Push and hold

Three Business Trips to Afghanistan

While in Afghanistan, Valentyn Serhiyovych Dyomin was involved in a special sphere of activity of special services, which is rarely mentioned in books, memoirs and interviews with participants of those events.

He was an employee  of the Mission of the KGB in Afghanistan and during his  three business trips to that country acted through the Soviet Foreign Intelligence Service. Each trip was special, unlike  the previous ones, full of events, unusual situations, unexpected meetings and deadly risk. However, many Soviet intelligence officers operated in the same difficult conditions, but not everyone within one month was awarded two orders and two medals.

After the third trip, which ended prematurely in January 1992, Colonel Dyomin returned to Moscow – the capital of the already non-existing country, with great difficulty settled in the hotel “Beijing” and began to wait for further instructions, trying to get an appointment with  the leadership of  the Intelligence Service. The last position he held at the Mission  of the KGB in Afghanistan, was General’s one, but neither it nor other merits, helped  him to somehow solve the problem of  his further service. “Wait a bit,” – that’s what he heard in  response to his appeal. Then he called his native Kharkiv Regional Department of the National Security Service of Ukraine (at that time it was already so called), from where he had been sent abroad. The man at the other end of the wire said, “We can’t promise a general’s post, but you will not be out of work. Come, we will be happy.” And he came back to where he started his professional career, where he studied and grew.

Valentyn Dyomin  was born August 28, 1948 in the village of Levkivka,  forty kilometers from Kharkiv. Earlier than others he was growing up  and getting used to independent life. His mother passed away early. Father- veteran returned from war without both legs, worked as a blacksmith in the village, was later elected chairman of the collective farm, which he invariably led for over twenty-five years and made it one of the best farms in the region. For the record crop he was nominated to the title of Hero of Socialist Labor, but, ironically, it was found out that in 1930 his close relatives were persecuted for refusing to go into the collective farm, and he never got the award. Then, outraged by injustice, the honoured head of the collective farm left office, resigned from the Communist Party’s  District Committee, and soon died.

The repressed relatives almost became an obstacle during Valentyn’s  execution for service in state security agencies.  The KGB in Kharkiv region noticed the  talented graduate of the Kharkiv Polytechnical Institute, who  worked well in engineering positions in Zmiivskyi Machine Building  Plant, the Secretary of  Komsomol Committee of the Plant, organizer of the Komsomol Operational Detachment for  public order.  But a careful check showed that  his grandmother was repressed back in prewar years.  Interestingly, he himself knew nothing about this, because this  episode of the family pedigree had been carefully hushed. Only during another interview with one of the regional leaders of the KGB when the latter  became interested in his attitude to Stalin,  to collectivization, to arrests of  citizens for “anti-Soviet” activity and propaganda, Valentyn realized why his getting a job was being delayed.

This was in 1975. At that time such facts were still important, but not so much as to deny admission to the service. He was immediately sent for special training to Kyiv, after which he began working in one of  regional departments in Kharkiv.  In a couple of years Kharkiv was visited by representatives of the First Main  Directorate of the KGB of the USSR, engaged in the study and selection of candidates for the Foreign Intelligence Service. Among others, Valentyn Dyomin was put on the list of candidates. And during the testing he surprised the representatives of the Centre when  without a slightest mistake he  recreated from memory the entire table with 25 different signs.  He had  an extremely good memory that always helped in training (in youth  he learned by heart nearly  all Sergei Yesenin’s poems  and used to impress  girls   with this). Such skills were needed in the study of foreign languages. He became part of  the talent pool of the Intelligence Service.

In October 1979, a coded telegram arrived from Moscow: V. Dyomin should  immediately  be resigned  from his office, removed from all records and sent to the capital. In a day he arrived at the Kursk station in Moscow, from there he called the given phone number. He was at once told where to go. In the  appointed place, a black “Volga” with tinted glass windows was waiting for him. Inside the car,  the man said that now his surname would be Denisov,   and  under it he would stay and study at the Institute of Red Banner- the higher school of the Foreign Intelligence Service.

The group, into which he got, was engaged in intensive study of the countries of the East and the Persian language. Of course, a special intelligence training was  in the first place. Taking into consideration  the developments in Afghanistan,  soon it  became clear to all that they were being prepared for that country. Finally everything became clear  in December 1980, when after graduation  examinations all the graduates were appointed Advisors in the KGB Mission  in Afghanistan. Upon his arrival in  Kabul,  V. Dyomin  was ordered  to go to Jalalabad, a unit  of the Mission, to collect  intelligence and serve as Adviser to help  local state security services.

During this trip,  for almost six months V. Dyomin was going through a sort of school for   a professional intelligence officer. He studied the situation, established the necessary contacts with Afghani colleagues,  with their help was talking  representatives of anti-government forces into cooperation. As always before in his life, he had active position,  was full of initiative,  energetic. His  intelligence  activity must have gone far enough,  as among illegal armed groups there was an order for his capture. But good luck was on his side. Once at the local market, where he  came with the Tajik interpreter, he was approached from behind by a newly recruited Afghan and warned that he  would be attacked.

Those fifty meters that separated them from the office’s  “Niva”, they covered  in a matter of seconds, but when the engine began working and  Dyomin  pressed the accelerator, the car did not move from the spot. In the mirror he saw that some people had raised the tail of the car and were holding   it on  their  hands. He turned on the front-wheel drive, but in a second the bearded men were already before him. Then he ordered his counterpart: “Fire!” After a long salvo  straight from the cabin through the windshield, over the heads of the attackers, they fell to the ground, and Valentyn again pressed the  accelerator pedal – and the car, raising a cloud of dust, rushed forward. A few shots sounded behind, but fortunately they missed. The car, roaring,   rushed to the base. Only after a few hundred meters V. Dyomin realized that he had not switched over. Later he found out  that his head, the head of the Soviet KGB Adviser, had been priced at 100,000 US dollars.

On his return  to Kharkiv,  V. Dyomin worked in the Intelligence Service. In August 1982 he was sent to study at the Higher School of the KGB of the USSR, at 2 -year courses training future professionals to be sent into  English-speaking countries. There he mastered the English language, and in addition perfected his knowledge of  Farsi and successfully passed the exam. It so happened that Dyomin accidentally entered the room, where another group was watching the Iranian film with  the well- known Iranian singer Hugush  in the title role, and got so carried away that watched the film to the end. When the light turned on and the teacher started asking  the present about the content of the film,  only Valentyn  Dyomin  answered all the questions in detail.

He was proposed in a parallel,  as an experiment,  to learn two languages, and he agreed. Till 3p.m.  he studied  with his main group, and then he was individually working with teachers of Farsi. At the graduation he  was awarded a diploma of the KGB for self-mastering of  another course of study. And then there was the appointment. He had to go to Canada, but it so happened that someone else was sent there, and he again was offered Afghanistan.

In September 1984, V. Dyomin was Deputy Commander of Special Task Force for Intelligence in Host  province, located on the border with Pakistan, where the situation was very complicated and tense. Once he had to deliver to  Kabul  an especially valuable agent, with whom he worked together with representatives of Afghan security agencies. The agent  provided information about the training camps of mercenaries in Pakistan, the place of their  infiltration  into Afghanistan, the ways of   supply of weapons, financing schemes, accounts in foreign banks. That is why the  Chief  of  Afghanistan’s  State Security Service Najib, the future president of Afghanistan, wanted to meet with him in person.

To change the  appearance of the secret agent,  he was made up  (and so were all who were accompanying him), and  so they managed  to smoothly reach the capital. V. Dyomin witnessed how Najib after a long conversation with the agent and all those who worked with him, praised highly the work of the information provided and immediately ordered to give the agent,  as a reward, one million Afghanis.

Valentyn  Dyomin had important sources of information in Kunduz province, on the border with China, where he was sent later. There he participated in the operations of Soviet prisoners’ buying out or exchanging for arrested members of anti-government groups. After participating in major events on disclosing  corruption among public authorities and management and agencies  of Internal Affairs of Afghanistan, he  was invited  to Kabul. Before this,  an arrest warrant was received for the leader of the  Audit Office of the Kunduz province of Afghanistan. The man was a nephew of the former president Babrak Karmal. As a result of operational activities, important  and very resonant information was collected on his abuse of power.

Valentyn Dyomin got the permission on the highest level   to participate in clarifying all the circumstances of the case, he personally participated in interrogations of the official in prison,  and talking the latter into  providing truthful testimony. Once the investigation was completed, a number of officials were held responsible, the process was widely covered in the press and on television, which increased the public credibility of the current government, which began restoring the  order.  A  number of officials were put to justice. V. Dyomin’s  contribution to this was valued highly enough. Just over two – three weeks he was awarded the Order of the Red Star, Afghanistan’s  Order  “For Courage” and two medals (from Soviet and Afghan border agencies). Besides, for participation in other operations in the years of the Afghan saga he was awarded another Order of the Red Star, and medals.

After this business trip V. Dyomin returned to Kharkiv, headed the Intelligence unit, which was engaged in selection of candidates to work in the illegal intelligence. It was an interesting and exciting new work. It was  interrupted by a telephone call from Moscow in May 1991. V. Dyomin’s former colleague from the KGB Mission  in Afghanistan,  was about to fly to Kabul, now as head of the Representative Office, and invited him again to go on a business trip abroad in General’s post.

God knows  how long this trip would have lasted, had  the Soviet Union not collapsed. Perhaps he could have got the rank of General and a new high  appointment at  the Central Office of the Soviet Foreign Intelligence Service. But that was not destined. At the Representative Office he was engaged in helping  the Afghan security agencies’ leadership through intelligence and counterintelligence work, in particular, he was an Adviser to a Deputy Chief  of the State Security Committee of Afghanistan Colonel-General Babrak. After the USSR’s disappearing from the map, he began preparations for the transfer to  Afghan colleagues of the premises and property of the Representative Office. V. Dyomin, like other employees, did not know what to expect at home.

But … again Kharkiv, again being a Chief  of one of regional departments of the SBU. And in September 1992 he accepted the invitation of the Director of Kharkiv Electric Lamp Plant  to go to Syria as the leader of Ukrainian specialists to the construction of the plant for assembling electric engines. A few days later he retired from service and began a new phase of his further quite busy career. After Syria he worked at the Kharkiv Electric Lamp Plant  as Deputy Chief Engineer, then in commercial structures, created several joint ventures,  in 1992 – 1995 he  took part in the permanent government delegations in the negotiations for the sale to Iran of AN-74 TK200, transferring to the Iranian side the technology for production of plane AN-140, in 1997 – 2004 he worked in various positions in several countries of the East, then – in the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine, where within  nine years he rose from Chief Specialist to  the First Deputy Head of one of the Departments, received the third rank of State employee.

Taking into consideration the years left behind, Valentyn  Dyomin  says that the memories of any job are  precious and memorable to him, but the brightest and most significant pages in his biography are the  years in the Foreign Intelligence Service,  and, especially, those spent  in Afghanistan. Stories about them  occupy most space in his biographical book, which he entitled  “Four Valentyn  Dyomin’s  Lives” and which  soon will be released in a Kyiv publishers.


Oleksandr Skrypnyk, 
(Photos from Valentyn Dyomin’s personal archive)

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