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Wednesday, 26 January, 2000, 00:02 GMT
Russian troops' tales of war
As debate rages in Russia over the true extent of military casualties in Chechnya, wounded soldiers have been giving accounts of their combat experiences on TV.

Russian NTV went to a hospital in the central Russian city of Orenburg to hear how soldiers had received their wounds. Aleksandr Korotkov told how he had lost his foot on a mine.

AK: "We were attacking some kind of factory."

NTV: "In Grozny?"

AK: "Yes."

NTV: "Are there many wounded there?"

AK: "Very many. At first we were stationed in a village nearby. Then we were taken to Grozny. Then we stepped on a mine."

NTV: "Were you alone or was there anyone else with you?"

AK: "There was another lad with me ... He lost both legs. And I lost my foot."

Civilians by day

Nikolay Aldakov, who was hit by a sniper, said losses were heavy but the Chechen fighters were also losing men.

NA: "When I was dragging a wounded soldier, a sniper shot me in the back twice, against the flak jacket. The flak jacket fell off and he shot again, this time in the legs. That's all. They are good snipers. We have big losses."

NTV: "And the fighters?"

NA: "Their losses are big as well."

Aleksandr Zhileykin, a veteran of the first Chechen war who got hit in the legs by a sniper this time around, still hopes to return. He described the enemy's relentless tactics and dismissed official Russian casualty figures.

"They are well reinforced. A guerrilla war is going on. They are not entering direct combat. They know the territory too well.

"Fighters stay behind even in places that we have liberated. In the daytime they walk around like local citizens, at night they are mujahedin, but without the beards.

"We used to be occupants for them and we still are. There are many losses."

NTV: "In Grozny?"

AZ: "There are a lot. Hundreds are dying and then they report two dead on the Russian side."

In firing line

Viktor Maygulov, a soldier recovering from his wounds at a military hospital in the southern city of Voronezh, told NTV it was the regular army bearing the brunt of the fighting, not the Russian Interior Ministry's much vaunted anti-terrorist units.

VM: "To tell the truth, we do not see them at all."

NTV: "Who?"

VM: "The SOBR (rapid-reaction units) and OMON (special-purpose police). Internal troops usually retreat after the first shot by a sniper. It is the infantry who are going to the most dangerous places. Only the infantry are being killed."

One of NTV's correspondents in Chechnya spoke to another, unidentified, soldier just after he returned from combat in Grozny.

He said the fighting had left many "200s" and "300s" - military code for dead and wounded respectively.

"There have been many, very many wounded in the past two days. There are many 200s and plenty of 300s.

"It seems there are not many (Chechen fighters) - but they sit there with an anti-tank grenade launcher on one side and a machine gun on the other and fire from them alternatively. There is a barrage of fire there."

Counting the dead

Another correspondent went to the railway station in Rostov-on-Don, southern Russia, where all the dead are brought before being moved to the city's forensic laboratory.

Using a concealed camera, he asked two warehouse workers about the number of bodies they were handling.

NTV: "Have there been a lot today?"

Workers: "A lot."

NTV: "How many?"

Workers: "Fifteen."

NTV: "Fifteen today alone?"

Workers: "Yes."

NTV: "Are there 15 every day?"

Workers: "No, it's different every day. They say there were a lot on Saturday."

NTV: "How many - 30?"

Workers: "Yes, 30."

NTV: "On Saturday?"

Workers: "Yes. Oh, my God."

Galina Sevrun of the independent Committee of Soldiers' Mothers, which draws its casualty figures from the accounts of soldiers' families, gave a similar picture of heavy losses.

"We up the figures published in the media by roughly 50%, if not 100%. Those are absolutely the most conservative estimates.

"So, the total is already between 2,000 and 3,000. Furthermore, you also have to bear in mind that the figures published in the media are only the figures for the dead. Those who die of their wounds are not included."

A representative of the committee in Nizhny Novgorod, Galina Lebedeva, told Russian Centre TV she thought the truth about Russia's losses would have to come out.

She was speaking after a new consignment of soldiers' corpses arrived at the city's railway station.

"We don't understand where they plan to conceal the graves and where they plan to conceal these carriages."

BBC Monitoring (, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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25 Jan 00 | Europe
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