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Two Former Red Army POWs Return Home After Nine Years in Afghanistan With

March 8, 1993

Two Former Red Army POWs Return Home After Nine Years in Afghanistan With AM-Afghanistan-Analysis, Bjt

MOSCOW (AP) _ Two bewildered, bearded former Red Army soldiers arrived home and were greeted by flowers and sobbing relatives Monday, nine years after being taken captive by Muslim insurgents in Afghanistan.

Leonid Vylku and Viktor Nazarov were released from the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif on Saturday as a goodwill gesture by Afghanistan’s Islamic government, Afghan minister-counselor Abdul Wahab Assefi said.

″Conditions were difficult, but that’s all over now,″ a weary Vylku told reporters after a flight from the Afghan capital, Kabul.

″I just want to forget all the bad things and remember only the good ones,″ he said, as his sister Irina pinned small flowers on his lapels, wrapped her arms around him, and wept.

Moscow sent an estimated 115,000 soldiers into its southern neighbor beginning in 1979 in hopes of crushing the Muslim insurgency. In February 1989, the former Soviet Union withdrew its troops in line with an accord brokered by the United Nations.

Last April, Muslim insurgents overran the capital and overthrew the Marxist regime.

Russian officials estimate Afghan groups hold as many as 100 POWs. Afghan guerrilla groups claim fewer than 50 soldiers are held. Wahab Assefi said about 20 remain captive.

Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev greeted the former soldiers at the airport and said he was ready to visit Afghanistan ″as soon as circumstances are normalized″ in Kabul. Fighting continues in Afghanistan despite a peace accord.

Looking stunned as he sat white-faced on a couch in the airport lounge, Nazarov, 26, gazed at photographers as flashbulbs went off. He wore dark sunglasses; an Islamic scarf was wound around his head.

Raised in Ukraine, Nazarov said he learned the local language and converted to Islam in Afghanistan. He has no immediate plans for the future, he said.

″I just can’t believe you’re here,″ Nazarov’s mother, Zoya, said, clasping his thin, pale hand in her ample one.

Vylku, 27, studied journalism in his native Moldova before going to Afghanistan, where he wrote a book. He hopes to become a diplomat, he said.

His sister, Irina, said she only learned her brother was alive in 1989, thanks to a letter passed on from a Red Cross worker. She said she got an early indication that Vylku would be set free from her young son, Zhenka.

″Zhenka told me he had a dream on Wednesday when someone told him, he didn’t know who, that Uncle Leonya would soon be set free,″ she said, using the Russian diminitive for Vylku’s name.

″The next day I called authorities in Moscow and they told me a Ukrainian and a Moldovan prisoner would be released. I knew it had to be Leonya.″

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