Since the dawn of civilization, there has always been war. Though fought for a multitude of reasons and ideologies, one thing has always been painfully visible from ground zero- soldiers generally aren’t too eager to fight and kill their fellow human beings, but will fight to the death if they must.
In the 1994, the Russian Army invaded the Chechen capital of Grozny in the opening months of what would later be known as the First Chechen War. A battle between the Russian government and separatists in Chechnya, the war caused horrific destruction of life and property.
In the opening hours of what would be the first Battle of Grozny, the commanders of the 131st Maikop Motor-Rifle Brigade (which was two battalions strong) was hailed by a Chechen militant commander, who begged the Russians to rethink their push into the city with tanks, armored personnel carriers and infantry.
The chilling conversation was recorded and has been featured in videos and documentaries in what was one of the bloodiest Russian conflicts in history.
The Chechen leader called out to a commander (Liuetenant Colonel Ivan Savin, AKA “Alik”), urging him to spare his men from destruction by the well-emplaced Chechens, who were fighting on their home turf.
“Alik, maybe while it’s not too late,” the Chechen said over the radio. “Tell your men to retreat. Don’t do this, don’t do this. In any case, Alik, you and I will die. What’s the point of all this? Who will win this? You and I will not win this, understand? If we or I see you in the action, I won’t show you mercy, just like you won’t, understand? It’s better if you come to me as a guest. Retreat your men, have pity for their mothers, have pity for your guys, retreat them. Give the order to retreat.”
After a pause, the Russian commander responded, saying he didn’t have the authority to pull his troops back.
“I can’t give that order,” Savin replied.
“Alik, listen to me!” the Chechen said, raising his voice. “From my heart, I wish that you survive this, but you better leave.”
“I don’t have a choice!” Savin responded. “I have orders and I will obey them in any case.”
According to the New York Times, the mechanized Russian units -staffed mostly by conscripts – were overwhelmed by the rebel fighters, surrounded and begging for reinforcements over the radio. In a last ditch attempt to survive, they were instructed to take civilian hostages in order to try and negotiate with the Chechens.
When soldiers told commanders that the Chechens didn’t care, the command suggested that the troops sneak over to friendly units under cover of darkness.
Within sixty hours, the 1,000 man-strong Maikop Brigade -including Lieutenant Colonel Savin- would be wiped out of existence by the rebels, with only a handful of survivors left to tell the tale.
At the same time, Russian Army General Pavel Grachev reported to the media that “the entire city center and several districts of the city and its outskirts are under complete control of Russian forces”.
The Battle of Grozny would last from New Year’s Eve of 1994 to February 8 of 1995, with countless dead, wounded and captured on both sides, not including a staggering 35,000 civilians killed. While the Russians would later claim victory, it would be a pyrrhic one at best- with hours of video footage to document the event.
Despite the fact that neither side particularly wanted to fight each other that day, the poignant conversation between two adversaries in a city full of civilians brings a sobering point home- in war, everyone is a casualty.
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