Mark Diskin was born in 1906 in Pochep, western Russia, not far from the Ukrainian border. His father Iosif was a joiner, while his mother Victoria was a homemaker. The family was Yiddish-speaking. The parents were religiously observant, while the children were less so. For two years, Diskin attended a Talmud Torah, a school for poor Jews, and he continued his studies at a Russian church school, where he learned to speak Russian. He would later recall that the relations between the Jewish and the Russian boys were poor 1, and that the latter would beat the former. Diskin, being physically strong, had to accompany weaker boys to school, to defend them from the Russian bullies. Once, he recalls, he beat a bully severely.
"People said that they [the Russian boys] would kill me, but nothing happened," he recollects.2
After World War I, the family moved from Pochep to Zolotonosha, Ukraine.
Diskin dreamed of being a military officer; in 1935, he finished a school for tank technicians, and was sent to northern Ukraine to serve as a technician-lieutenant. Diskin married and had a child. At the time of the outbreak of the Soviet-German War in June 1941, Diskin's regiment was deployed in Novohrad-Volynskyi. Diskin managed to evacuate his wife and child. However, after the first skirmishes with the enemy, his regiment retreated, and Diskin, as an automotive technician, was ordered to oversee the evacuation of the regiment's vehicles. In October 1941, he arrived in Lubny, central Ukraine, with a column of military vehicles. Here, the column had to cross a river. Some of the vehicles crossed successfully, but then the bridge was unexpectedly blown up, and Diskin was stranded on the endangered river bank. Shortly thereafter, he found himself in the German rear. In order to survive, Diskin took on the Russian last name "Ivanov"; he wandered from village to village, working as a farmhand. Nevertheless, at some point Diskin-Ivanov was arrested as a straggling soldier, and sent to a POW camp.
During the Red Army's counter-offensive from Stalingrad in January 1943, Diskin's POW camp was liberated. Diskin was screened at the "special department" of the division that had entered the camp. The special department believed his story. Diskin regained his rank as technician-lieutenant. However, as a person who had lived under enemy occupation, he was sent far from the south, to the area of Leningrad (present-day St. Petersburg), where he was attached to the 1110th Separate Company of Communication of the 59th Army, as a rifleman and platoon commander. His company took part in the liberation of the town and railway junction of Chudovo. After this operation, in March 1944, the 1110th Company was transferred to the Russian Far North (the Murmansk area), and Diskin served for the rest of the war on the Karelian Front, near the Finnish and Norwegian border. It was there that he met V-E Day. Diskin's sole wartime decoration was the medal "For the Defense of the Soviet Transarctic." His last rank was senior engineer-lieutenant.
Mark Diskin was discharged from the military in 1945. His father was killed by the Nazis in Zolotonosha (his mother had died before the war), while his siblings were able to evacuate.
After the war, Diskin had great difficulty finding a job: Having lived under enemy occupation during the war, he was regarded as virtually a traitor. A military career was now out of the question for him. He eventually found employment as a car mechanic. After the death of his wife, Diskin moved to Zaporizhzhia, eastern Ukraine.