The taking of Samashki was carried out by combined units of about 250 MVD solders (Sofrinskaya Brigade), along with additional staff from the Moskovskii (about 24) and Moscow Region OMON forces (about 60 men), and the Orenburg SOBR (Special Rapid Reaction Forces). In all, the combined unit included 350 men, divided into ten storm groups1. Other reports point to the participation of the Vityaz unit in the operations.
During the course of the operation to take Samashki, the OMON acted not independently, but were rather added to each storm group.
At 3:45, MVD divisions began to advance toward Samashki. Around 6:00 p.m., the eastern part of the village was taken without a battle, and by 6:00 or 7:00 p.m. the western and central parts of the village were taken.
Reports on whether a battle was fought in the village itself are contradictory.2 The Chechenpress information service reported that on April 7, «Chechen guards and self-defense units came to the aid of the population. A battle began and lasted more than twenty-four hours. Both sides suffered great losses in men and equipment. Forty tanks alone were destroyed. Remaining villagers and self-defense fighters retreated to a safe area under cover provided by the guards.»
The same Chechenpress news summary, which was released in Sernovodsk, deeply angered Samashki villagers who had survived the «mop-up» operation. The leaflet included a series of reports that clearly had nothing to do with the true course of events: for example, reports about how OMON units had allegedly murdered forty-one elderly men and women on April 6, about the shelling of the village from Uragan launchers, about the death of five hundred villagers, and others. Taken together, these and many other Chechenpress reports are unreliable.
S.Govorukhin, chair of the parliamentary commission, outlined a version of the Samashki events close to that of Chechenpress. His essay, «Samashki — the Chechen Stalingrad,» was published in many fora of the mass media. In addition, he reports in the piece that 350 Russian soldiers were wounded during the fighting (that is, every soldier who participated in the operation), fifty-two seriously wounded, and sixteen died.3 To be fair, the commission’s Conclusions, signed later by only a part of the commission’s members (including Govorukhin), do not mention the 350 wounded soldiers.
A paper on the Samashki events given by the parliamentary commission to Human Rights Watch/Helsinki states that the battle for Samashki lasted twelve hours, beginning at 6:34 p.m., when the first shots were fired. The commission’s Conclusions reports that «Before it got dark, at 18:00 a combined unit of internal troops were ambushed in the village. Heavy fighting began, and the unit was broken up into several groups, and they led an all-around defense.»
In response to a question by T.V.Zlotnikova, a Duma deputy, MVD Lt.-Gen. A.S.Kulikov, Commander of the Federal Group of Forces in Chechnya, reported that the «Abkhaz Battalion,» under the command of Shamil Basaev, had been in Samashki on April 7, that the ground had been prepared for thirty-one resistance points, and that during the advance on the village, four APCs and one tank had exploded in mine fields.4 Federal troops met with especially strong resistance in the northern and western parts of Samashki. Hostilities ended about 1:00 a.m. on April 8 (parliamentary commission documents estimated around 6:00 or 7:00 a.m.) After leaving for the western end of the village, the MVD divisions received reinforcements and shifted to an all-around defense. That night there was no fighting. On the morning of April 8, the troops regrouped from 9:00 until 12:30, and then left Samashki. Later, as they returned to the village, they engaged in separate skirmishes with rebel fighters.
MVD Maj.-Gen. P.T.Maslov5 estimated that about 300 rebel fighters resisted federal forces.
However, soldiers fighting in MVD Internal Troops who directly participated in the Samashki operation and later testified at the May 29 parliamentary commission hearings6 asserted that only the storming groups met with resistance in the village, but that some of these groups went from one end of the village to the other without seeing any action. One soldier reported that during fighting his division destroyed only one house (two-story) that had served as a resistance point. It was from this house that one tank and two APCs had been put out of action.
According to soldiers’ and OMON testimony, rebel fighters were armed with automatics, sniper rifles, machine guns, single- and multi-use grenade launchers, and Shmel flame launchers; they did not have armored vehicles of any sort. Grenades were thrown at those houses where snipers fired from the attic. There was an order to advance though the streets in front of attackers, and to look over houses and yards but not to enter them.
Yet judging from the testimony of Samashki villagers, including ethnic Russians, soldiers entered homes, checking to make sure there were no rebel fighters.
According to the majority of Samashki residents interviewed by OM members, no military activities were directed against soldiers as they entered the village. At the same time, a group of villagers reported that in some parts of the village self-defense fighters resisted Russian troops for a certain period of time.
OM members interviewed six members of Samashki’s self-defense unit. After the April events, some of them joined Chechen units in Bamut. This group claimed that after rebel fighters left the village, forty self-defense fighters remained, all of whom were Samashki residents. The April 7 attack by Russian units was for them unexpected, as they did not think troops would attack in the early evening. According to various estimations, between twenty and forty people engaged in the battle, and they fought in separate groups. There was no military organization to speak of, and they did not have adequate ammunition. One group, consisting of about ten men, held a defensive position near the school on Ulitsa Stepnaya, retreated to the outskirts, and then at dawn headed toward Zakan-Yurt. The second group, consisting of twelve men, immediately left the village, shooting their way out. There possibly were other groups as well. Four self-defense fighters were killed, and the authors of this report know — from reports of self-defense fighters themselves and a few civilians — approximately where they were killed and the circumstances that caused their death.
Following are parts of their testimonies:
«We only attacked them a few times — our forces were uneven, and we didn’t have enough ammunition. We burned a tank... Of course that night it wasn’t really a battle but more like some kind of act of desperation. There was only a handful of us, we couldn’t surround them, nor could we destroy them.»
«Yeah, some battle. We took out their tank, that’s true. They say [we destroyed] an APC, but I didn’t see it and I’m not going to lie. There was no machine gun in the [water] tower — that’s not true. No idiot would have climbed up there with tanks coming in. It’s true that we could have set up a hunt for the tanks, but there was no ammunition. Don’t listen to [people] who are lying now. The guys who could have put up a real battle left, they kicked them out beforehand.»
Concerning the reliability of the above testimony and claims, it is worth noting that highly-placed MVD officials advanced very dubious claims about the presence of more than 300 rebel fighters in the village, including the «Abkhaz Battalion,» led by Shamil Basaev, around the time troops entered Samashki. This claim contradicts testimony by all Samashki villagers, self-defense unit fighters, and «Abkhaz Battalion» fighters themselves.7 Moreover, according to testimony given at the parliamentary commission hearings, many of the soldiers in the MVD Internal Troops and OMON staff were seeing action for the first time. The entire experience of the Chechnya war has demonstrated that given even forces between Russian troops and experienced rebel forces in defense positions, troops could not have taken the village without widescale use of artillery, and their losses from street fighting would have been significantly higher compared even to the maximum official estimates.
Some of the destruction in the village could well have occurred during street fighting — the destruction of homes from direct hits by tank fire and grenade launchers (see photograph), metal gates and fences pounded with shell fragments, and bullet traces on the walls of houses and on fallen gates. This damage and destruction, however, affected few houses and was concentrated in several sectors of the village. (Destruction in the main part of the village bore the marks of premeditated arson.) This corresponds to soldiers’ and OMON testimony that only a few houses were destroyed or damaged during fighting, and that only a part of the storming groups met resistance in the village.8 Indeed, this is why the majority of villagers who, during the operation were near houses located in areas where there was no fighting, maintained that no military activities at all took place in the village.
Lt.-Gen. A.S.Kulikov reported (see above) that federal troops met with especially strong resistance in the northern and western parts of Samashki. Yet the northern part of the village was left more intact than most other parts of Samashki. Damage done to the western part of the village in no way demonstrates that fighting took place in every house.9
Regardless of statements by a member of military sources, the above allows one to conclude that the battle in Samashki was localised, and that resistance to federal forces was disorganised.