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Two Vets -- one american, one Russian, Recall World War II

A decorated Russian veteran mourns the loss of his 'motherland' and the ideals for which he fought

FORMER Red Army soldier Mikhail Abramov would gladly have given his life for his motherland in World War II. Now he is bitter and angry that the country he fought to defend no longer exists.

Mr. Abramov was a young man when he was sent to the front during the Great Patriotic War, as Russians call World War II.

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Inspired by his faith in Josef Stalin, he began the war a technical engineer -- and emerged a military hero.

''We believed in the motherland, and we believed in Stalin. We didn't know then what we know about him now,'' Abramov says.

''But if we knew then what kind of person Stalin was, we would have lost the war. It was that faith which led us to victory,'' he says, displaying a chestful of shiny brass medals carefully pinned to his old Army uniform.

Nobody mourns the loss of the Soviet Union more than the members of Russia's older generation. And at no time is this loss more deeply felt than now, as the world commemorates the Allied victory over Nazi Germany during World War II.

While the Soviet system brought ignominious suffering to many, for decades the war years were perceived here as being a glorious sacrifice.

But the name of Stalin, once synonymous among Russians with motherland and duty, is now often synonymous with cruelty. In the space of just a few short years, many veterans have seen their entire belief systems disintegrate and their standards of living plummet.

''We were all brothers and sisters with a single motherland, and when we went to battle we yelled, 'For the motherland and for Stalin!' '' Abramov recalls. ''I loved him then very much, and I love him now, despite all his shortcomings.''

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For Abramov, a soft-spoken man originally from a farming village near his present home in the rural town of Tula, 120 miles south of Moscow, life has become much more difficult since the Soviet collapse.

He and his wife, Lyudmila, a former Army nurse who was wounded in the battle of Stalingrad, live in a two-room apartment, where they grow vegetables on the balcony.

With two combined pensions they have a monthly income of less than $200. Government promises of commemorative watches and cash to celebrate the war victory were not delivered.

''We have only enough money to pay our rent and food,'' Mrs. Abramov says.

''We don't have money for anything else,'' she adds.

The Abramovs blame Russian President Boris Yeltsin for rising prices and inflation, which they say have turned older people into a forgotten generation of paupers.

''It's a shame that communism no longer exists. Our lives were much better in the Soviet days,'' Abramov says. He adds that during the Soviet era there was no ''artificial division'' between the peoples of the former USSR. ''Everyone wants the Soviet power back,'' he says.

While Abramov rarely ventures far from his home these days, the past years have been busy ones.

Most significantly, he has completed his unpublished autobiography entitled ''About What Cannot Be Written,'' which chronicles his life as a soldier, beginning with his induction into the Red Army and ending with his participation in the storming of Berlin.

''I am not a hero and never did anything heroic. But I was never a coward, and I never gave into panic. That is something I am proud of,'' the memoir begins on a modest note.

''I flew in a burning plane with no chance of staying alive. I saw how cities were destroyed and villages burned, how they ripped apart our motherland, how the fascist pilots went after every Soviet soldier with one goal in mind: to kill him,'' it continues.

Abramov nostalgically picks up an American wrench he used to repair US Cobra planes in the war. Grasping it in his hands, he reflects on the past.

''We don't think that communism is dead. Communism is the future of mankind.

We weren't just living under communism, we were striving under communism,'' he says. ''The communists made a lot of mistakes. But it's a shame that all that was good is now forgotten.''

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