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

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

'We're Just Cannon Fodder': Russian Soldier

GROZNY -- There is a sort of front line in one part of the Chechen capital, where Chechen and Russian soldiers face each other across bombed-out tanks and bomb debris on Ulitsa Krasnykh Frontovikov.

A group of Russian soldiers, led by a Chechen commander, walked down the street Tuesday followed by a military Ural truck flying a white flag. The truck was loaded with bodies, the group still scouring the ruins for the last remaining corpses of Russian soldiers.

"It is horrible for us to see that truck, to know that our guys have laid in the street so long," said Andrei, a sergeant, standing in the street and watching.

He and a few others were still holding out in a half-destroyed building on the corner of the government compound where they took cover when their column was ambushed.

Almost a week after the two sides called a truce, and days after Russian troops started to pull out of the city, Andrei's unit was still awaiting orders.

"Every day they say we will go, but it never happens," he said. The boys, many of them conscripts, were living in the empty building, sleeping rough, with minimal water and food dropped off by a visiting convoy.

None had been issued with flack jackets. "We're just cannon fodder," Andrei said. Their column had been the first of three that tried to break through to the government compound during the first week of fighting for the city.

But, in the chaos of battle and pouring rain, they came under friendly fire. "[Russian troops] were firing on their own men, they fired on us and we fired on them," Andrei said. "And it was raining so hard I had to empty out my boots."

Another group of soldiers came walking up toward them along Ulitsa Mira from the east. Their battalion had attempted to break through to the center on Aug. 11 and 12, losing half their number in just two days, they said.

"We lost about 450 men, of which 150 were killed, " said Zhenya, a 22-year-old contract soldier. With curly brown hair, clear blue eyes and a reasonably clean uniform, he seemed less shaken by his experience than the conscripts.

"There's nothing strange in the fact that we took such heavy losses. [The Chechens] are fighting on home ground. This is where they grew up. They know the back streets. tank responsible for much of the damage lay a burnt wreck amid spent artillery casings, its gun turret upturned on the street, blown clean off its body.

Two-tracked armored vehicles slowly dragged it away down the street.

But whether the artillery did its job or not, all of the soldiers said they had come near to the end of their ammunition. Zhenya said he had only six or seven cartridges of 30 bullets each left for his automatic rifle when the cease-fire was called. Another soldier, Sergei, who looked like a pirate in a black bandanna, said he had only two cartridges left.

If the fighting itself was muddled, the Russian soldiers' reasons for fighting appeared even more so. Asked if it was worth the sacrifice, Zhenya replied at once, "Yes, it was worth it. All those who came here knew what they were in for. And, then, an order is an order."

"We asked the civilians and they said the fighting would continue because the Chechens would fight each other if we left," said Andrei.

"But the fighters say [Doku] Zavgayev [head of the Moscow-installed government in Grozny] was bad. Who are we to believe?" said Zhenya.