The sun came out against a brilliant blue sky when I visited the Island of Tears. One of Minsk’s newest monuments, it evokes a tragedy on many levels.
In 1979 Russia invaded Afghanistan. At the time Belarus was part of the old Soviet Union so thousands of men were conscripted into the army to fight. This disastrous war continued until 1988 when the Russians finally retreated. With thousands dead, the authorities wanted to forget that anything had happened at all. Not a single memorial was erected to remember the dead or injured. Except Belarus, where widows and mothers were determined not to forget.
With the break up of the Soviet Union in 1991, Belarus was one of several countries that sought and won independence. The fundraising for a memorial went ahead, and in 1996 a beautiful memorial was erected, known as the Island of Tears. It is the only memorial to soldiers who fought in Afghanistan, most of whom were forced to go as a consequence of national conscription.
The Island of Tears is reached by a footbridge over the Svislach River and is opposite the Old Town. The central monument has bells and contains soil from the graves in Afghanistan. The names of 700 soldiers from Belarus are contained within the memorial. Surrounding the memorial are women, veiled, and in mourning. Their facial expressions were probably the most striking thing about this memorial in that they had an air of despair, waiting for loved ones.
On the water’s edge, a weeping angel was positioned, believed to be crying as she could not save the soldiers. Close by are the names of battles fought in vain. She continues to weep for those lost in wars today.
I found this memorial very dramatic but for me it brought back personal memories. At the time of the Russian war in Afghanistan I was actually nursing some of the Afghan Mujahadeen. Caring for them was quite an experience and I will always remember their bravery. It had never occurred to me that someone would want to wipe out the memory of the Russian soldiers in this way. I discussed this with my guide who was surprised at my connection with this conflict. We both agreed that so many innocent people get caught up in futile conflicts.