Rival Chechen fighters go to war on the battlefields of Ukraine

Kyiv, Ukraine (Associated Press) – Kneeling in a patch of yellow wildflowers, a Chechen soldier carefully placed an explosive device on the bottom of a small drone. Seconds later, it was released. It explodes near two old storefront mannequins erected 200 meters away, one with a Russian-style military hat on his head.

After this and other training outside the Ukrainian capital, Chechen soldiers, who will be wearing assorted camouflage boots and protective gear, will be Heading to the front lines in Ukraine, vowing to continue the fight against Russia, which has raged for years in their North Caucasus homeland.

Fighters from Chechnya, the war-torn republic in southern Russia, are on both sides of the conflict in Ukraine.

The pro-Kiev volunteers are loyal to Dzhokhar Dudayev, the late Chechen leader who led the republic’s campaign for independence from Russia. They form the “Dudaev Brigade” and are the sworn enemies of the Chechen forces that support Russian President Vladimir Putin and join Russia in the months-long blockade of Ukraine’s main port of Mariupol and other hotspots in eastern and southern Ukraine.

A group of Chechen newcomers, many of them living in Western Europe, were trained at a makeshift shooting range outside Kyiv before heading east. At a training session on Saturday, the new recruits – all Muslim men – shouted “Allahu Akbar!” (“God is great!”), holding their rifles in the air before handing them military ID cards that are issued to volunteers.

Ukrainian officials say the Chechen battalion currently numbers several hundred who fight alongside the country’s army but are not officially under national command.

Instructors teach new battalion members the basics of combat, including how to use a weapon, take a firing position, and how to work in teams. Among the trainers are veterans of the Chechen wars that ended in 2009, some of whom joined Ukraine after the fight against Russian-backed separatists that began in Ukraine in 2014.

Tor, a volunteer who only asked for his nickname on the battlefield, said he saw no difference between the two conflicts.

“People have to understand that we don’t have a choice,” he said, speaking in English with his face covered. If (the Russian forces) win this war, it will continue. They never stop. I don’t know. The Baltic states will be next, or Georgia or Kazakhstan. Putin says frankly, and certainly, that he wants to rebuild the Soviet empire.”

Russia waged two wars to prevent Chechnya, a Muslim-majority province, from gaining independence after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. The first conflict erupted in 1994.

The Second Chechen War began in 1999 and culminated in the siege of Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, by Russian forces, which was destroyed by heavy Russian bombing. After years of fighting the insurgency, Russian officials declared the conflict in Chechnya over in 2017.

Muslim Madyev, a veteran fighter in the Chechen conflicts, introduced himself as an advisor to the Ukraine Volunteer Battalion. On Saturday, he joined the soldiers in shooting practice, aiming for a plastic bottle attached to a stick. Bullet casings from his automatic rifle flew into a field already filled with bullets, rifle cartridges and cardboard target plates.

“We will win this war. The whole world is already on our side,” he says, speaking in Russian.

We were the only ones who fought for ourselves (in Chechnya). Nobody stood with us. But now the whole world is behind Ukraine. We must win, we must win,” he declared. ___ Follow the Associated Press’ coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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