For 20-year-old Yuri Mushnikov, the end of the war in Afghanistan is only days away.
On May 4, the native Siberian will get his wake-up call for the flight back to the Soviet Union.The sunburned blond soldier who has served two years without home leave says he's seen all the horrors of war and never wants to see any more.
"This war is evil," he said as he guarded a dusty outpost at Kabul's southeastern perimeter. "No one needs this war."
For his comrades performing their "internationalist duty" by defending the government of President Najib against anti-communst guerrillas, the war is almost over as well. At least it feels that way.
"I'm ready to do my part and be among the first to leave," joked Sgt. Alexander Sayenko, a career soldier from Krasnodar in southern Russia.
After explaining to two American reporters that he wasn't authorized to speak for his regiment, he confirmed that morale among the Soviet troops in Afghanistan has improved greatly since the signing April 14 of an agreement calling for withdrawal of all Red Army forces.
"I haven't seen my wife for 10 months; of course we are excited about going home," said Sayenko. "All we can say is, thank God."
None of the seven soldiers interviewed Wednesday said they considered it a mistake for the Soviet Union to have come to the aid of the government forces in Afghanistan, but all expressed fatigue with their role in the war that has raged in this Moslem country for 10 years.
"Everyone is very happy that we are going home soon," said Capt. An-drei Dobrovolskz, 31, of the Moldavian city of Rybnitsa. "But in any event, our goals were accomplished here by the signing of the agreement in Geneva."
While the accord sets out plans for Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, no one expects the fighting to end immediately. That belief was underscored Wednesday when a bomb exploded in Kabul, killing six people and injuring dozens more.
The relaxed atmosphere was apparent in soldiers' readiness to talk openly without the approval of superiors and the general sense that for them the war is nearly over.
Their candid disclosure that they had seen others die in battle and felt the pain of uncertainty about the Soviet role was in sharp contrast with the past attitudes.
On previous visits to Kabul, foreign reporters approaching Soviet soldiers were chased away before getting close enough to speak. Warning shots were fired over the heads of four American journalists who tried to photograph a unit near the airport in January 1987.
Despite the improved atmosphere, it is still unpleasant for Soviets in Afghanistan. Afghans close their eyes when they pass Soviet soldiers in a sign of rejection, and the soldiers have been ordered to stay out of public markets, where troops have been stabbed by Afghans opposed to their involvement in the war.
For the Afghans, the toughest battles may lie ahead, after the 115,000 Soviets in Afghanistan leave Najib's estimated 40,000 troops to fend for themselves against a factional but sizable guerrilla force.
"The Afghan soldiers cannot succeed without our help. Time will show that," said Mushnikov. "But everyone is sick of the war in Afghanistan."
Mushnikov, from the Siberian city of Irkutsk, said he had "seen everything" during battles to defend the southern city of Kandahar against guerrilla attacks.