Russia’s atrocities in Ukraine, rehearsed in Chechnya

As Maryam watched an online video recorded in Ukraine of a Russian attack, the memories came flooding back.

She heard the wailing of a diving Russian plane, and yanked the headphones out of her ears, peeked at the sky above her and fell on the floor in shock.

She withheld her last name and other personal information because she still has family in Chechnya.

It was not just the sound.

The way Russian missiles, bombs and artillery deliberately target residential areas and Russian soldiers torture and kill civilians on occupied territories reminded Maryam of what she and many Chechens went through.

Human rights groups and analysts have said the brutality and alleged war crimes in Ukraine, a nation of more than 40 million, began in Chechnya, a mountainous, Qatar-sized province whose current population is 1.5 million.

“In this war, many observers see echoes of previous atrocities under [Russian President Vladimir] Putin,” Ivar Dale, a senior policy adviser with the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, a rights watchdog, told Al Jazeera.

“Especially for Chechens, the indiscriminate bombing of civilian infrastructure is reminiscent of the attacks on [Chechnya’s administrative capital of] Grozny in 1999,” he said.

“Possibly, the most important thing is that [in Chechnya] the Russian army and law enforcement really got used to warring and killing,” Nikolay Mitrokhin, a historian with Germany’s Bremen University, told Al Jazeera.

Even the Soviet-Afghan war of 1979-1989, let alone previous military conflicts communist Moscow had taken part in, were not massive enough for such practices to take root, he said.

For decades, the Soviet military mostly had theoretical knowledge about warfare – and imitated it during drills.

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