Four people found themselves together in the digital World and were looking for the truth – the only one that exists. [What is reality? What is fiction? What is religion?]

To refresh the memory of the past, let us remind that according to the official version, in 1996 in Bamut four prisoners-of-war were killed: Yevgeny Rodionov, Andrey Trusov, Igor Yakovlev and Alexander Zheleznov. The three were fast forgotten (except for their parents and people close to them), but the memory of Yevgeny Rodionov is still alive. It is, of course, good when a person is remembered and honored. But when real events are mixed with fiction or even worse for this, this can turn ugly. In a conversation with representatives of the church about the circumstances of the death of private Yevgeny Rodionov, the mother of the soldier, Lyubov Vasiliyevna said »… that this is a common, typological situation with all Russian soldiers who were captured and killed.«

We will talk about the «typological situation».

Here is what I found on Wikipedia: »On his 19th birthday, Rodionov was beheaded on the outskirts of the Chechen village Bamut. According to his killers, who later extorted money from his mother in exchange for knowledge of the location of his corpse, they beheaded him after he refused to renounce his Christian faith or remove the silver cross he wore around his neck. Ruslan Khaikhoroev later admitted the murder. In the presence of foreign representatives of OSCE he confessed: „Your [Yevgeny’s mother] son had a choice to stay alive. He could have converted to Islam, but he did not agree to take the cross off. He tried to escape“ On 23 May, after 100 days of imprisonment and torture, Rodionov was again ordered to remove the cross he was wearing and accept Islam. After his final refusal, Rodionov was beheaded while still alive. Andrey Trusov shared his fate, while Igor Yakovlev and Alexander Zheleznov were shot dead.«

As far as the real events that took place during the first war, may you confirm or deny this story from Wikipedia?

Melnikova: The whole story is a lie. Although such identification was carried out in Rostov. The death of Yevgeny Rodionov himself is beyond doubt, but the story is a lie. The circumstances of death – just a lie. Not a single soldier who was taken as a prisoner was killed for not wanting to convert to Islam. In the first war, we saved 3,500 soldiers from captivity, and none of them testified that there was at least something similar. And in the second war, there were no mothers in the detachments. And the Chechens did not try to call their relatives, because the FSB seized this problem, and it was they who took money from their relatives for allegedly releasing prisoners. Our last exchange story occurred in 2002. She was nonstandard, I dragged Sergey Yastrzhembsky and Putin’s military advisers there. Everything was resolved through the GUIN, since we had to facilitate the transfer of the serving Chechens from north to south. With truth in Chechnya in general, it is tight, too much time has passed. Many – both soldiers and mothers – have already died. And all the middlemen and commanders of the detachments who were ready to just give the prisoner, were eliminated by 2002.

Iskhanov: Good evening. I apologize for the late connection, I come home too late. If you remember, in 1995, in the village of Chiri-Yurt, in the building of the kindergarten, in which after the liberation of Grozny by our units, the Main Headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Czech Republic of Ichkeria was based, contained 13 captured soldiers, if not mistaken. They lived there with their mothers, who prepared their own food for them. And moms were not forbidden to sleep with their sons. I myself, personally, appointed the guards and supervised the protection of these prisoners. I can say with confidence that not a single soldier was hurt there, let alone women mothers. In the First Russian-Chechen War (and it was just that) the attitude of the Chechen people, its soldiers and leaders to prisoners of war, to the parents of soldiers who came to kill us (by their own will or criminal order, it does not matter) was very humane. I happened to participate in the exchange of prisoners of war, among which there were always captured, elderly men or civilians. The Russian side gave us exhausted, barely moving people after torture (many died after some time), and received Russian soldiers healthy, unless they were wounded in battles.

Regarding Rodionov himself and attempts to force him to convert to Islam, this is an unsuccessful invention of his mother. I personally do not know a single case of coercion, especially at that time we, all Chechens, were not as religious as the current generation, radicalized by Lubyanka agents. In this canonization of Rodionov, I see an attempt to blacken the Chechen people, to show it to that kind of barbarian, in order to discourage people from sympathizing with us.

I saw newsreels, several episodes of how captured soldiers are killed. There was such a famous case, when one FSB agent, nicknamed The Tractor Driver, cuts a soldier’s throat with a camera. But I have never even heard that they separated the head from the body. I am sure that the camera shooting was done intentionally, for money and by order of the FSB of Russia to discredit the resistance forces: Nord-Ost and Beslan already in the second Russian-Chechen war from the same opera.

I remember in 1995, during the negotiations, as a member of the Joint Observatory of the Commission, I went to Bamut. With me in the car (or rather, the car was a Russian military UAZ, with the corresponding identification marks of SNK – Joint Observation Commission) were: one Russian officer, unfortunately I don’t remember the name, one woman, it seems a soldier’s mother – a total of 4-5 people. We searched for prisoners of war in divisions in order to draw up lists to prepare them for the All-to-All exchange, which we tried to negotiate with the Russian side. On the road, driving into Bamut, somewhere already on the outskirts of the village, we saw a wounded Russian tank, not far from which lay the gnawed corpse of a soldier. That is, not the whole corpse, but a part of the spine and the lower part of the body without meat, I cannot exactly remember if there was a skull there. I also saw such remains in Grozny, they were lying on the streets, eaten by hungry dogs. The most interesting thing is that not a single member of the commission became interested in the remains, they didn’t even try to take them out, let alone identify them – we in fact were looking only for the living. Perhaps these or similar to them remains were the remains of Rodionov, whose murder was stubbornly hung on Ruslan Khaikhoroev, using them for propaganda purposes.

Melnikova: Perhaps you had Maria Fedulova with you. She then went to Maskhadov with our complete lists of captured soldiers and those whom our relatives were looking for.

Iskhanov: It is quite possible. At that time I often met with Victor Popkov, we were on very good terms. In the second war, Maskhadov entrusted him to represent the interests of the Chechens in the Strasbourg court.
Rubtsova: Iskhanov may I ask you. In 95, you visited many detachments, saw how prisoners and their parents actually lived. And tell me, have you heard about cases when Russian prisoners of war went over to the side of Chechen rebels and tortured their former comrades?

Iskhanov : Initially there were several Russians who fought on our side. One was an officer who served even before the war in our army. Such a «soldier» was definitely not there. In addition, I did not hear about any torture and do not believe that it was possible at all, the Chechens would not allow them to torture, even if they wanted to. Cruelty is not inherent for Chechens by nature. Read the literature of the Caucasian War. You will not find a single case of bullying or torture described by Russian historians of the time or by representatives of the troops who fought there. Disobedience, courage, dexterity and tactics – but not cruelty.

German: Dear Iskhanov. I fully understand and share your indignation when your entire nation is called a nation of villains and murderers. Similarly, I do not accept it when people, Russians, Ukrainians, Jews, Germans, Gypsies, etc. are insulted on a national basis. But I also don’t believe it when they say: »We are a nation of exceptionally noble people. We don’t have rascals.« It reminds me a lot of the situation with the Georgians, who in the years of perestroika, when Stalin was accused of murdering innocent people, hurried to disown him and declare him Ossetian. You know as well as I do that among any people there are decent people and villains. They are among the Russians, and among the Chechens. I lived in the North Caucasus, served and studied with the Chechens. I met very noble and decent people, but there were also outright scoundrels. They were few, but they were. You do not agree with me?

Iskhanov: Who says that we are all perfect. Of course, there are bad people among the Chechens. I’m talking about something else. After all, the Russian army invaded our territory, not vice versa. We were slandered, our cities and villages were razed to the ground. We lost two hundred thousand of our citizens of different nationalities in two Russian-Chechen wars. At the same time, we observed the Convention on the maintenance of prisoners of war, although we are not signatories. Talking about the Russian prisoners and their conditions of detention, I do not refer to someone else’s stories, but I say what I saw myself. From the very first day of the war, I had the opportunity to participate in the exchange or to be responsible for the maintenance of these same prisoners. And I can confidently say that in the First Russian-Chechen war there was practically no bad treatment or torture. Each prisoner was registered and in plain sight, because we did not have any prisons for their maintenance. The prisoners lived with us, slept and ate too. At the same time, I saw myself experience the attitude of the feds towards the Chechens on my own skin. I happened to be in captivity twice, for the first time we were exchanged for two FSB-agents: lieutenant colonel and major, for the second time they were redeemed for a rather impressive amount. Blaming the Chechens for defending their honor and their land from an invading enemy is, at least, not seriously. We defended ourselves as best we could and by what we could Today all over the world they are promoting themselves on the name of the Chechens. Even in Austria, in which I now live, pro-Russian politicians use anti-Chechen rhetoric in their election speeches. With the filing of the Russian media and corrupt Austrian journalists tell us all sorts of horrors, forgetting at the same time, for whose fault we are forced to leave the Motherland.

German: – Of course you are right, dear Iskahnov. There are no bad nations, there are bad rulers, who also set off nations. It was these rulers who pushed the peoples of the USSR into conflict with the Finns, the Germans, the Poles. And then Russia with Chechnya. Today, they are pitting with Ukrainians, Europeans, Americans, showing discord and hatred even among their own. Judging by your letter, you are already adult enough and I am glad that you and I understand who is to blame for the fact that … I am sending you my first stories written 15 years ago. They are still damp and naive in many ways, but they are sincere. I shake your hand.

Rubtsova: – And now, German, a question for you. What do you, as a writer, think about the Russian-Chechen war?

Sergei German : The first and second Chechen wars, shamefully called in Russia now «the imposition of a constitutional order» or «counter-terrorist operation» is the most terrible and irreparable mistake of the Russian government and President Yeltsin personally. It is not even a mistake, it is a tragedy. If, as Iskahnov said above, the Chechens defended their homes, their land and the republic, which was their homeland, then the Russian army killed its fellow citizens, including Russians by nationality. The writer Arkady Babchenko spoke about the scale of this tragedy best of all. »The situation we have in the country today – Cop lawlessness, the collapse of justice, the vertical of power, the leveling of the value of human life, the absolute decline of morality and morality, nationalism and xenophobia – are rooted there.« … »I will say even more. I was a Russian soldier in the past, but if now the Russian army came to impose a «constitutional order» and implant the «Russian world» in Germany, which is my homeland now and where my children live, I would fight for it no less fiercely than the Chechens did for Ichkeria. This is my strong opinion, and I do not hide it.«

Rubtsova: Now let’s talk about your book «Alien», which might can been seen as mirror of our «Conversation». The stories about the capture of Russian soldiers and the cruel treatment of them overflowed the Internet, became a tasty candy in literature and cinema. And you present the opposite.
German: I never said that Russian prisoners in Chechnya were fed with chocolate. The fate of a captive soldier is hard everywhere. But there were cases when ordinary Chechens rescued Russian soldiers. In Chechnya, gangster groups were engaged in the trade in prisoners. Often, they worked hand in hand with Russian intelligence agencies and politicians. It was a business. But in the same way, the Russian command, perhaps even more brutally, killed the captured Chechens and sold them for money. Criminals have never had and will not have any nationality.

Rubtsova: Did Evgeny Naidenov, the main character of the story, had a prototype?

German: Yes, of course. This is my friend. He asked not to be named because he does not want to remember the past, but I will say only one thing: I am ready to answer for every word in my books.
Rubtsova: In our past interview there were some words that would be very suitable now for us in the «Conversation».

German : What? Please remind me?

Rubtsova: Back then I said that »Prilepin also fought there, and when I asked him why, he replied – For Russia«.“ You replied that »all veterans think so, so as not to go crazy.«

Iskhanov: I have read the «Chechen Stories» myself, but let’s talk about this separately. Now I want to share the information received from the direct participant in the defense of the village of Bamut. Today, I was able to contact one former militiaman, a relative of Ruslan Khaikhoroev, who was directly involved during the war in the combat zone. This guy (he is 47 years old), said that the only prisoner in Bamut was a certain Edik, who was transferred after contacting his mother to her. Forwarded to neighboring Ingushetia, there were no more prisoners, because in Bamut there were contact fights.

Rubtsova: If you say that I’m just surprised, it means to say nothing. But let’s clarify. Yevgeny Rodionov was captured in the month of February, he was captured at a roadblock.

Iskhanov: »Then the prisoners would have fallen into reports sent to headquarters.« For us, it was an opportunity to exchange captured soldiers for civilians captured during the sweep. The feds tried several times to storm the village. But each time, after the defenders knocked out the technique – retreated. My new acquaintance asserts that several armored vehicles were destroyed in the village, but the crews usually died immediately. I saw one of these wrecked tanks personally, I mentioned this above. Musa (let’s call it the narrator) said to me that they repeatedly contacted the Russian military, who stood opposite to their positions and offered to take the decomposing remains, to which the Russian military did not react. In principle, there was nothing new in this. During the battles in Grozny, after the attempt of the New Year’s assault of 1994-1995 on the streets, practically next to every unit of destroyed armored vehicles, the corpses of Russian conscript soldiers were decaying, driven into this slaughterhouse by Russian generals. There were a lot of corpses and so many lined equipments that sometimes we had to pull it away with the help of a tractor, freeing the passage. I was a witness of this myself. […] In general, as I understood, if Rodionov was killed in Bamut, then definitely not at the hands of Khaikhoroev. He could have been one of the crew members or accompanying infantry. Musa said that Ruslan Khaikhoroev’s father was in Bamut to the very end and left him with the last fighters. I am sure that even if it were assumed that Ruslan had the idea to shoot the prisoner, the father would have nailed his son himself.

Melnikova: And this is the axiom – that the parents transfer their pain and hate over of the dead children not to the authorities who sent the boys to the slaughter, but to the Chechens who fought for the life and freedom of their own people. And then exploit this insanity, contrary to all Christian rules and laws.

Iskhanov: Your truth, Melnikova, we are not murderers. Our people fought for their national independence. The people cannot be all gangster and consist entirely of terrorists. Now I will tell a little about the capture of Bamut and Lysa Hora itself. There was no siege in Bamut, as well as mines with underground passages. This is all an invention of the Russian media. Bamut is a usual small foothill village, on the one hand, there are forests and mountains, where you won’t pass on armored vehicles, on the other – a plain. From there, the feds repeatedly attempted to storm. I personally knew many participants in the defense of the village, Bamut rested solely on the courage of the guys defending it. And by the way, the defenders left Bamut in the early morning of May 22. On May 23, TV crews filmed a staged battle for Bamut. So, if anyone cut off Yevgeny Rodionov’s head, it might been the TV men headed by Alexander Nevzorov, and not Ruslan Khaikhoroev. I think the legend about Bamut and Rodionov was created because it was often mentioned in the media. Thee village was called a fortress with some supposedly underground passages, which Dudayev had prepared long before the war for meetings. Overall, the generals artificially created a legend to explain their own stupidity and cowardness, driving soldiers to slaughter. After the landing in the rear, this village had no strategic importance for us. We took our fighters to new frontiers. Remember, I wrote that I went there to find out about the prisoners. They were not there at that time, otherwise, as a representative of the General Staff, I would knew exactly who and how many of them, because we also kept records and made lists for exchange.

Rubtsova: Did the data about the prisoners really always come to the headquarters from the units? From Ruslan Khaikhoroev came such data? And if there were new prisoners, until May 23, 1996, would you know about it?
Iskhanov: Yes, of course. We had a special commission, which at one time was headed by Isa Madaev, there are many videos about the work of this commission, and cooperation’s with the Russians. Chechnya is too small as a territory to hide a prisoner. Moreover, the main part was occupied and was under the control of the Russian army. Another thing is that some soldiers did not want to return, I even arranged for them to meet with representatives of the Russian side.

Melnikova: For our part, I want to add that we made lists according to the appeals of our relatives and, according to the information of journalists, who brought them from Chechens from the detachments.

Iskhanov: At the very beginning of the 1994 war, Lt. Col. Kloptsov was in captivity, we gave him the word that we would release him through Victor Popkov. This officer traveled with our parliamentarians to the Russians and returned with them, although he could simply remain on the other side, because we were unarmed. We also went to the places of deployment of the Russian troops. Popkov then took him to Moscow and organized a press conference there with him. Kloptsov turned out to be a real man, sorry, I do not know about his further fate. There were those with honor and conscience, but very rarely.

Rubtsova: And now a little about literature, Iskhaov. What can you say about the bulk of books covering the Russian-Chechen war.

Iskhanov: I read many books by Russian authors about us. The problem is that the authors know very little Chechen traditions and customs. Or they know them only from the stories of those who looked at the Chechens through the sight of the machine gun. I do not understand where such Russian hatred for Chechens come from; we are only striving to be free. In the book, German wrote in detail about the atrocities of Russian soldiers against Chechens and the methods of waging a mean war. About the attitude of the Russian contract soldiers to the Chechens. Such coverage is close to real events and stands out from the rest of the literature. By the way, your book, Tatiana, is very sinful with a certain bias and weak knowledge of real material.

Rubtsova: Well, this is not fair, Iskhanov. My book has not yet been published. That’s why I let you read it to find out how you see it…

Iskhanov: Always happy to help find the truth.

Irina Merkulova conducted an interview with Valentina Melnikova in 2000. This is a helpful addition to the «Conversation».

The Betrayed

My beloved home,
What happened to you?
What are you searching for?
So sad I have never seen you before
Do you mourn for the expellees?
Or do you grieve over the remained?

My beloved home,
What has happened to you?
You sorrow over those who are in the dark?
Or are you ashamed of those who are kept in suspense?
My beloved home, what has happened to you?

The Union of the Committees of Soldiers‘ Mothers of Russia is a NGO, with a stated mission of exposing human rights violations within the Russian military. The organization was founded in 1989. Before 1998, it was known as the Committee of Soldiers‘ Mothers of Russia. It is a member of the human rights organization Human Rights House. Among the activities the organization is involved in is educating Russian civil society on the rule of law in relation to service in the military, as well as informing society about what the armed forces should look like in a democratic society. The organization also provides free legal advice to soldiers and their families about their rights and conscription laws, as well as intervening on behalf of soldiers who are facing abuse and hazing from their superiors and other more senior soldiers (dedovshchina).

In August 2014 one of the members of the organization stated that 100 wounded Russian soldiers who might have been injured fighting in Ukraine were taken to hospitals in Saint Petersburg. The Russian government labeled the organization a «foreign agent», a move which members of the organization see as retaliation on the part of the authorities. According to The Moscow Times some considered this labeling of the group as punishment for their statements. The organization has not received any funding from foreign (non-Russian sources) since May 2014. On 18 October 2014, Russian police detained the head of local Committee of Soldiers‘ Mothers in Budennovsk, (73-year-old) Lyudmila Bogatenkova, on suspicion of fraud; the local Committee of Soldiers‘ Mothers in Saint Petersburg labeled this arrest »an act of intimidation in connection with her activities«.

What is reality? What is fiction? What is religion?

Because of the popular devotion given to the New Martyr Yevgeny, the pious faithful sought official canonization from the Moscow Patriarchate. Initially, it refused, which divided the Orthodox Church in Russia. Maksim Maksimov, Secretary of the Canonization Commission, explained the Synod’s position in Tserkovny Vestnik (Church Bulletin), the official publication of the Russian Orthodox Church. His arguments can be summarized in three points:

1. The only evidence that the soldier was executed for this faith is the testimony of his mother, who in her love made a god of her son.

2. The Russian Orthodox Church has never canonized anyone killed in war.

3. The period of new martyrs ended with the collapse of the Bolshevik regime.

However, he emphasized that the deceased can be honored without canonization. Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow personally blessed the popular account of Yevgeny’s life but worried that his cult would balloon into anti-Muslim rage.