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«Threatening mothers and sisters.» How Chechen «volunteers» are forcibly sent to fight in Ukraine

In Chechnya, men are forced to fight in Ukraine – there are almost no real volunteers left, and the security forces intimidate locals, by torturing them or threatening with criminal charges. Many agree to go to war in order to save their families from humiliation and themselves from terrorist charges and torture. The Insider spoke to lawyers, human rights activists, and the families of Chechens who had been forcibly sent to war. According to them, it's impossible to avoid mobilization, and only few manage to escape from the republic.

ALL CARDS
  • No one wants to die for the Padishah

  • Criminal charges for objection

  • Recruitment methods: signing a blank form along with the contract

  • He saved his family, but he died

  • What's to be done

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No one wants to die for the Padishah

On June 7 the Chechnya leadership reported that over 8,000 people had left the republic for the war in Ukraine. According to Magomed Daudov, speaker of the Chechen Parliament, 1,360 of them were Chechen volunteers.

Ramzan Kadyrov claims that hundreds of thousands of volunteers all over Russia are «rushing to the front lines to eradicate the Bandera scum» and every day he posts text messages and videos on Telegram about the deeds of fighters from Chechen units, threatening Ukrainians and rejoicing at the capture of cities that have been occupied or are about to be occupied by Russian troops.

«The sacred duty to serve the good of Russia has become a powerful consolidating factor for them and has strengthened them on the inviolability of the principles of military brotherhood.»

However, according to lawyer and human rights activist Abubakar Yangulbayev, ethnic Chechens are not in a hurry to die for the «Padishah». Locals account for only about half of the personnel in the Chechen units of the Russian Federal Guard Service and the Interior Ministry; and even fewer of them serve in the Defense Ministry units.

Therefore, in order to replenish the Russian ranks in Ukraine at the expense of the local population, Chechen law enforcers resorted to repressive measures customary in the region. For example, the brother of Chechen opposition blogger Khasan Khalitov was kidnapped by local law enforcers and sent to Ukraine, the oppositionist himself told The Insider. Threats, intimidation, blackmail, coercion through torture and kidnapping of loved ones are just some of the tools of Chechen military recruitment.

According to the Chechen human rights organization Vaifond, since the beginning of the war its staff has received dozens of complaints from the republic about illegal attempts to send men to Ukraine:

«It's hard for us to even count the exact number of people who have contacted us. Many people are so intimidated that they delete their correspondence and delete their accounts as soon as they get a response. After going through humiliation and torture, people become very intimidated. Others write from a secret Telegram chat, where messages get deleted.
At first we didn't think this problem would be so acute, and we didn't keep count, but there definitely have been fifty complaints already. We didn't think the Chechen authorities would go so out of their minds as to force people to go to war. There are a lot of proper Kadyrovites, but apparently they're worried about their lives. It's not as easy to fight and die against the Ukrainian military as it is against Chechen civilians.»

According to The Insider's interlocutor at Vaifond, at the beginning of the invasion of Ukraine a rally was held in Grozny, which government employees from all over the republic were told to attend. People feared they would be sent straight to the front, but those who turned up were only registered as reservists. Nine days before the start of the war, letters were sent to the administrations of Chechen villages, demanding that they send one reservist per village for military training. The officials assured us at the time it was not a mobilization, and that no one would be sent to hot spots.

Criminal charges for objection

The activist of the Chechen opposition movement 1ADAT Ibrahim Yangulbayev says that people in Chechnya get kidnapped to face an ultimatum: either go to Ukraine to fight or go to jail on a trumped-up criminal charge:

«We have many complaints of Chechens being sent to war forcibly. An opportunity to sign a contract with the armed forces is offered to those already imprisoned on trumped-up criminal charges. They are promised release if they agree.
Police chiefs in each district have orders to gather volunteers by any means. Every one of them has a list of «extremists» - people who are not sympathetic to the local authorities. They are summoned for talks and threatened with criminal charges if they refuse. Some are offered money to go to the front without any written contract. Others are told: «We will only send you to the rear, not to the front, if you prove your loyalty to the authorities; and in the future we won't be putting you away again, interrogating you or make a 'result' out of you.» They have different methods. They can gently persuade and exhort. Or they can kidnap and act harshly.»

In addition, threats of kidnapping and captivity regarding the relatives of a potential «volunteer» are not uncommon. Thus, family members may become hostages. And the security officers do not miss a chance to monetize the situation.

«Some police chiefs make money on this. After a person is kidnapped, they announce to the family: «Your son or brother is guilty. Either he goes to Ukraine, or we will put him away on criminal charges.» The relatives offer money, and the police chiefs gladly take it. The chief of the Sernovodsk district police station, Khas-Magomed Magomadov, has even set a 450,000-ruble payoff for Ukraine. We know for sure he takes bribes, as we have managed to confirm several kidnappings and payoffs.
The head of the Sernovodsk district police department has set a 450,000 ruble payoff for Ukraine

According to a Vaifond representative, it is impossible to refuse to go to war in Chechnya, people obey because they believe that to die from a bullet is not as terrible as to die from torture. The security forces also use more exotic methods:

«It's scary when a man's honor or the honor of his wife, sister, daughter is under attack. The law enforcers come to the house, start molesting a woman, undressing her. According to our mentality, it's the worst thing. It is better to die than to be humiliated like that. After that, they won't even consider you a man. And for the Kadyrovites, it is a common practice. Torture and murder are something normal, routine. If you are punished for the refusal to go to war by dismissal from you job or a short-term imprisonment, it's considered great luck. Many refuseniks would agree to such conditions.»
The law enforcers start molesting a woman, undressing her. For a Chechen it is better to die than to be humiliated like this

Recruitment methods: signing a blank form along with the contract

Chechen law enforcers and officials responsible for the mobilization are posting propaganda targeting young men on social media and even in their messenger statuses.

«We announce urgent recruitment of men aged from 21 to 49 for the «Vostok Akhmat» battalion with all social guarantees, benefits, full medical and pension security for contract military service in military unit 65384 at the village of Borzoi, Shatoi district.»
Propaganda distributed through social media
Propaganda distributed through social media

An official in the city of Shali posts an entire price list on social media: the amount of compensation for shooting down enemy equipment (from drones and SPGs to tanks and planes) in Ukraine under a military contract. Per diem (over and above the salary of 34,000 to 100,000 thousand rubles) is for some reason offered in US dollars, $53 per day.

Islam Belokiev is another Chechen blogger. He recently joined his fellow Chechens in the Sheikh Mansur battalion fighting on the side of Ukraine. He has a YouTube channel «Thoughts of Islam,» where he openly opposes the current Chechen authorities. According to Belokiev, he receives 3-4 messages a day about Chechen residents being sent to Ukraine against their will or being forced to sign a contract with the Russian Guard.

«They coerce, blackmail, and kidnap relatives. If a person refuses to go to Ukraine, they start threatening his mother and sisters. They are told they will be put away, that drugs and weapons will be planted on them, that they will be declared Islamic terrorists and accused of going to Syria, to ISIS. It is a very common form of blackmail. Everyone understands that those are easy-to-implement threats. I know of cases where criminal proceedings were initiated against those who refused to go to Ukraine. People are charged with «terrorist» acts (while being portrayed as Islamic radicals) or drug abuse. One of my subscribers was accused of evading military duty in 1992! He is nearly fifty years old now.»

According to Belokiev, a person is given a blank form to sign along with the contract. That happens regardless of whether or not the person is a volunteer.

«If he is later wounded or killed in combat, if he's dead, he can be «written off» using that form, that is, dismissed from duty retroactively. As if the fighter himself had terminated the contract long before he was killed or wounded. In that case he or his family will not be entitled to any payments.»

According to the blogger, the monetary compensation from Moscow does get to the republic, because the officials send genuine documents to their superiors. But the wounded and the families of the soldiers killed in action get nothing. The money ends up in the pockets of Kadyrov and his entourage. The blogger is convinced that the Kremlin is aware of this, such is the arrangement. The families of those killed in action are told to bury their sons, brothers or husbands quickly and «keep their mouths shut.»

The families of those killed in action are told to quickly bury their sons, brothers, or husbands and «keep their mouths shut»

He saved his family, but he died

The residents of Chechnya speak exclusively on condition of anonymity about their personal losses in this war. Their stories are told by The Insider, with their names changed for safety's sake.

Ahmed from the village of Goy-Chu is 80 years old, he's a labor veteran. Three weeks ago he received his grandson's body for burial. According to him, his grandson did not go to Ukraine voluntarily.

«He went without telling us anything because he knew we'd be in trouble if we objected. He saved the family, but he himself died. The district police officer came to me and said, 'There's a van with dead bodies out on the street, go and pick your own.» They ordered a quiet burial, without a memorial service. Usually, three days after the funeral the gates of the house are kept open for people to come and offer their condolences. We were warned by the police not to tell anyone about Ukraine. I was told to say that my grandson just fell asleep and did not wake up, and I was to bury him quietly and very quickly. I tried to argue: our preachers say that young men have joined the gazavat, that they are heroes, why can't they be buried with honor? But the police wouldn't even listen, they were quite rude.»
«I was told to say that my grandson just fell asleep and did not wake up, and I was to bury him quietly and very quickly»

Ahmed was not interested in payments from the Ministry of Defense, the parents of the deceased are trying to obtain the necessary documents.

Alina from Argun is a widow. Her husband had fought in Syria under contract for a good salary and went to Ukraine in March. In April his dead body was brought back.

«I wanted to apply for survivor's benefits, I can't afford to raise a child on my own. But I didn't get any money. When I went to his unit to get a death certificate, I was told they wouldn't give me one because he had allegedly defected to the Ukrainian side and died there. They told me: «Do you realize what you are asking for? Be grateful that they brought his body here and let you bury it.» And then they kept summoning me to the district police department for questioning for two weeks.
Be grateful that they brought his body here and let you bury it

The husband of Raisat, a Grozny resident, returned without legs: «He used to be so active, an athlete, he used to run in the morning, but now he is sitting in a wheelchair, hunched over. And his gaze is dull. He was paid three million for his wounds.» She said the payment allowed her to pay off loans and debts, including those owed to the grocery store where she used to borrow food for herself and her children. This summer, she plans to send her children to a camp in Crimea, to the sea.

Liana is a nurse from a suburb of the Chechen capital and an opponent of war. She said that one of her relatives was badly contused in Ukraine.

«He's a little crazy, «the roof's leaking» as the saying goes. He goes out into the yard, and everyone runs away from him. He's entitled to free medical treatment courtesy of the Ministry of Defense, but he must be accompanied to the hospital, and all his relatives are busy. They just give him pills and that's it. The wound insurance has not been paid to him. And he's unable to get them to pay. I know firsthand what a contusion is. My ex-husband worked for the OMON and got hit on the head with a heavy crate in one of the fights. Ever since then, his brain would sometimes jam, as if someone flipped a toggle switch, and he would turn from a normal person into a monster. Whenever he was drunk, I got away from him fast.»

What's to be done

Vaifond sees discrimination based on ethnicity as the reason for the forced mobilization in Chechnya:

«Apparently, it has been decided it's safe to sacrifice those dark-skinned people. Mercenaries from the Caucasus are perceived as second-class, as savages. Discrimination on ethnic grounds is very strong in Russia. Kadyrov wants to dance to the Kremlin's bidding, to look cool. He likes fame, he wants praise and money, and he gets it. But Kadyrov's inner circle, the elite, are not touched. When one day part of his entourage had to go to Ukraine after all, he was very unhappy.»

In the first weeks of the war there were not enough real volunteers. According to human rights activists, Chechen units were not sent to the front lines very often, but instead were assigned to clean-up operations in already occupied areas. According to The Insider's interlocutor at the Vaifond, the Kadyrovites do dirty work, and even the Russian military expressed dissatisfaction over the fact they were hardly ever sent to the front lines.

The only chance of relieving the fate of those sought by the law enforcement agencies is for them to leave the republic. However, human rights activists from the Vaifond admit they cannot help the victims of the forced mobilization to leave the country:

«A woman wrote to us: her child is suffering from cancer, and her husband is being sent to Ukraine under a threat of a criminal charge. She is desperate, but we are powerless here.»

Human rights activists stress that a contract signed under duress has no legal force, but this argument is unlikely to convince a court in today's Russia:

«Violence can be either physical or moral (blackmail, threats, etc.). The implication is that it is being exerted on either the signatory himself or a family member or close friend. When a person is forced to participate in a war, a number of articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are violated (the right to life, the right to liberty and personal security... and others). But in a country like Russia one can hardly count on justice.»

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