In 1982, Igor Yerin was working in a Moscow car plant when he was drafted into the Soviet army at age 20 and sent to Afghanistan to fight U.S.-backed guerrillas known as the mujahedeen. He ended up serving as a platoon sergeant with the 149th Motorized Rifle Regiment based in the northern city of Kunduz.
Three years earlier, the Soviet Union had invaded Afghanistan to prop up a friendly regime. But the war against the mujahedeen turned into an unwinnable quagmire, and on Feb. 15, 1989, the last Soviet soldiers came limping out of Afghanistan — an omen of the Soviet Union’s dissolution less than three years later.
“First of all, we were following orders,” Yerin said in an interview with NPR. “And secondly, the motherland sent us — we wouldn’t have gone on our own.”
Yerin is now the director of a small museum dedicated to the Afghan war, tucked into the ground floor of a nondescript brick apartment building on the eastern outskirts of Moscow. Its halls are filled with carefully selected artifacts of the time: high school graduation photos, maps and medals, a Toshiba boombox, a pair of combat boots, and a child’s drawing of the machines of war.