Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Forgotten Chechen Heroes of Another War

Galsan Umarov, 73, veteran of World War II and proud wearer of the Soviet Order of the Red Star and the Order of the Patriotic War, has not been invited to celebrate Victory Day in Moscow.

One of the many forgotten Chechen veterans of World War II -- Chechnya alone produced 132 heroes of the Soviet Union in that war -- Umarov is used to slights.

He, like the other Chechen veterans, never took part in the Victory Day parade on Red Square at the end of the war 50 years ago.

An artillery man and pilot, he was sent back from the front in 1944, first to the West Siberian city of Novosibirsk and then to join his family in exile in Kazakhstan, where virtually the entire Chechen and Ingush nations had been deported by Stalin, who accused them of collaboration with the Nazis.

Historians suggest the accusation of collaboration was a ruse to crush an independent-minded people, whose returning fighters might cause trouble to the regime.

Fifty years on, the Chechens, who dared to declare independence from Russia and threaten its territorial integrity, are being subjected to a similarly savage treatment.

"I know war, I was an officer, a lieutenant. I know what war is. But this is a game," he said, adding, "It is annihilation."

The last five months of war in Chechnya have left him in despair. "After 50 years of victory, look what happened to me. They burned my apartment, there is nothing left, not even so much as a spoon," he said.

Luckily his war medals and albums were saved.

After he lost his Grozny apartment he moved to his daughter's house in Gudermes, when Russian troops riddled the house with bullets during a firefight with Chechen fighters last weekend.

"We all lay on the floor, then went down to the bunker. I was in a bunker in 1942 and now again I am living in a bunker," he said, bustling around, showing where bullets had ripped through walls and windows and into his television set and radio and where shells from a tank machine gun lay in the garden.

"Clinton is coming to celebrate the Victory Day holiday and all this is happening," he said, referring to the summit meeting between U.S. President Bill Clinton and President Boris Yeltsin.

But Umarov is better off than some of his World War II comrades in arms.

Veteran Sukian Minayev, a specialist sniper in the 313th Infantry Regiment, was riddled with 43 machinegun bullets when Russian troops went on the rampage in his village Samashki on April 8. His friend and fellow veteran, Zahir Kabilov, was also killed.

The two were then dragged into the house which was set alight and were torched "like shashlik," as a neighbor put it.

Minayev's wife had taken refuge in a neighboring town with her four daughters, but he had insisted on staying.

"He did not want to go to Sernovodsk. He said they will not do anything to a veteran," she said, fighting back tears.

She had buried him in the garden, beside the blackened ruins of her house.

"All his documents and cards from his friends, other veterans, were burned. Every May 9 he received cards," she said.

All she had left was a tiny pair of scissors fitted with a nail file, charred and rusted from the fire. "He bought them in Germany in 1944, he was so delighted with them."

The last remaining veteran in Samashki is cutting about the Russians' behavior.

"These soldiers are without command, without a leader," said Movla Dadayev, 71.

Dadayev, like the other villagers in Samashki, complained of abuse from the Russian Interior Ministry troops manning checkpoints on the edge of the village despite showing his veteran and war-invalid passes.

"I went with both passes in my hands to go through the post. They blindfolded me with my handkerchief. When I said 'What are you doing?' they said, 'Don't get angry, sonuvabitch.' They took my watch given to me at the time of the war."

Because of that treatment, Dadayev said he will not go to the annual gathering of veterans in Achkoi Martan on May 9. "They are bound to abuse me at the checkpoint. I don't need that."