Install

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

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Trapped Russians Hang On at Bridge

GROZNY -- The Russian block post on the bridge near the city conserve factory is an ugly jumble of gray cement blocks and sandbags.


The nose of an automatic rifle poked out of a tiny lookout hole in the cement tower, trained on cars approaching the post.


Two Russian soldiers sat hunched on piles of sandbags by the doorway of the post, sunning themselves in the early morning sunshine Friday. A deep trench, protected by a bank of earth, surrounded the post.


Andrei, a senior sergeant from an Interior Ministry police unit from Orenburg in the Urals, came over to talk. Dressed in light green camouflage overalls, he jumped over the trench, unarmed. His feet thrust into his boots, the laces loose, he stood chatting, apparently relaxed.


"Yes, we took losses, we had six wounded and one killed," he said. "But now they are not shooting," he said.


Grozny has enjoyed a real cease-fire for the last two days. Barely a shot was fired Friday morning and the big Russian artillery guns on the hills around were quiet. A few cars drove past the post now that word had passed around that both sides were holding fire.


The post survived repeated firefights over the last two weeks when Chechens seized the town, but was still holding out and had refused to surrender.


But the Russian soldiers remained trapped, unable to leave, and cut off from their command headquarters only half a kilometer away.


"There are fighters on both sides of us," Andrei said, gesturing up the road and across the river.


"The fighters are not scared to move around and we are, that's the difference," he said.


They had sent the wounded out in an armored vehicle after heavy fighting 10 days ago. But Chechen fighters attacked it on the way.


The Russian soldiers had radio contact with their headquarters but had no news of the latest peace agreement, they said.


Now they were sitting tight. "We hang out, we do guard duty," Andrei said, his blue eyes squinting against the bright sun.


Asked if they could not escape under cover of darkness, he said: "The fighters are out there. They are the bosses around here."


"They sent a representative to suggest we surrender but we refused, it would be stupid. We can continue. We have enough weapons and food. We have enough to live with."


Just then three Russian babushkas carrying shopping bags came by. "Andrei, Andrei, come over here," shouted one. Another soldier walked over to her on the road, taking a bag from her and a plastic container of water.


Lidia Grigoriyevna, a pensioner, said she had brought them food even before the latest fighting began. "My sons are in Krasnodar and they are like my boys. I am old, it doesn't matter about me. But they are young, and we must preserve the young," she said.


The soldiers in fact had virtually nothing to eat or drink, she said, despite what they said.


She was taking a risk for them. Only minutes before, two carloads of Chechen fighters screeched to a halt by the post to investigate what the crowd of people around was doing.


The Russian soldiers quickly walked back to their sandbag fortress while the Chechens, automatic rifles raised aloft, shouted for the Russian commander to explain what they were doing. Having reasserted their authority, the Chechens drove off.