comrades could enjoy with us too.
We then celebrated my birthday, as I turned 30! The very next day Alex and I left early in the morning, at 4 am, to go on vacation. Three of the Sytenkos - Natasha, Vova and Tolik - decided to go to Lubango with us. Just before we reached Xangongo a plane suddenly flew across the road right in front of us. It was low, under tree level, and because there were no Angolan aircraft – only South African – in the air at that time, we had to sharply veer off to the side of the road. I am still left with a reminder of this turn where the radio-receiver struck me in my back. We all found cover and the cars were hidden under the tress… we waited…. not one of us could be seen or heard.
We got back on the road half an hour later and soon reached the relative safety of Xangongo. We rested in our compound for a short while before continuing our journey. Somewhere between Xangongo and Cahama, planes once again swooped down on us. It was completely unexpected, as we didn‟t hear them approach from behind. The guard truck ahead of us just suddenly started shooting over our car with their anti-aircraft gun. Vova Sytenko, who was driving at that moment, swerved to the left to the roadside and his action saved our lives that day. The truck with the guards swerved to the right, but the plane had launched unguided rockets at it. The poor anti-aircraft gunner was already dead as he continued shooting… obviously without hitting any aircraft!
Their truck was destroyed, and as for the rest of us, as our car turned and stopped, everybody started jumping out of the car and ran away from the road towards the brushwood fence. As for me, as I opened the UAZ-jeep‟s (10) door, I noticed puddles and mud and suddenly remembered that I was wearing my white open-toe sandals. The first thought that came to me was that I would get them dirty! How foolish of me! But as soon as I heard the explosions, I simply tumbled out of the car, one sandal came loose, as it somehow got snagged by something, and I fell down! I could not disentangle my foot and was stuck! Then, a second plane approached and started diving directly towards us… flying so low that its tailwind blew the skirt of my greenish dress over my head! I lay there, on my knees and elbows, crouching in a heap, and curled into a ball.
I was scolded by Alex afterwards when he anxiously asked: “What were you doing?! You just had to lie down as flat as you possibly could so as to not get hit by bullets!” The aircraft had launched 28 unguided rockets at us and the jeep, before opening up with its machine guns. The bullets sounded like peas raining down on us. After things settled down, I managed to disentangle my foot and pulled my leg out before jumping over the fence to where the others had taken cover. To my amazement, I found everybody alive, safe and sound, and not a single one had been wounded. Even our jeep had remained intact.
Later, in Moscow, we would laugh at those non-achieving pilots that bungled their attack. But at that time, we had lost our nerves and had chickened out. – Oh, how terrible it was! You have to experience it in order to understand. A truer word had never been spoken: “Those who say that there is nothing frightening about war have not been in any war, and have not seen a war!” It was scary! And frightening! So very much! Three or four of our guards had been wounded, I cannot remember for sure. They wept like children as they wailed over the anti-aircraft gunner that had been killed – something which made us feel very uneasy. An old Angola woman came up to us, crying with pain. She had been working in the field, before being wounded in the back during the attack.
We remained there for some time, while we waited for the anti-aircraft gunner and wounded soldiers to be taken away to the nunnery. Then we could resume our journey. We had some 30 to 40 kilometres (11) to cover to get to Cahama, but to us it felt like no less than 400 kilometres! (12) We were all highly strung, and while we drove we were as if sitting on pins and needles, holding onto the door handles so that we could jump out quickly if any aircraft appeared. When we finally reached Cahama, our guys – Soviet people – came out to meet us as we got out of the car, and to stare at us because we were all tattered, stained and dirty. Tolik Poznakhirko had a blue eye and a huge bruise under his eye. It was his bad luck to be he
hit by a tree branch when the airplane attacked. After all our bruises and scratches had been treated, we were fed and I fell asleep. I always get sleepy when I am scared. An hour later, we resumed our journey, this time the additional 200 kilometres (13) to Lubango.
That‟s how we were seen off on our vacation. After that we departed for Moscow, while our friends that had accompanied us had to return to Ongiva, again via this terrible route.
Those remaining in Ongiva all believed that I would not come back to Angola after the vacation; that I would stay in the Union (14); that I would be too scared and stricken with panic; but Alex and I returned back together. How could we be separated and live apart? How could I let him go all alone?
We continued to live this way for another five months, and life carried on as usual. Raya and Natasha also came back after their holidays, and Eugeny brought his wife Lida with him. We settled down to a good life. There were five women in our group altogether.
Then, on 21 August 1981, THIS ALL began…
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