By Svetlana Alexievich, Andrew Bromfield (trans.)

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Those four ‘Afghanis’ brought him to me. And they threw him on the dirty concrete floor. You know, the floor at home is concrete. Our kitchen floor’s like in a prison. By that time he had already got into the foundation studies department at the radio engineering college. He wrote a good essay. He was happy that everything was going really well. I even started to think that he was calming down. That he would go to college. Get married. But when the evening came … I was afraid of the evening. He used to sit there and stare blankly at the wall.

I ask him about something, but all he does is write his name: ‘Vanechka … Vanechka …’ I can make out his name so clearly – Vanechka. ’ We drove through the lifeless streets of Kabul, past the familiar posters in the centre of the city: ‘The bright future is communism’ – ‘Kabul – city of peace’ – ‘The people and the Party are united’. Our posters, printed in our printshops. Our Lenin, standing here with his arm raised … I met some cameramen from Moscow. They were filming the loading of a ‘black tulip’ – an An-12 plane that takes coffins back home.

What’s your book for? Who’s it for? None of us who came back from there will like it anyway. How can you possibly tell people how it was? The dead camels and dead men lying in a single pool of blood, with their blood mingled together. Who wants that? We’re strangers to everyone back here. All I have left is my home, my wife and the child she’s going to have soon. A few friends from there. I don’t trust anyone else. And I never will now. A private, grenadier I kept quiet for ten years … I kept quiet about everything.

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