9th Company Review: Movie About the Soviet–Afghan War

By Ari Helderman
April 8, 2022

Hey everyone, the site is a low priority at the moment. I’m working more on my YT channel. But here’s a nice guest post by Richard about a movie I watched with a lot of fun a couple years ago. Enjoy

I’m very happy to have the opportunity to talk about one of the most iconic Russian movies of the past couple decades with you. 9th Company / 9 рота tells the story of Soviet soldiers who fought in the Soviet-Afghan War of 1979 – 1989. The movie loosely follows the true story of a Soviet airborne unit which got devastatingly ambushed by a numerically superior Afghan force.

The movie is split into two parts. In the first part, we meet a bunch of recruits entering military service in Siberia. We watch their brotherhood grow during training before they are sent off to Afghanistan. The second part of the movie takes place entirely in Afghanistan. There, disaster strikes again and again until we soon enough get to see the last battle scene that makes this film so famous.

About me

Very quickly, let me tell you about myself! My name’s Richard Wess and I’m the creator of https://RussianFilmHub.com. Russian Film Hub is a library of free Russian and Soviet movies with English subtitles. You can filter by genre, decade, director, etc. Basically, it’s the website I wish had existed when I was studying Russian as an undergrad. I hope it’s a resource you find useful in your Russian learning process! And if you’d like to connect, please reach out to me!

9th Company is probably post-Soviet Russia’s most famous war movie.

People have praised the movie’s stunning visuals, impressive acting – especially from the younger characters, and willingness to cover a period in Soviet history that often gets glossed over.

Vivid colors and stunning landscapes make this movie beautiful to watch. The frequent explosions and battle scenes were well choreographed. And the part of the plot where they are in Afghanistan, actually shot in Uzbekistan, is simply gorgeous.

The acting is overall very good. There are a lot of emotions in this movie, but I never felt that they were overdone. Arthur Smolyaninov, who played Lyuty, and Alexei Chadov, who played Vorobey or “Sparrow”, were particularly believable characters and made me feel part of their unit.

And it’s somewhat of a rare phenomenon to get a sense of what it was for the Soviets in Afghanistan. No more than ten feature films have been made about the Soviet-Afghan War. Hence, 9th Company offers a rare cinematic glimpse into this period of history.

Of course, no popular movie does not have its critics. 9th Company has been accused of distorting the facts of the real events upon which the movie is based in a dishonorable way. In one particularly colorful review, journalist Dmitry Puchkov called the film “disgusting in its disrespect to [his] ancestors.” There are also those who claim the movie is too “Hollywood.”

Both these criticisms have merit. The movie plot is not what happened in real life. However, I would say, does that really matter to the viewer?

Equally, even though 9th Company has obviously copied some elements of American Vietnam-era movies like “Platoon” and “Apocalypse Now,” the reason for that is the inherent similarities between the Soviet experience in Afghanistan and the American one in Vietnam. Basically, the film’s major criticisms shouldn’t take away from your viewing experience.

Overall, 9th Company is a highly enjoyable movie that really captivated me for its whole two-and-a-bit hours. I recommend it to you unreservedly!

Watch this video where I tell you in Russian (with English subtitles) 9 reasons why Russian is actually easy to learn.

Plot overview

I’ll be brief and avoid spoilers at all costs!

The year is 1988. The story begins on a rainy day in Krasnoyarsk. Loved ones bid tearful farewells to army volunteers, as they make their way to their recruiting station.

We soon focus in on a motley group of young men who are designated the foreboding epithet “Afghan team.” They are sent to a training facility in Uzbekistan, where they meet their commander. He’s a fierce man who suffers from outbursts due to PTSD.

During their training, we get to enjoy seeing this group of recruits form a brotherhood. There are many funny and special moments that I won’t spoil for you.

Once they’re done with training, the recruits fly to Afghanistan. Their arrival reenacts the tragic and famous song by Aleksandr Rozenbaum, Черный тюльпан. You should listen to it – it’s beautiful and will add an additional layer of meaning to the movie.

But back to the plot. The recruits settle into their different military assignments. Unfortunately, things seem to keep getting worse and worse.

Finally, the soldiers are ambushed by an overwhelming Afghan force. This is the battle scene that 9th Company is so famous for. It will leave you feeling that the entire fight was entirely meaningless.


Selected cast overview

Fedor Bondarchuk as Khokhol

Fedor Bondarchuk is a prominent Russian actor, director, and producer with an illustrious background. His parents are acclaimed actress, Irina Skobtseva, and Academy Award-winning director, Sergey Bondarchuk. In his own right, he is most famous for directing 9th Company and Stalingrad (2013), as well as for his acting in 8 ½ $ (1999), Down House (2001), Two Days (2011), The PyraMMMid (2011) and Ghost (2015).

Artur Smolyaninov as Lyutyy

Smolyaninov, the most compelling actor in 9th Company, is also an accomplished theatre actor. He’s appeared in a number of Russian feature films, including the rom-com Five Brides (2011).

Aleksey Chadov as Vorobey or “Sparrow”

Chadov’s first feature film was in War (2002) by director Aleksei Balabanov, of Brother (1997) fame. He quickly won international recognition and won the Best Actor Award at the Montreal World Film Festival that year. Since 9th Company, he’s appeared in a number of Russian films including the Love in the Big City trilogy and the horror film Viy (2014).

Is 9th Company a good movie if you want to learn Russian?

Yes! The language level is generally doable for an intermediate-level Russian learner. And given that Russian students generally have a pretty solid war vocabulary fairly early on, the military terminology should be understandable.

What’s nice about watching 9th Company from a language improvement perspective is that the film is almost entirely everyday dialogue. Yes, there’s a lot of slang, but, still, this is exactly what you want to be listening to in order to sound more Russian. And, of course, it helps that the slang is pretty recent.

Of course, too much dialogue in a foreign language can tire your mind out. However, thanks to the frequent action scenes, you should be able to take brain breaks throughout the movie. That way, you’ll be able to pay good attention to the dialogue.

Where to watch 9th Company online?

You can stream the movie free with English subtitles on Prime Video if you have Amazon Prime. That’s my number one recommendation.

To really supercharge your language acquisition, I encourage you to also download the Russian subtitles. You can find them on http://subs.com.ru/.

What should you do next?

Learning Russian does NOT need to be difficult. All you need is a solid plan that helps you improve the following things daily:

  • vocabulary
  • grammar
  • listening skills
  • speaking skills

That's ALL you need. If you can do this for a couple of weeks, you’ll already be making great progress in your Russian skills.

And the best part? If you improve a little bit every day, soon these practices will become daily habits.

And then you will start making progress on autopilot.

This means that learning Russian is now a part of your daily routine. So you won’t even need discipline anymore to get yourself to practice.

If you like the idea of this, but don’t know where to start, go here for more information.

About the Author

My name is Ari Helderman and I help people learn Russian through videos and blog posts where I share my experience.   I have been learning Russian since 2016. I often get mistaken for a native speaker these days, so I've learned a thing or two about what works and what doesn't if you want to speak Russian well.

Ari Helderman