This interview took place on the outskirts of Grozny, Chechnya and the man that I interview below is named Shamil… I’m not going to print Shamil’s last name because I do not want to cause headaches for him by making it too easy to identify and locate him.
Shamil fought in and was badly injured in the Second Chechen War before being taken prisoner by Russian forces.
As a reminder from my previous articles on Chechnya, the First Chechen War is recognized as the “good” war by Chechen government propaganda because this is the war in which Ahmed Kadyrov fought against the Russians. However, Kadyrov then switched sides and worked with Russia in the Second Chechen War. So, the Second Chechen War is considered the “bad” war in Chechen government propaganda and anyone that fought against Russian forces (or their Chechen allies from Kadyrov’s clan) is, of course, “bad” as well.
The band of fighters that Shamil belonged to were organized around the fact that they were all from the same clan. There are about 90 clans in Chechnya – some of them are very large and some of them are very small. Shamil’s clan comes from the area of the “two towers” at Ushkaloy in the mountains of Chechnya. Shamil’s unit of fighters normally ranged from 10-15 men and most of these were former Soviet soldiers. As such, these men were already trained and ready for battle.
Shamil was also a former soldier and in his case, he was assigned to the western regions of Ukraine while serving his compulsory time in the Soviet Army. As a foreshadowing of events in Ukraine today, Shamil mentioned that the Ukrainians in the area he was assigned to did not like Russians. However, when the Ukrainians found out that he was Chechen, he would be treated well by them.
During the Second Chechen War, both the Russians and the Chechen fighters ran through a tremendous amount of weapons and ammunition. As such, I was curious about the supply lines of the Chechens. Shamil explained that his unit of fighters and the other groups of fighters they worked with obtained their weapons and ammunition by simply buying them from Russian soldiers looking to make some extra money.
However, not all Russians were this cynical and/or demoralized. The infiltration of spies into their unit was a constant concern for the Chechen fighters. One indicator for someone being a spy was an individual that was too soft. A hardened Chechen fighter would have no trouble with the biting cold, mud, sleep deprivation, working at night and other horrible conditions. However, a spy, unaccustomed to such things, would often struggle and thus bring suspicion upon themselves.
I was a little slow getting the camera started in the interview below, but just go with it… I’ve written everything down in the paragraphs above that was discussed in the car ride over and before the camera starts. The interview site itself overlooks one of the routes into and out of Grozny. Shamil was based here with several other groups of fighters serving in this overlook position as a blocking force. This was during some of the most intense fighting of the Second Chechen War and he saw heavy combat here:
Some of you may be curious as to what Shamil is up to now… He has laid down his weapons and is a director for a charity that assists the disabled.
I have just finished watching that interview with Shamil. Good stuff. Very poignant and relevant too for the war in eastern Ukraine, where I live as a temp resident, as Grad (hail in Russian – very apt, as they are meant to cover a large area with rockets and obliterate it as described by Shamil – the hail of rockets) rockets are used very much by the pro-Russian separatists. Russia even was shelling the Oblasts of Luhansk and Donetsk from Russia with these artillery systems which have a range of many miles. I think the Grads have a range up to about 20km or about 12 miles for the American readers.
You mentioned in the text of the article about how soldiers serving in western Ukraine, were liked if they wheren’t Russian. It’s very much the case that in the east all you hear is Russian being spoken, in the Carpathians, which I have visited twice, for several weeks at a time, you hear mostly Ukrainian, not Russian. But the thing is, if you do speak Russian, you won’t be persecuted these days, most regular Ukrainians are not like that. Even the far right battallions like Azov or Pravi (Right) Sektor are not like that either. There are Kiev based battalions were the members speak Russian.
I’m just guessing in the Soviet days they resented the Russians more because Kiev was controlled from Moscow. These days, Ukraine is truly a bi-lingual country, almost everyone can speak both languages. In the east you will get arrogant pro-Russian supporters who will pretend to not speak Ukrainian or understand it, much like some arrogant French-Canadians in Quebec refuse to speak English, even though they know it!!!
Good to hear your voice for the first time ever too Justin! ;)