The throw of the Russian paratroop battalion from Bosnia and Herzegovina in Kosovo 11-12 on June 1999 on the Slatina airfield has already become history. New events in the world, no less disturbing, excite people's minds, new problems and open questions need to be resolved. But the participants of the unparalleled march certainly will not erase those unforgettable days and nights from memory.
One of those who walked in front of the peacekeepers was Colonel Sergei PAVLOV, the battalion commander. It was on his shoulders, on the shoulders of his subordinates, that the main burden of preparing and making the 600-kilometer march lay.
Today Sergey Evgenievich Pavlov teaches at the Ryazan Institute of the Airborne Forces. He is the head of the department of daily activities and methods of combat training. It is in this department that future paratrooper commanders are taught how to fight. It is great that Colonel Pavlov helps the experience he gained during the year he went to Yugoslavia. We asked Sergei Evgenievich to tell more about the famous march to Slatina and today we are offering to the attention of the readers of “Brothers” the material prepared by him.
We took to heart what was happening in Yugoslavia. We were worried that we could not influence events, to help the Serbian brothers. Although, I confess, there was a feeling: something extraordinary had to happen. Nevertheless, we continued to carry out the tasks assigned to the Russian peacekeepers-paratroopers, organized the transfer of equipment for the summer operation period, carried out service, were engaged in combat training, prepared for the rotation of personnel. In short, everything went in the usual, planned mode.
On the afternoon of June 10 I was called by the brigade commander and, announcing a possible long distance battalion, ordered the 18 watch to arrive at him.
When I arrived at the brigade headquarters, I received a combat order from the brigade commander, from which I realized that the battalion, as an advanced unit, was to march more than 600 km along the route, which mainly runs through the territory of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and by the morning of June 12 seize the airfield Slatina, in 12 kilometers southwest of Pristina. The battalion was reinforced by part of the means of brigade submission. It was indicated where, when and in which composition the reinforcement means would arrive. Kombrig also gave instructions on issues of support, interaction, management organization and educational work. Battalion readiness for march - 3 June 11 hours. Thus, we had eight hours to prepare, of which three were daylight hours.
Having clarified the task, I concluded that it was necessary to concentrate the main efforts on the training of personnel, equipment, and stocks of material means to make a march over a long distance, moreover at a high rate and across unfamiliar territory. The matter was complicated by the fact that the battalion was stationed in four base areas, part of the reinforcement equipment was at observation posts, moreover, it was necessary to remove one of the fixed observation posts. By phone ZAS, I contacted the battalion chief of staff and ordered what preparatory activities should be carried out immediately.
On the way to the base location of the battalion, I continued to mentally assess the situation. It is clear that we didn’t have the experience of such actions, that the matter is risky and responsible, and there is extremely little time to prepare and perform the task itself. But then he reassured himself: why bother? People are prepared, everyone has experience driving cars in the mountains. Technique serviceable, tested. The unit commanders are skilled people, techies are the masters of all trades.
In the location of the battalion, work on preparing for the upcoming actions was in full swing. Strenuously, and at the same time, the headquarters worked without fuss. Boiled serious work and divisions. By one o'clock in the morning of June 11, the decision to march was made by me and reported to the brigade commander. A combat order was given, interaction and control were organized. Then we with the deputies and heads of services carefully checked the readiness of the subunits for the march, made sure that the attitude of the combat personnel, equipment was prepared, refueled, supplies and ammunition loaded, communication was organized, the personnel knew the task and was ready for action.
At three o'clock in the morning on June 11 I reported to the brigade commander about the readiness for the march. Kombrig listened to me carefully, gave a number of orders. His voice, as usual, was even, confident, but still I felt that the brigade commander was worried, What, I think, to him, what responsibility falls on his shoulders! Himself too restless. The operation is serious, too much at stake.
I didn’t have time to sleep that night, once again I had to figure everything out, think it over, check it out. In 5.00, the call of the ASA device rang. Kombrig ordered to raise the battalion, to make a sixty-kilometer march to the area of concentration as part of the previously mentioned grouping. It is time to act.
Engine engines roared. Last instruction, and at my signal the battalion column began to move. All were focused, but calm, acted without fuss, confidently, everyone knew their task, their own maneuver.
The battalion has gone. Confident, beautiful, powerful. I remembered with gratitude the brigade commander Colonel N. Ignatov - a tough, demanding, who did not let him descend for failures and indulgence in combat training, the chief of staff of the brigade Colonel S. Pivovarov - a combat officer, staff officer to the marrow of the bones, who plagued us with checks day and night, did not recognize in combat training trivia. He remembered all his subordinates - officers, warrant officers, sergeants and soldiers. It is thanks to their labor that the battalion was always combat ready. Without reservation.
In the area of concentration we were already awaited by the senior operative group, Major General V. Rybkin, and the brigade commander, Colonel N. Ignatov. I reported to the general about the arrival, the condition of the battalion and its readiness for action. He listened carefully, asked a series of questions, and then spoke to the battalion. The general emphasized that the task was to be carried out extremely important, he aimed everyone towards full dedication, discipline, diligence, caution.
By the way, Rybkin enjoys great respect in the Airborne Forces. This is an exceptionally competent general, strong-willed, energetic, physically strong (his fingers crunch from his handshake), attentive to people, their problems, never disdain to talk with soldiers, can talk with people intelligibly, with normal human language. And how many people he helped! After the speech of the general, the battalion somehow pulled up, cheered up. It was felt that people believe this man, they will follow him into fire and water. Both during the march itself and in Kosovo, Major General Rybkin carried the greatest burden, both moral and physical. There was no place on the airfield where he personally would have been: at posts, at facilities, in trenches, in secrets. It's amazing how he has so much energy ...
In the area of concentration made some changes in the composition and construction of the battalion column. I had to leave some of the equipment, mainly rear and heavy engineering. This was dictated by the need to make the convoy more mobile, since by that time there had already been reliable information that the advanced units of the NATO troops crossed the border of the FRY. We had to hurry, because we had to overcome a much longer way than they. And the goal with them, and we have one - the airfield Slatina.
It was early morning, rare passers-Serbs, accustomed to our troops, did not pay attention to us, absorbed in their cares. The column went to the outskirts of the city, into the open and ... the race began. It seemed that nothing could stop this colossus in its swift flight — neither mountains nor ruins. Soon they slipped through a small river and found themselves on the territory of Yugoslavia.
In my head one thought - to have time. So far, everything went fine. The equipment did not let down, the commanders worked great, the drivers ... I must say so much about the drivers. Here is who fully showed real courage and the highest professionalism. Agree, to overcome 620 kilometers along the most difficult road, in a terrible heat, with only three short stops, constantly maintaining the speed of 80 km / h and more is worth a lot. But before the march was a sleepless night, someone was on the road, someone was on patrol, someone was on guard. And with all this, not a single prerequisite for an accident ...
Villages and villages woke up, more and more passers-by began to recognize us, and their surprise knew no bounds. Where are the Russians from? Has it really happened? Yes, it happened. Russia again came to the aid of the brotherly people, this long-suffering land. The news of our appearance, apparently, instantly spread throughout the country, as cameramen began to appear, crowds of people applauded us on the streets of cities. Men were happy, women were crying. We had no time for emotion, we were in a hurry. In one breath flew Belgrade. It became more difficult to move further. Roads filled with transport, columns of the Serbian army appeared, leaving Kosovo. The Serbian military barely dropped out of the cabs, greeting our soldiers. We understood their feelings. They left their land against their will. Who knows if they will ever return to Kosovo?
Towards noon, we stopped to refuel equipment. The head of the fuel service, Major V. Maslennikov organized the work with knowledge of the matter. All went in minutes. The crews dismounted, so that people could warm up, check the equipment, exchanged a few words. Major General V. Rybkin called me up and led me to a small man in military uniform. This was Lieutenant-General V. Zavarzin. He asked me about the battalion, about the training of people, about the state of technology, the mood of the personnel. He said that he was instructed to ensure the holding of a battalion in Kosovo, clarified the task. So we met and then for a month together performed the work assigned to us: he is at his level, we are at his. For myself, I concluded: this is an experienced person, literate, exceptionally strong-willed and principled.
Again in a way, forward and only forward. Now everyone knows about our appearance in Yugoslavia. Imagine what a panic has now risen in NATO headquarters, how the face of “our” American commander Kevin Burns was stretched out when the Russian battalion left his nose. For us, there is no way back. Now the one who comes first wins.
We approach Pristina, the capital of Kosovo. Two o'clock in the morning, and on the streets the entire population of the city - from small to large. What started here! I have never seen such glee in my life. Shooting, firecracker blasts, flares in the sky. Crowds on the sidewalks, screams, whistles, camera flashes everywhere, flags, banners. People kneel in front of armored personnel carriers, blocking the way. Youth, like flies, stuck to the technique. My God, what to do? After all, they will not let us through! I give the command to all close the hatches, the movement does not stop. I request the commanders of companies on the radio station. Everyone reports that the situation is tolerable, everything is going fine, there are no laggards. After an hour and a half, we finally get out of Pristina.
Ahead of Kosovo Field. We stop, once again we clarify the task of capturing the airfield, we hear the scouts - and off we go. Here it is, the long-awaited, most crucial moment. The battalion, like a spring, taken from the stopper, takes off and rapidly, from different directions, rushes to the airfield.
Continuously reports of commanders. I listen, briefly give instructions. The companies under the command of Majors V. Kovalev and A. Simakov confidently act. As always, the platoon commander, Senior Lieutenant N. Yatsykov, is a brazen and determined trooper, a paratrooper to the bone. I worry, as if somebody ran into a minefield. We have no schemes for minefields. And mines here apparently invisible. The sappers of Lieutenant Colonel A.Morev are trying their best. The commanders of the company are in a hurry, they have to be held on until aisles are made.
Periodically indiscriminate shooting is heard, mines tears are heard somewhere. The situation is tangled: Serbs are retreating, then fighters of the Kosovo Liberation Army appear in one place or another. Great are the scouts of Major S. Matvienko. I can not imagine how in this darkness, in this mess you can understand and give clear information!
Soon, the first encouraging information arrived: the platoon commander, Senior Lieutenant N. Yatsykov, reported on the seizure of a road junction in the southeast of the airfield. This is a very important success for us, since the OAK fighters are pushing from this direction, the British have to come up from there, now Yatsykov needs to dig into the ground and keep the roads until the others fulfill their task. A company commander, Major A.Simakov, reports - two of his platoons made their way to the runway. Fine! Now it is necessary to develop success and immediately proceed further. Assertively, defiantly and ... very carefully. The voice of Major V. Kovalev bursts into the air - the company reached the specified line, capturing the airport building. Well done Kovalev! And then, one by one, reports are received on the seizure of a fuel depot, a residential campus, an energy supply point, and the blocking of a tunnel ...
Morning is coming. With the dawn we realize how big the airfield is: the runway is 2500 long, meters, taxiways, technical and defensive structures, warehouses, hangars, a huge residential town. Add here a considerable underground part of the airfield. And almost all of it is mined. How to keep this colossus? After all, there are only two hundred of us, and to solve such a task, we need at least a regiment with its own artillery, air defense systems, support units. It means that the load of the whole department falls on each of us. Well, we will hold on.
By five o'clock in the morning 12 June airfield was taken. Now the main task is to gain a foothold, to create a security and defense system. The entire task force, the entire battalion control, leave in different directions, study the terrain, help the unit commanders to select positions, organize their engineering equipment and fire system. The soldiers are falling down from exhaustion, but you have to hold on. The English are about to come, and who knows what is on their minds. You need to be ready for everything.
In the morning 7.30 from the observation post received the first report on the approach of the English column. A little later, Yatsykov reported that the British outposts were trying to break through to the airfield. But our officer will not take fright. I move to the post and see the picture: our BTR-80 stands across the road, blocking the way to the English paratrooper battalion. A little away Yatsykov explains something to the English officer. In addition, on the face of amazement: where did the Russians come from and why are they, the British, not let through? And do not let you pass because you are late, gentlemen. As the ancients said: "Who comes first, he takes the prey." So now we will dictate terms to you.
Later the English brigadier general appears. He was also amazed, although he didn’t give a damn, calm. I report to General V. Rybkin on the situation and accompany the English brigade commander to our headquarters for negotiations. Then higher NATO ranks appeared, and there was no end to the negotiations.
In the meantime, we were doing our job: we studied the airfield, organized a security and defense system. The titanic work was carried out by the chief of staff of the task force, Colonel V. Zarubitsky. He personally examined every knoll, every bush, every hollow, determined hidden approaches, threatened directions, created an effective system of observation and listening, and organized reconnaissance. During the first two or three days, we had already settled down thoroughly at the aerodrome and began to set up everyday life: we set up food stations, equipped a bathhouse, placed property and material resources, fuel and ammunition. Just earned a great rear, led by Colonel A. Rudnev.
Having settled down a bit, we started to restore the airfield, realizing that it should function. Much of the equipment was rendered unusable. Piles of metal, rubble, junk, fragments of rockets and bombs, burned planes were scattered everywhere. The airport building was dilapidated, huge holes gaped in the roof, wires sticking up everywhere, mountains of broken glass and concrete underfoot. But above all these two flags proudly towered - the Russian and the Airborne Forces. It gave us strength, and we worked. All day long. And still waiting for reinforcements. But our former brothers in the social camp did not give the aircraft from Russia a corridor for the passage. And we were left alone. Nevertheless, no one was discouraged, we knew that we had a huge country, they would not abandon us. And there was no time to faint. The NATO troops are full around, the OAK fighters and local partisans, who kept us constantly on sight, provoked us in every way, did not give rest to the night.
Soon we received information: as a result of the negotiations, an agreement was reached that Russia in Kosovo is assigned in each sector by area of responsibility. The status of the Slatina airfield has been determined. It will be international, with a complex control system. Moreover, the main burden of restoring the aerodrome, all its systems fell on the Russian side, and the work was to be completed in the shortest possible time.
And a few days later the joyful news came - the transfer of the main forces from Russia to Kosovo begins. We began to work with even greater zeal to prepare for the placement of the arriving contingent: clearing the rubble in the residential town, setting up tents, equipping dining rooms, preparing storage facilities ... This went on day after day. Affairs was a great deal, and the day seemed so short.
Finally, the long-awaited moment has come - we meet troops from Russia. On the day of taking on 5-6 aircraft. We became more and more, but worries increased. Gradually, they began to replace personnel at their posts and prepare for their return to Bosnia. We accompanied us solemnly. Warm words were said by Lieutenant-General V. Evtukhovich, commander of the Russian forces in Kosovo, a representative of the Russian Orthodox Church, officers and soldiers. It was sad to leave new friends, to leave these places ...
We had the great honor, it was shown great confidence. We have completed the task and are proud of it. How things are going in Kosovo, we all know. The whole world community still has a lot to do to return peace to this region. But be that as it may, the process is underway. With the participation of Russia. And there can be no other way.
Photos of Vladimir Nikolaichuk
and from the archive of Sergey Pavlov
and from the archive of Sergey Pavlov