Islamic militants from Chechnya have begun fighting in eastern Ukraine against the Russian-backed rebels. At least three volunteer Islamic battalions have aided Ukraine's beleaguered government and military after over a year of Civil War against separatist groups aiming to unite Ukraine with Russia.
The three battalions offer continued evidence of foreign involvement in the brutal civil war, with both sides using volunteer troops from outside nations, including Chechen forces on both sides. The Islamic fighters have been crucial in the Ukrainian government's push to regain control over the eastern half of the country, which has fallen under separatist control, including in the strategically-important seaside port of Mariupol. "We like to fight the Russians," said a former Chechen warlord to the New York Times. "We always fight the Russians."
The coalition of groups fighting alongside the Ukrainian government have remained completely independent from national authority and are unpaid, reports the New York Times. One of the nationalist militias is openly neo-Nazi.
While two of the Islamic militia battalions are predominately Chechen, many members come from nearby Muslim regions that used to be a part of the Soviet Union, including Uzbeks and Balkars. The third battalion is primarily made up of soldiers from Crimea.
"I am on this path for 24 years now, since the fall of the Soviet Union," the former warlord told the New York Times. "The war for us never ended. We never ran from our war with Russia, and we never will."
On the pro-Russian side, the "Death" unit from Chechnya, a 300-person volunteer battalion fighting for the Ukrainian separatists emerged as a powerful force in the region, reports Reuters, Chechnya, a predominately Muslim region in the Caucasus mountains, is currently occupied by Russia after two wars with the nation.