It's 4 o'clock in the morning and Dalkhan is already up and getting ready for work. After a quick wash and breakfast, he's out the door, pedaling his battered bike to a nearby state farm.
Once there he guides cows to pasture after they've been milked, watches over them, and then leads the herd -- numbering 200 -- back to the barn at the end of the day.
It may not sound glamorous, but Dalkhan, a former soldier and military contractor from Chechnya who asks that only his first name be used, is grateful for his new life in an unexpected land -- Belarus.
"I never thought in my life that I'd be a cowherd," Dalkhan said in a recent interview with RFE/RL's Belarus Service.
"Better to herd cows with a stick than hold a weapon in your hands," he added. "I don't want to even think about the past. There's more good in herding cows."
Dalkhan, his wife Zaira, and their eight children have been living in Belarus for about a year and a half now. They settled there after fleeing Chechnya in 2017 after, according to Dalkhan, he refused orders to go and fight with Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. He was bent on avoiding his brother's fate, who died fighting in the Donbas, Dalkhan says.
Like many who flee Chechnya, a Russian republic headed by strongarm leader Ramzan Kadyrov, Belarus was supposed be temporary, a launchpad for a better life in the West. But when Polish border guards repeatedly blocked the family's attempts to cross into Poland, a local priest in Brest convinced Dalkhan and his family to settle in Belarus for good.
The Eastern European state hardly seems to fit the profile of a refugee's paradise. President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has ruled the country since 1994. Known as "Batka" (father of the nation), Lukashenka has crushed political opposition, routinely rounding up and jailing activists.
In August, Lukashenka, a former collective-farm manager, launched what analysts described as his boldest effort yet to silence the remaining independent voices on the country's bleak media scene.
But Dalkhan says his family has been treated better in Belarus than in Russia.
'Here We Are Free'
And with a growing antimigrant sentiment spreading in parts of Western Europe, the family is now convinced that Belarus is the right choice for them.
"Chechens in Europe live in camps. Many are deported. And here we are free," Zaira explained.
The 40-year-old Dalkhan is reluctant to describe his former life as a mercenary, saying only that he was paid well -- about 700 euros a month ($800).
His brother was also a military man, and, according to Dalkhan, died fighting somewhere in separatist-controlled eastern Ukraine in 2016.
Dalkhan says after his brother perished, he too was called to fight in eastern Ukraine, but he refused.
"Nowhere in my contract was it written that I should kill civilians," he said. "I said I wasn't going to go."
The record shows Chechens fighting on both sides in eastern Ukraine, where more than 10,300 people have perished since violence erupted between Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed separatists in April 2014.
One Chechen commander said as many as 300 Chechens were fighting in Donetsk with the separatists in 2015.
After he refused to fight, Dalkhan says, he faced threats.
In the spring of 2017, Dalkhan left for good and ended up in Brest, not far from a border crossing with Poland. They thought the western Belarusian town would be just a stop on their journey to the West, hopefully to Germany or France.
They were warned not to tell Polish officials at the border of their plans to travel onward and were advised to request asylum in Poland.
They never made it -- they were turned back at the border not once, but 17 times.
With accommodations in Brest costing 20 euros ($23) a night, money was running low. They tried everything to scrimp and save. For three weeks they even lived at the local train station.
Then, a priest in Brest took the family in, offering them shelter at his parish and eventually convincing them to stay in Belarus. "He helped us a lot," said Zaira. "I wouldn't go to Poland now, even if they offered."
'Like Family To Us'
In April 2017, the family moved on to a Belarusian village with an abundance of abandoned weather-beaten homes and untended yards belonging to a state farm. They prefer not to give its exact location, fearing retribution from the Chechen authorities.
They aren't considered "refugees" in Belarus. Now that they work at a collective farm, or kolkhoz, Dalkhan holds a residency permit for himself and his family.
They live rent-free, but conditions are spartan and cramped. The family of 10 shares a three-room abode. They have no car. A fleet of rusty bikes serves as transport.
"I've never made less money in my life. But I don't complain. Indeed, complaining is a sin. Maybe that's what fate had in store for me, and after everything will be better."
Dalkhan says he and his wife have been floored by the generosity shown by his Belarusian neighbors.
"Every day someone comes over to help us with something," he said. "Someone offers vegetables, someone apples. Here in the kitchen the furniture, and the couch in the living room -- all of it was given to us."
Zaira says the kids have adapted well, speaking Belarusian fluently now.
"If they speak quickly, I still don't always understand everything."
Zaira, who bakes pirozhky -- small meat or potato pies -- for sale, dreams of opening her own bakery or shop someday.
Not in France or Germany, but Belarus.
"We've already thought about living here for good," she said. "The people here are like family to us now. Someone's always helping us."