Ukraine War: Chechens fighting for Kyiv say Russian troops are ‘like cattle to be slaughtered, leaving the ground covered in corpses’ | world news

In a bunker beneath the fiercely contested town of Bakhmut, a jihadist commander with a half-million dollar Russian bounty on his head joins his men in prayer.

Allies Ukraine gathered in its war with Russia, among the most dark and deadly are the Chechens.

They are among Vladimir Putin’s oldest enemies and among the most difficult to film up close.

Read more: Chilling moment Russian soldiers roam a Ukrainian orphanage for children

They are all marked men, wanted by Russia. Their movements are shrouded in secrecy. But Sky News gained access to their secret base near the frontline in one of Ukraine’s wildest battles.

During the time we spent filming them, they shared ideas about their enemies that are worth listening to in the West.

We drove quickly on side roads to evade Russian observers calling for artillery strikes. As we entered Bakhmut, we passed gutted buildings and gaping craters, the sound of shelling close and steady.

Inside the bunker we met some of the oldest veterans of that war. The Chechen Sheikh Mansour Battalion has been fighting Russia in Ukraine since 2014. Their enemy’s tactics have not changed since the start of this war, they say.

“They are sending troops like cattle to the slaughterhouse,” Chechen fighter Idris told us. “Leaving the ground covered in corpses. They do it every day, they have no mercy for their own people.”

This is the same kind of combat that Russia used in their country in the 1990s. Under cover, commanders send in waves of conscripts hoping to crush their enemy regardless of their men.

Chechen separatists are all wanted by Russia

Chechens have been fighting for an independent country since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

After victory in the First Chechen War, they were defeated by Russia and Vladimir Putin installed a puppet leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, backing him with billions of dollars in support.

It combines brutal repression with social media self-promotion that veers from sinister to absurd.

Its Chechen forces are fighting alongside Russia in this war. His Chechen enemies on the other. The conflict has given Chechen separatists a new arena for their fight against their enemy.

Chechen Republic leader Ramzan Kadyrov (С), Interior Minister Ruslan Alkhanov (R) and Russian State Duma member Adam Delimkhanov attend a military parade on Victory Day, which marks the 77th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two, in the Chechen capital Grozny, Russia May 9, 2022. REUTERS/Chingis Kondarov
Head of the Chechen Republic Ramzan Kadyrov (С)

Commander Muslim Cheberloyevskii leads the Sheikh Mansour Battalion, one of their most active combat units. He gives very few interviews but makes an exception for Sky News. Before joining his men in Bakhmut, we talked to him via video link to his secret location elsewhere in Ukraine.

“There can be no options here,” he said. “Russia must lose, and it must end there. If we don’t defend Ukraine today, everyone will lose.”

The man who has fought Putin’s forces longer than any other commander used the interview to warn Western policymakers that they are not doing enough to defeat him.

Chechen fighters
Fighters are among Vladimir Putin’s oldest enemies

“I think we need more support. The West provides support in portions, it is limited. Ammunition is quickly used up, it is not enough on the battlefield. If we had more, we could earn more rapidly.”

In the bunker under Bakhmut there was the same message. Base commander Mansour spent two decades fighting the Russians, eight of which he spent in prison where he was tortured.

“I have no pity for them,” he said of his enemy. “Because God gave everyone a brain to think. If he doesn’t think he shouldn’t walk on the earth, he belongs underground.”

The story behind Chechnya’s battle with Russia

The Chechens have fought the Russians in their mountainous Caucasus homeland intermittently since the time of Peter the Great in the 18th century. They are proud of their fighting spirit and their fighting ability. As Muslims, many of them view their struggle with Moscow as a jihad, or a holy war.

When the Soviet Union collapsed, they fought in the mid-1990s in an attempt to gain independence and defeated Russian forces despite their enemy’s superior numbers and weapons.

Under Vladimir Putin, Russian forces regained control of Chechnya in the Second Chechen War. The Russians used a pulverize and conquer strategy reducing most of the capital Grozny to rubble. They applied the same tactic in Ukraine in cities like Mariupol.

Chechnya is now ruled by Ramzan Kadyrov, a Chechen separatist turned Russian puppet, and his clan. He used billions of dollars in Russian aid to fund a security state known for its brutal repression and social media propaganda.

After years scattered far and wide, Chechen freedom fighters are regrouping in Ukraine, drawing supporters from across Europe, Asia and the Middle East. When the war ends there, they hope to bring their fight back to Russia and reclaim their homeland.

And he warned Western leaders not to fall for Putin’s incitement to negotiate an end to this war.

“Even when they agree to negotiate and sign certain documents, they do not follow them, they act treacherously.”

They are a sabotage unit, using weapons, some improvised, to strike the enemy in their trenches. Commander Mansour showed us a homemade rocket-propelled grenade made from a fire extinguisher filled with plastic explosives.

Chechen fighters
They say their enemy’s tactics haven’t changed since the war started

On a nearby workbench, a suicide vest was being made. They wear them if the Russians take them prisoner. The base is mined, they said, to explode if the enemy were to invade.

In an outbuilding, Deputy Commander Mansour showed off what he called his “devil’s machine”, an improvised rocket launcher to fire converted mine-clearing shells.

On his phone, he shared a video of the device in action at night. A fiery launch followed by a pause and then a huge explosion in the distance lighting up the sky with a mushroom of fire. The fighters shout Allahu Akbar: God is great.

They fight here in hopes of one day bringing their holy war back to their homeland. Kadyrov is unpopular but well funded and protected by thousands of well-armed security forces. Once the war is over, they say they will continue to fight Russia, hoping to overthrow it.

Asadullah, a Ukrainian who converted to Islam and joined the battalion speaks for many of them.

“If today the war ends in Ukraine, and we win, for us it will not end,” he said.

“We will fight until that moment when we totally destroy this evil empire.”

For the moment however, it is very far. We leave their bunker and leave Bakhmut at high speed against a backdrop of artillery fire. Their enemy is destroying another Ukrainian city block by block in a bitter war of attrition that no one seems close to winning.


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