Russia deploys feared Chechen unit to police Ukrainian nuclear town

All nine pumped-up men in the video sport beards, beanie hats, and khaki uniforms with no name tags.

One has a walkie-talkie, another, a gun, and behind them are jeeps and silver minibuses. Most of the men are about to leave. One wants to be photographed.“Take a picture instead of filming,” he tells the invisible cameraman in Chechen.

The camera turns to another man who is checking his smartphone. The cameraman says, “This comrade is staying.”

The man with the phone looks like he’s in charge. He winks, smiles and responds: “I’ll be leaving later.”

They look relaxed as if they are back in Chechnya, the predominantly Muslim province of 1.5 million in Russia’s North Caucasus region, where Ramzan Kadyrov, a former separatist strongman who now calls himself Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “soldier”, is their boss.The men were, however, filmed some 1,200km northwest from home, next to blocks 3,4 and 5 of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant – Europe’s largest nuclear facility – in the Russia-occupied part of southeastern Ukraine.

The video was made available to Al Jazeera by a Ukrainian law enforcement agency, which identified the man with the phone as Colonel Makhmud Khusiyev, a 43-year-old former wrestler.

The footage is dated January 7, but was possibly filmed earlier.

The agency verified his identity by using face-recognition software to compare his high-resolution photos and videos with media reports that feature him.A handful of Chechen news articles mention his participation in wrestling competitions.

Khusiyev is now one of several senior officers of the Akhmat Grozny, a special forces company based in Grozny, Chechnya’s administrative capital.

In the video obtained and verified by Al Jazeera, the left shoulder of Khusiyev’s uniform is adorned with the stylised image of an eagle shooting rays out of his eyes – one of the company’s logos.Al Jazeera also confirmed his identity, having found now-deleted dating profiles that appeared to belong to him, featuring old photos of him donning the uniform of Chechen riot police.

Akhmat Grozny operates in Enerhodar, the plant’s company town whose pre-war population stood at 51,000, and has more than halved since then.

According to those who live in the occupied Ukrainian nuclear city, the unit comes and goes – working in weeks-long shifts – and is responsible for policing the city and its residents, and enjoys a higher status than ethnic Russian troops.

While the Chechen force has been seen near the nuclear plant, it does not appear to be involved in strategic decisions about the station.

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