Chechens fighting for Ukraine see chance to ‘free’ their homeland


BAKHMUT, Ukraine/KYIV, Nov – Speaking amid the boom of artillery on Ukraine’s frontlines, the masked soldier said his ultimate goal was to liberate a land farther east – the Russian republic of Chechnya.
Maga, his nom-de-guerre, is part of a unit of Chechen fighters helping Ukraine battle Russian troops in eastern Ukraine.
Many of his kinsmen also famously support the other side – powerful Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov calls himself Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “foot soldier” and sent members of his personal army to Ukraine to fight for the Russians.
Kadyrov has also been a vocal critic of Russia’s performance in the conflict so far and said Moscow should consider using a low-yield nuclear weapon in Ukraine, setting alarm bells ringing in the West.
For Chechens under Ukrainian military command, the hope is that a victory in the war could spark political crisis in Russia and, with it, the downfall of Kadyrov, who some governments including the United States have accused of human rights abuses.
“We’re not fighting just for the sake of fighting,” said Maga, who declined to give his real name for security reasons.
“We want to achieve freedom and independence for our peoples,” he added, referring to Chechens and other ethnic minorities in the Caucasus region.
His unit is one of several battalions of ethnic Chechens that have joined forces with Kyiv, some of them since 2014 when Moscow-backed separatists seized territory in eastern Ukraine.