Chechen volunteers first came to fight in Ukraine to defend the Donbas from Russia back in 2014. And now that Russia has decided to launch a full-scale offensive, the Sheikh Mansour Battalion has again joined the side of Ukraine to fight against a common enemy. Battalion commander Muslim Cheberloevsky tells about his participation in the wars with Russia.
NV:How did you end up in Ukraine, and what did you do here before the start of the full-scale Russian invasion?
Since 1991, Chechnya has been at war with Russia. Until 1994, it was like in the Donbas: the FSB supplied the separatists with weapons against our government, and we resisted them. In 1994, Russia, realizing that their assistance had no effect, decided to invade openly, and since then we have been at war.
In 1991, I served in the Soviet army. Then our leadership, represented by Dzhokhar Dudayev, called on the soldiers to leave their places of service on their own and return to Chechnya. I was one of the first to respond, taking 10 more people from the battalion with me. Without stopping home, we immediately ended up in Grozny and joined the presidential army. It turns out I have been fighting my whole life. Toward the end of the 2000s, I had to leave Chechnya. Relatives refused to leave the country without us, and because of us they were tortured. Then I took them to Ukraine, but it was difficult to register them here as refugees. So I ended up in Sweden.
When the war broke out in Ukraine, in 2014 our guys and I announced an assembly in Europe. In two weeks, over 600 people signed up, a third of whom came to Ukraine.
Here we created the Battalion named after Dzhokhar Dudayev. But when our people began to arrive, they formed the Sheikh Mansour Battalion and split into two parts: the first went towards the Luhansk direction, and we went towards Donetsk.
Until 2016, we were on the front line, then the core of the unit was taken to a base near Mariupol, where we had been before the attack on Ukraine.
We didn’t have time to look at the other side of the country, but western Ukraine is our favorite, because the mountains there are similar to ours and the nature is great.
NV:Tell us about your battalion, how big and popular is it among compatriots now?
There are a lot of people who want to join from all over the Caucasus. We have Georgians, Tatars, and Azerbaijanis in our unit. Every day, there are endless calls and messages, many had to turn back at the border. We don’t hire just anyone, because since 2014 the other side has been constantly trying to infiltrate us with their agents.
We accept those whom we know 100%, or for whom respected people give guarantees. We actually know everyone who went through the first and second Chechen wars, and we check the young people who grew up in Europe thoroughly.
The oldest fighter is now 71 years old, and the youngest is 18. We don’t take minors, although there are many applicants from Europe: some tried to send their 15-16-year-old children to train with us. If we declare a full mobilization, there will be hundreds of volunteers, but so far there are up to a hundred of them in our unit. We have enough and we don't need more. After all, we are not on state support, we are supported by volunteers and the diaspora.
NV: What motivates Chechens to fight today on the side of Ukraine?
Chechnya has been at war with Russia for about 400 years — from the time of Tsarist Russia to the present day. We are fighting for our freedom, independence, land, and territory. But there are only a million Chechens, and Russia’s population counts dozens of millions. Therefore, we understand the fate of Ukraine very well, it has been defending the same thing for centuries.
You have only now realized the real nature of the Russians, we remember it from 1991. You saw Bucha and Irpin. We went through this twice, but tens and hundreds of times harder — in 1994-1996 and 1999-2000 this happened every day throughout Chechnya. But back then everyone watched on TV the news that Russia dictated.
Today, everyone has the Internet and a telephone, so the whole world saw the atrocities with their own eyes. They started in Chechnya, we are now seeing the consequences in Ukraine, and tomorrow it could happen in Poland, or anywhere else.
We know the value of the country, freedom and the cost of losing it. Because today Chechnya and the entire Caucasus are 90% occupied by Russians or Putin's local beetle-crushers.
During these two wars, out of 1,000,000 Chechens, 300,000 were killed, of whom 42,000 were children. This is almost 30% of the total population — imagine that out of 43 million Ukrainians you lost 13 million. Another 300,000 who disagreed with the regime of Putin and Kadyrov left Chechnya and are now wandering around the globe.
Therefore, we know what it is to lose one's homeland, land, freedom, and honor. That is why we are now taking part in this war. After all, if Ukraine falls today, then we have less and less chance of returning. And the chances of being free for other states that seceded from the Soviet Union will also be reduced to zero.
NV:What combat experience have you gained in the past month in Ukraine?
We planned to stay in Mariupol, but we were called to Kyiv — it was more important to defend the capital at any cost. Since that time, we have been holding defenses near Kyiv, our guys participated here in partisan operations, ambushes, sabotage work, and mining. But since we only have hand-held portable weapons, we did not have major battles, like those of artillerymen, tankers and mortarmen.
NV:Did you face your compatriots, the so-called Kadyrovites, in battles?
There were no direct clashes with them, because they do not approach the firing line. They drive Russian soldiers 20-30 km ahead of them as cannon fodder. Where these people passed with sword and fire, Chechen soldiers are then going and shooting some cheap videos, saying, “We have captured, we are mopping up.” But they are a laughing stock in the eyes of everyone.
Kadyrov will not send his closest ones here, just as he will not come personally. Instead, he recruits some mercenaries, drunken military men all over Chechnya, and releases convicts from prisons.
Once upon a time, the fame of the Chechens spread all over the world — our army defeated multi-million Russia with its combat power. Because then the Russian plan was to divide the Chechens, which could not be done in the first war. Through bribery and blackmail, they recruited some of the fighters to their side, and for several years they promoted them as "invincible Kadyrovites." In 2008, when Russia attacked Georgia, Kadyrov's Vostok battalion was sent to capture impregnable Tskhinvali — they did it in two days.
After that, the Kadyrovites were to be remembered as invincible. But here in Ukraine (this idea) has burst like a bubble, here they took a battering or two. All they're capable of is driving individual soldiers through the forests and shooting videos.
NV: Do you receive threats from former compatriots?
These threats have been coming since 2014, they even offer some kind of reward for our heads. But we have long been accustomed to this and do not pay attention. We're doing our job, and we don't have time for these partisan games.
NV: How do you see the development of the Russo-Ukrainian war and what is your personal plan?
-These are Russians, and you can expect anything from them. And, therefore, it is too early to rejoice at the fact that today they have withdrawn from Kyiv Oblast. If the enemy attacks, you must defend yourself through and through. They won't put up with this. When they lost the first war with Chechnya, they prepared for three years: they took into account all their pluses and minuses and, contrary to the signed agreements, attacked again. Therefore, they cannot be trusted, and everyone needs to prepare even more diligently — the army, civilians, and the defense. You can’t afford even a second’s breather, because they can strike again in the most unexpected of places.
But we intend to stay here until the end — to celebrate the victory of Ukraine, and later Chechnya.