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MOCKBA sneakers - a brief history of the iconic Soviet footwear in Afghanistan

What is the connects the regular civilian "Moskva" sneakers with the Soviet Army? Our regular readers will easily guess the answer - Invasion to Afghanistan. In this article we will explore the origins of how these shoes became such an iconic piece of history and the common footwear of the Soviet Intervention of Afghanistan. And, if you want to see the practical application of the sneakers for the reenactment purposes, we advise you to check of firstborn - the Uniforms and History of the Soviet Airborne.

The "Moskva" sneakers

Adidas sports shoes were the mainstay of the 1980 Olympic Games for the Soviet team. Because of the generation defining event, the sneakers instantly became a hit on the street. Soviet youth would go a long way to get a pair. it was these sports shoes, made in the USSR under the name "Moskva", that would be seen being worn by Spetsnaz in the Soviet Afghan Intervention. 

Soviet footwear in Afghanistan
A rare example of Soviet made Adidas Gazelle

Although the Soviet Union publicly denounced all association with the decadent West, there was a very active partnership alive and well between the two fractions. Adidas was one of these Western companies who managed to do business in the USSR. It was the preparation for the 1980 Moscow Olympics that gave rise to the collaboration between Adidas and the Communist State, although some sources claim that it began much earlier. 

Adidas was the official supplier for the Moscow Olympics until 1979 when the new Soviet military campaign hailed the West's boycott of the Moscow Olympics Games and predisposition a souring of relations between two sides for the upcoming years. Adidas, already with it's lucrative contracts with the USSR, found itself in quite a predicament. All Adidas logos and branding were removed from all Adidas footwear within the Soviet Union.  The entire production was then moved to the Soviet Union, the Soviet's purchased the license for production on Soviet soil and so the footwear began it's production in the USSR.

Soviet footwear in Afghanistan
A fair collection of Soviet sneakers

The sports shoes produced in the Soviet Union, the famous "Moskva", was in fact very high quality, on parr, if not more so than it's Western counterpart. However, a reader, who has never seen any of these sneakers in real life has to understand, that there is no way to compare them to the modern day sneakers. The materials, ergonomics and overall design has made a huge leap forward since the 80s.

From the Union to Afghanistan - how sneakers became an inalienable part of the soldier's equipment

So, how did Adidas sportswear get onto the feet of Soviet special forces and other branches of the military? The short answer is surprisingly simple - the necessity and availability. By the book, every Soviet soldier was entitled for one pair of boots per year. This was sensible length of service for solid Soviet combat boots. At least for regular peacetime life, when a given soldier rarely walked for more than five kilometers per day.

Soviet footwear in Afghanistan
Famous reenactors during and event

The situation in Afghanistan, was, of course, completely different. Instead of marching on the parade ground or walking between the classrooms, soldiers experienced completely different conditions. Even those who would mostly serve on static defense points or in the big camps would have to deal with wear and tear. And the actual combatants, who could easily spend entire weeks covering dozens of kilometers daily, they would find that the issued boots are not going to last for a year.

Issuing more equipment was not exactly in the traditions of the Soviet Army, so a make-do solution was in demand. In regular situation soldiers would just steal missing pieces of equipment from each other. But in Afghanistan it was harder, as most soldiers would have their boots worn out and stealing from officers was a no-go zone. The new solution was adapted - wearing sneakers.

Acquiring the new footwear

Such footwear as sneakers was not common in the Soviet Armed Forces. Soldiers would do almost everything in their jackboots. Officers would sometimes have privately purchased sport footwear and so-called Sport Companies within units would sometimes be issued with sneakers. But all this would not fulfill the needs of the 40th Army fighting in Afghanistan.

There were three practical ways of getting new shoes for the soldiers. The most common one was acquiring them locally - either on local markets or from the enemy. The latter was a simpler way in many cases, as getting to the local bazaar was not a very common practice for a regular soldier.

But there were ways to get sneakers produced in the Soviet motherland. First of all, it was possible to purchase them from a military store. The trick was in low availability and in the fact that these stores were only present on large regimental bases. So, a soldier which would serve most of his time on a distant FOB position would not have the luxury. However, there was a little chance for him - to actually get the trainers for free. From time to time, Soviet Komsomol organizations would ship footwear to Afghanistan, as a help for the fighting force.

Soviet footwear in Afghanistan
The tradition was alive for ver a decade after the end of the Afghan War

Advantages of sneakers in combat

The reasons to wear the sneakers were plenty. By far, the main one was that they are definitely better than worn out boots. And not to forget that boots were still needed for all sort of official duties, parades etc. A good soldier would hold on to his pair of issued boots and wear the sneakers elsewhere.

Secondly, they were comfortable. Many of you have worn Soviet boots and can prove, that they are not of the highest comfort. Wearing them in the summer heat of above 50 degrees is probably something on the next level of discomfort, so it is not surprising, that soldiers tried to improve their footwear. Interestingly, they weren't only worn during summertime - it is not uncommon to see photos with trainers being worn in winter with Jurab socks.

Soviet footwear in Afghanistan
Famous Afghan socks - Jurabs

There is also a common myth about mine protective qualities of the sneakers. The myth claims that an anti personnel mine would cut off the leg based on the height of the boot, so that jackboots would go all the way up to knee, while sneakers would only claim the foot. Without having a proper expertise, I cannot debunk the myth properly. But I have not found any trustworthy sources to prove this.

So, this is how these sports shoes ended up on the feet of Soviet soldiers in Afghanistan.  With Army issue not capable on the soil and mountains of Afghanistan, the "Moskva" became the Soviet soldiers footwear of choice.

Soviet footwear in Afghanistan
Different soviet sneakers

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