The Fate of Russian Volunteers in Bosnia

Russian volunteers did not intend to become rich as a result of the war

Commissioner of the Hague International Tribunal Vanessa Le Roa has recently demanded the delivery of the Russian military men who had volunteered to wage war in Bosnia. The judge complained that Russia was not willing to discuss the issue on the international level. Vanessa Le Roa affirmed up to 700 Russian military men were waging war in Yugoslavia ten years ago. Investigators of The Hague Tribunal have allegedly collected enough evidence to prove Russian military men's participation in punitive operations against Muslims and Croatians.

Mikhail Polikarpov - a historian and a participant of the Bosnian war - has written a book about the war. According to the writer, Russian military men volunteered to serve in Bosnia in 1992-1995. Several hundreds of Russian soldiers took part in the Balkan war, about 40 of them were killed, about 20 men were injured. Russian volunteers were waging war in groups of up to ten. Each of those groups could control up to 30 kilometers of a certain area.

The first Russian military unit of volunteers was formed in Herzegovina in September of 1992 - not far from the town of Visegrad. Valery Vlasenko was the unit's commander. The second unit was formed the same year in November - the unit was known as Tsarist Wolves with commander Alexander Mukharev, nicknamed the Ace. A company of Cossacks was fighting together with the second unit of Russian volunteers. The Cossack unit was commanded by Alexander Zagrebov, soldier of the Afghan war. Another group of Russian military men was operating in the settlement of Skelani, not far from Visegrad. The group was commanded by Lieutenant Alexander Alexandrov, who had been in the wars of Transdniestr and Karabakh (he was killed in May of 1993).

In the winter of 1993, the group of Russian soldiers commanded by the Ace took part in the most fierce and legendary battle of that time - the defense of  Zaglavak hill. Muslims were attacking the hill with grenade launchers, Russians were suffering considerable losses, but so were the Muslims. In March of 1993, Tsarist Wolves did battle with the group of Muslims - the Russian group was commanded by major Eduard (the major was decorated with Red Star and For Courage medals). In May, the major was substituted with captain Mikhail Trofimov. He was killed as he attempted to take a prisoner for interrogation: there were two Muslim women in the house that he was entering - someone threw a grenade at his back.

Tsarist Wolves became known as the most efficient Russian military unit. The black and gold banner of the unit is kept at the Holy Trinity temple in Belgrade. There is also a memorial board in the city in honor of the Russian men who died in battles for Serbia.

Another group of Russians waged war on the outskirts of Sarajevo in 1993-1994. The unit was commanded by Alexander Shkrabov, who died in June of 1994. In the spring of 1999, Russians faught in Kosovo.

Several Russians also faught during the autumn of 2000 in Macedonia. Volunteers created their own subculture with Russian-Serbian slang and a code of honor. The code did not allow to kill women and prisoners. No Russian military man has derived any profit from those wars.

Alexander Kravchenko is one of those people, who has survived the hell of the battle for Zaglavak hill. In 1992, he retired from the Soviet Army at the age of 20 and returned to Kazakhstan. Kravchenko started his military career in the Cossack movement - hevolunteered to go to Bosnia. On November 17th 1992, Alexander landed in Belgrade. His military life started three days later in Visegrad. Alexander remembers everything about his first battle that took place on December 3rd the same year. The Russian unit was supposed to give the Serbs an opportunity to conquer the hill. The scenario did not work, the Russian platoon was encircled. The soldiers had to retreat in separate groups, Alexander was carrying his wounded friend on his shoulders for seven hours. "We are not tough guys. We are soldiers. We were neither mercenaries, nor bandits, we did not earn anything. We had to pay for transit to the war ourselves," Alexander was saying.

The war ended for him on April 12, 1993. That day Russian soldiers were fighting for Zaglavak hill. He was seriously wounded in the back of the head. The gunshot wound blinded him. The government of the Serbian republic, the Serbian enclave in Bosnia, provided medical treatment to him free of charge. His eyesight gradually returned as he was traveling from one hospital to another. Three years later he could even read. When liberal democrats came to power in the Serbian republic in 2000, Alexander's pension was cut from $500 to $170. The same year he returned to Russia.

Alexander had to work as a laborer and watchman for Moscow temples. There is a church school at the Temple of Dmitry Rostovsky in the town of Ochakovo. The National Union of Volunteers of the Serbian Republic (Alexander is an active member of this organization) opened a patriotic club for children at the school. The club is meant for children up to 14 years old. Little boys have classes on religion, they study hand-to-hand fight, the battling tactics, marching exercises, as well as spiritual grounds of the Orthodox army and the Russian military history.

Similar classes are taught to children of the church school attached to the Temple of Holy Dmitry. Senior priest of the temple, Arkady Shatov, addressed to the organization of Bosnian war veterans with a request to organize a temple at his church school.

The military and patriotic movement is developing and growing, raising the Orthodox and battle spirit in Russian boys. Alexander is married - he has two children. He could be happy with his family, but life did not let him. Alexander can be delivered to The Hague Tribunal. These people were doing the things that the Russian government was not doing: they were protecting the Serbs. The Russian policy in the Balkans has turned out to be very vague. As a result, the brotherly nation was left alone with the new world order and Islamic fundamentalism. The war has been lost. However, dozens of courageous romantic Russian men traveled abroad to fight. They did not go there to earn either money or fame. They are very old-fashioned people in today's Russia, where the motto of the development is "Get Rich!" I do not know, if the guerrilla warfare tactics are taught at military academies, but the volunteers' experience could be very helpful for the officers who go to wage war in Chechnya. The experience of the people who know how to fight vehemently, using both old and new weapons is a very valuable experience.

This category of people is not in demand from the social point of view - it is not their fault, but ours. Modern people do not notice their degradation, it becomes harder for them to understand, who they actually are: the citizens of the great nation or just a group of people who have no commitment, whose goal is to survive alone.

Stanislav Varykhanov

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Author`s name Margarita Kicherova