The sharp crack of sniper fire rang out across the snowbound valley. Soldiers in white camouflage crouched low, shooting at the hill opposite to provide cover as four men evacuated a casualty.
The action was part of a live-fire training exercise for new recruits on a recent morning outside the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv. But there was an unusual element to the event. While a Ukrainian Army officer was giving the orders, the trainees were members of a volunteer Chechen battalion that also mixed in some Crimean Tatars and Ukrainians.
Ukraine’s military commanders have long said they do not lack soldiers for the war, but they have nonetheless welcomed to their ranks thousands of volunteers, including foreign citizens. Many of them, like the Chechens, are refugees from Russia itself. Others have come from surrounding nations, like Georgia, that have a history of opposition to Moscow and the leadership of President Vladimir V. Putin.
“We saw what was happening,” said Muslim Madiyev, a gray-bearded deputy commander of the Chechen battalion, wearing ear protectors to muffle the sound of gunfire as he watched the training exercises. “Ukraine has no shortage of men, but we have to join and be a part of this war.” [Continue reading…]