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Two Polish brothers, Victor and Marek, imprisoned in a Siberian labor camp since the partition of Poland, escape and make their way to Kermine, Uzbekistan, en route to join the Polish Army--in exile across the mountain border in Afghanistan. While they await a meeting with Hamlat, a smuggler who will guide them out of the U.S.S.R., the brothers rent a room in the home of Ibram Shukunov and his beautiful wife, Ajmi. Marek immediately falls in love with Ajmi, and Victor becomes enamored of waitress Marusia. Meanwhile, Kisielev, the local NKVD head, keeps the brothers under surveillance. Marek, the younger and weaker of the two, suffers from lingering night blindness as a result of his confinement, and his growing despair brings him into conflict with Victor. On the day of the planned escape, Victor is stricken with typhus. Hamlat is arrested and sent to stand trial in nearby Bokhara, but he flees when his train is bombed. Marek learns that Victor needs adrenalin to survive, but he is denied a travel visa; and Ibram volunteers to go to the black market in Bokhara. Left alone, Marek and Ajmi consummate their love; afterwards, Ajmi, burdened by guilt, attempts to take her own life. Marek saves her, Ibram returns with the adrenalin, and Hamlat is contacted for a last-ditch effort. Marusia is tricked by Kisielev into informing, but she warns Victor and Marek in time. As the brothers set out across the border with Hamlat, Hamlat's children, Ibram, and Ajmi, Marek sacrifices his life by drawing the fire of the border patrol, thereby allowing the others to escape.