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Chechen volunteers join Ukrainians on battlefield

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In a patch of yellow wildflowers, a Chechen fighter carefully attaches an explosive device to the bottom of a small drone.

Seconds later, it is released and explodes next to two old storefront mannequins set up 200 meters (yards) away, one with a Russian-style military hat placed on its head.

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After training, the soldiers, in camouflage footwear and protective gear, are heading to the frontlines in Ukraine, vowing to continue the fight that raged over 15 years in the North Caucasus.

Fighters from Chechnya, the war-scarred Russian republic, are participating on both sides of the conflict in Ukraine.

Pro-Kyiv volunteers are loyal to Dzhokhar Dudayev, the late Chechen leader who headed the republic’s drive for independence from Russia, and form the “Dudayev Battalion.”

They are the sworn enemies of Chechen forces who back Russian President Vladimir Putin and joined Russian troops in the siege of Mariupol and other flashpoints in the east and south of Ukraine.

One group of new Chechen arrivals, many who live in western Europe, is being trained at a makeshift firing range outside Kyiv before heading east.

At one training session, the new recruits held their rifles in the air, before being handed military ID cards that are issued to volunteers.

Ukrainian officials say the Chechen battalion currently numbers several hundred volunteers who fight alongside the country’s military but are not formally under the national command.

Instructors teach the new battalion members combat basics including how to use a weapon, assume a firing position, and how to work in teams.

Trainers include veterans of wars in Chechnya that ended in 2009, some joining up in Ukraine after the fighting started here in 2014.

Tor, a volunteer who asked only to be identified by his battlefield nickname, said he saw no difference between the two conflicts.

“He (Putin) will continue till we stop him... it’s not a question of Russia and Ukraine. It’s a not question Chechnya and Russia. It’s a question of the world and Russians,” he explained.

“Unfortunately, today, the same situation as in 1941 or 1939. We don’t have a choice. People have to understand we don’t have a choice,” Tor added, speaking with his face covered.

Russia launched two wars to prevent Chechnya from gaining independence.

The first conflict erupted in 1994, three years after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

A 10-year-long second conflict culminated in the Russian troops’ siege of Grozny, the Chechen capital that was devastated by bombardments.

Muslim Madiev, a veteran fighter of the Chechen conflicts, identified himself as an advisor to the volunteer battalion in Ukraine.

He joined the soldiers on Saturday in shooting practice, taking aim at a of plastic bottle held up on a stick.

Bullet casings flew from his automatic rifle onto a field already littered with bullets, shotgun cartridges, and cardboard target sheets.

Madiev said he was sure that the Russians would be defeated this time.

“There will definitely be a victory. We’ll win, we will celebrate together,” he said.

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