The real role of pro-Russian Chechens in Ukraine

Most of the Russian servicemen sitting in and atop 34 armed personnel carriers that rolled into Bucha on February 27 were ethnic Chechens, according to Ukrainian military leaders and government officials.

Bearded and burly, clad in brand new, perfectly fitting uniforms and toting assault rifles, they hoped to whiz through the leafy suburb northwest of Kyiv to enter the Ukrainian capital on the war’s third day.

They are known as “Kadyrovtsy” or “Kadyrovites” after their leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, Chechnya’s pro-Kremlin strongman and their reputation preceded them.

Human rights groups, witnesses and survivors have for decades accused them of extrajudicial killings, kidnappings and the torture of Kadyrov’s rivals and critics, as well as allegedly going after religious hardliners and LGBTQ Chechens.

And in the month before the war, Kadyrov underwent a public relations disaster.

In January, during a campaign to silence his critics through intimidation of their relatives, these Kadyrov loyalists abducted Zarema Musaeva, the mother of a judge who lambasted Kadyrov, forcibly taking her from the western Russian city of Nizhny Novgorod to Chechnya.

An online petition to dismiss Kadyrov, posed in September by the now-jailed opposition leader Ilya Yashin, was signed by hundreds of thousands of people – a rare thing in President Vladimir Putin’s increasingly authoritarian Russia.

The ruler of Chechnya desperately needed to mend his tarnished image.

He deployed his troops, who are officially part of the National Guard of Russia, to spearhead a blitzkrieg of Ukraine, hoping to boast of their triumph in the Kremlin and on national television.

“Active participation in the assault in the first