Rival Chechen fighters take war to battlefields of Ukraine
Kyiv, Ukraine (AP) — Kneeling in a field of yellow wildflowers, a Chechen soldier carefully mounted an explosive device to the bottom of a small drone. After a few seconds, it was released. It exploded next to two old storefront mannequins set up 200 meters (yards) away, one wearing a Russian military cap.
After this and other training sessions outside the Ukrainian capital, Chechen soldiers wearing a variety of camouflage shoes and protective gear will head to the front lines in Ukraine, Vows to continue fighting Russia, which has ravaged its North Caucasus homeland for years.
Fighters from the war-torn republic of Chechnya in southern Russia are on both sides of the conflict in Ukraine.
The pro-Kyiv volunteers pledged allegiance to the late Chechen leader Dzhokhar Dudayev, who led the campaign for the republic’s independence from Russia. They formed the “Dudaev Battalion,” the sworn enemy of the Chechen army, who supported Russian President Vladimir Putin and joined Russia in besieging Ukraine’s main port of Mariupol and other hotspots in eastern and southern Ukraine for several months.
A group of new Chechens, many of whom live in Western Europe, were training at a makeshift shooting range outside Kyiv before heading east. During a training session on Saturday, recruits — all Muslim men — shouted “Allahu akbar!” (“God is great!”), held their rifles in the air, and were given military IDs issued to volunteers .
Ukrainian officials say the Chechen battalion now has hundreds of troops alongside the country’s military, but is not officially under state command.
Instructors teach new battalion members the basics of combat, including how to use weapons, serve in firing positions, and work in teams. The trainers included veterans of the Chechen war that ended in 2009, some of whom joined Ukraine in 2014 after fighting against Russian-backed separatists began in Ukraine.
Tor, a volunteer who asked only to be identified by his battlefield nickname, said he saw no difference between the two clashes.
“People have to understand that we have no choice,” he said in English, covering his face. “If they (Russian troops) win this war, they will continue. They never stop. I don’t know. The Baltic states will be next, or Georgia or Kazakhstan. Putin has said absolutely publicly that he wants to rebuild the Soviet Union. empire.”
After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia waged two wars to prevent the largely Muslim province of Chechnya from gaining independence. The first conflict broke out in 1994.
The Second Chechen War began in 1999 and ended with the siege of the Chechen capital Grozny by Russian troops, which was devastated by heavy Russian bombing. After years of fighting the insurgents, Russian officials declared the conflict in Chechnya over in 2017.
Muslim Madyev, a veteran fighter in the Chechen conflict, claimed to be an adviser to the Ukrainian volunteer battalion. On Saturday, he took part in a shooting practice with soldiers, targeting a plastic bottle held up with a stick. Bullet casings flew from his automatic rifle onto the field already littered with bullets, shotgun cartridges and cardboard target boards.
“We will win this war. The whole world is already standing up for us,” he said in Russian.
“We are the only ones fighting for ourselves (in Chechnya). No one is with us. But now the whole world is behind Ukraine. We have to win, we have to win,” he declared. ___ Follow Associated Press coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine