Russian forces have sustained heavy losses in the war in Ukraine, and fighters from Chechnya are no exception: On October 24, dozens of Chechen men were killed in an artillery strike on the building where they were staying in the Kherson region town of Kayiry.
In a fiery Telegram post the same day, Kremlin-backed strongman Ramzan Kadyrov claimed Chechens in Ukraine were “defending their religion and family values” and proposed dramatically increasing the number of men from Chechnya sent to the war.
“We have about 1.6 million people,” he said, although according to Russian statistics the population of Chechnya in 2021 was 1.51 million, including 420,000 retirees and 551,000 children. “Of those, at least 300,000 or 400,000 -- I don’t know exactly what the male population is that can be sent to the war…. Age doesn’t matter. In any case, you all should be at the military recruiting office and joining those units that are fighting now.”
Kadyrov, who is accused of presiding over widespread human rights abuses during his 15-year tenure as the head of Chechnya, has been one of the most ardent and aggressive advocates of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, regularly criticizing Russian commanders he suggests have been too timid and restrained in their conduct of the war. In a video posted on October 25, Kadyrov falsely asserted that all of Ukraine is “our Russian territory” and said that Ukrainians -- it was unclear whether he meant combatants or all Ukrainians -- should not be taken prisoner, but rather “burned.”
Now, the authorities in Chechnya have launched an aggressive campaign to shame local men into volunteering for combat in Ukraine. In a recent meeting with officials, parliament speaker Magomed Daudov announced a new effort “to explain the goals of the special military operation in Ukraine,” using the Kremlin’s euphemism for its unprovoked war against Kyiv, and said there were more than 1,000 vacancies in the ranks of the Chechen police and National Guard units.
Shortly after that meeting, residents of the North Caucasus republic began receiving messages from clergymen instructing them to urge their relatives to join the police for service in Ukraine.
Officials have been releasing videos of Chechen soldiers berating so-called “useless Chechens” for not showing sufficient enthusiasm for “protecting Russia’s interests.”
“Those of you with drawn-on beards and tight trousers, gnawing on sunflower seeds and talking big,” said Kuchaloi regional police chief Rustam Aguyev in a video posted on October 30 to the Telegram channel of Chechen Press and Information Minister Akhmed Dudayev. “I swear to Allah, I would be ashamed to go out while my brothers are fighting and dying. It is a shame. You desecrate our history. If we come home, we won’t let you out on any of our streets.”
Dudayev added a note to the post saying that “even our brave, courageous women” should be active in the combat zone, and “of course, under such circumstances, not a single man should be idle.”
Kadyrov himself piled on in a video on October 27 in which he said Chechens who don’t fight are “rags and nothing more.”
“Hey, Chechens!” Kadyrov said. “How can you sleep peacefully at home tonight? I am very surprised at you. Why aren’t you gathering by the thousands in mosques, at military recruiting offices and units? What kind of people are you? What will you tell your families? You will be among those men who are living off their wives.”
It was a remarkable turnabout for the Chechen leader, who in April was bragging that Chechens “have become an example for all residents of our vast country” in terms of volunteering to fight.
“All Russians see and appreciate this,” he claimed on Telegram.
As recently as August, Kadyrov said a private military training center in the city of Gudermes -- a Kadyrov stronghold located midway between the capital, Grozny, and Kadyrov’s lavish residence in his hometown, Tsenteroi -- was sending 200 trained fighters to Ukraine every week.
On October 29, Kadyrov said that call-up notices would continue being distributed in Chechnya even though the large-scale military mobilization that President Vladimir Putin announced on September 21 was officially coming to an end. He called for the creation of additional, trained reserve units in Chechnya.
The Russian Defense Ministry said mobilization had been completed on November 1.
But mobilization in Chechnya has been selective, said Khizir Suleimanov, who represents the Chechen separatist movement in Germany. Former Chechen insurgents from the restive republic’s two wars against Russia in the 1990s and early 2000s and their relatives have been particularly targeted, he said.
“Having identified someone as a supporter of Chechen independence, several men in military uniform will show up at his home and hand over a call-up notice,” Suleimanov said. “In the last few days alone, I found out that the son and the nephew of someone who fought in the same unit with me had been taken away.”
Activists in Chechnya have reported that people who recently applied for foreign passports and the relatives of people who have spoken out against mobilization have been targeted for call-up notifications as well.
Opposition activist Ibragim Yangulbayev told The Insider that the sons, husbands, and other relatives of protesters have been sent to Ukraine as “volunteers.”
Russian human rights activist Svetlana Gannushkina criticized the authorities for adopting the shaming tactics, which she called “primitive” and “illegal.”
“Despite such harsh, illegal actions, Chechnya continues to protest,” she said. “Mostly it is women since, so far at least, they have been treated more mildly than men have been.”