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A memorial to Russian paratroopers killed 17 years ago in a battle with Chechen militants during the Second Chechen War has been erected near the village of Ulus-Kert, in Chechnya. The official opening ceremony was conducted in a solemn atmosphere, with the attendance of the leaders of Chechnya and Pskov Oblast, from where the fallen paratroopers came from.
The memorial to the 6th Company is a 10 tonne granite cross, 2.6 metres tall. An inscription on the cross reads ‘Nike’ (after the Greek goddess of victory) and ‘In memory of the fallen’.
The memorial was erected on Hill 776, near the village of Ulus-Kert, which in February 2000 was the site of one of the Russian army’s biggest defeats of the war. The delegation from Pskov included Governor Andrey Turchak and the families of the fallen soldiers.
According to official Russian reports, the division of paratroopers fought for several days against a group of militants numbering more than 2,500. During the battle, 84 out of 90 paratroopers was killed. Russian sources claim that 700 Chechen militants were killed during the battle.
Inhabitants of nearby villages and some veterans of the war argue that there were less than 100 militants present at the battle, and that the Russian soldiers mostly died due to friendly fire, including the group’s commander, Lieutenant Colonel Mark Yevtyukhin.
According to many inhabitants of Ulus-Kert, the story of the the Pskov paratroopers has been embellished. One local resident, Andarbek (not his real name), told OC Media that there wasn’t a Chechen military unit big enough to number 2,500 people.
‘We would notice such a big group of militants, if they were as many as Russians claim. We did notice them, but not that many. There were maybe a bit over a hundred. They were all hungry and exhausted after walking all the way from Grozny. Most of the paratroopers died from friendly fire’, Andarbek said.
The cross near Ulus-Kert is guarded round the clock to protect it from vandalism by the local population. The Chechen authorities have taken full responsibility for ensuring the safety of the monument.