Chechnya, Syria, Ukraine – the trail of the “Butcher”

One of many Russian “Butchers” signature can be traced from the Wagner group in Ukraine today, via atrocities in Syria and back to the murder of a shepherd and three kids in Chechnya 22 years ago.

On 17 April 2001, near the village of Alleroy, Khozh-Akhmet Alsultanov and children who were with him disappeared: his son Islam and nephews Shamkhan and Shahid Umarkhadzhiev. The son was 14 years old at the time, and the nephews 13 and 11. In the morning they went to graze the commonly owned cattle, and then disappeared.

As it turns out, not for long…

First, a short explanation: Khozh-Akhmet Alsultanov was not a shepherd in the usual sense of the word. Since ancient times, the inhabitants of Chechen villages have herded their cows and bulls into one common herd and graze it in turn for a day, two or more, depending on the number of their livestock. This time he had to go. The grazing was to take place in the zone around the village allotted by the Russian military for this purpose and supposedly safe – one and a half to two kilometer in diameter.

That morning, a cold rain was falling, not typical for spring. By lunchtime, when a wounded and frightened shepherd dog ran into the village, it only intensified. Long before the expected time, cows and bulls also rushed home. But for some reason the shepherd and his assistants did not appear even in the evening. Despite the rain and the rapidly approaching darkness, the villagers organized searches in the field and in the nearby forest. However, nothing was known about the fate of the missing people that day. They were found dead the next morning.

According to the testimonies of the participants in the search, the bodies of the shepherd and children were found face down in a pit. When they were taken out and examined, it turned out that the criminals did not even touch the identity documents, the permit for grazing rural livestock in the “safe” zone, issued by the Russian military authorities, and the list of livestock owners from the village administration. The documents remained in the pockets of the dead, as well as in the bag with their food. The food was also untouched. From this, the inhabitants of Alleroy concluded that the crime had been committed before lunchtime on 17 April.

The initial examination of the bodies was carried out by a village doctor and the chief doctor of the central district hospital who were called to the scene. They recorded that all four had been shot in the temple. But before that, they were beaten and tortured. One of the boys had a broken arm, and the other had an extensive wound on his head, apparently from a strong blow with the butt of a machine gun. All of them had hematomas on their bodies. Apparently, they were kicked and punched for a long time.

Information about the murder of a shepherd and children became known to human rights activists and quickly spread beyond the borders of the republic, forcing the authorities of the Russian Federation and their representatives in Chechnya to somehow respond to the incident. But the Russian television reported, with reference to the military, that members of the Chechen armed formations were allegedly behind this crime.

Residents of the village of Alleroy were outraged by these statements. They felt that the authorities were trying to cover up the perpetrators. Having filmed the dead and the process of delivering the bodies on buses to the village, having recorded the comments of relatives and fellow villagers, they demanded the punishment of the culprits. If someone had wanted to localize them it would not have been difficult – tracks from the crime scene led to a nearby hill, where Russian military units were stationed at that time.

However, apart from the formal initiation of a criminal case, the Prosecutor’s office did nothing to find and detain the killers. Evidence was not collected at the crime scene, where, according to the testimonies of the people who took the corpses, there were shell casings and even bullets to be found (they picked one of them themselves), there were many tracks of shoes and equipment, and garbage was scattered. Exactly two months later, due to the alleged failure to identify the persons to be held accountable, the criminal case was suspended.

The mystery of the murder of Khozh-Akhmet Alsultanov and his minor son and nephews would have remained unsolved if not for Anna Politkovskaya. In her article “Mysterious Special Forces Carry Out Massacres?”, published on the pages of Novaya Gazeta already on 23 April 2001, she spoke about the events that preceded the crime and named those who committed it. According to the information she received from employees of the prosecutor’s office from among the Chechens, it was a reconnaissance group of the Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Kamenyuka. For cruelty towards the inhabitants of Chechnya, the article says, he earned the nickname “The Butcher” among his colleagues. Anna Politkovskaya emphasized at the time that she knew the full name of this person. She herself and the staff of the Memorial Human Rights Center immediately informed the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office of the name. But without a positive result …

Meanwhile, the “Butcher” himself, and this atrocity of his faded into the background – Chechnya plunged into not less serious crimes for many years to come. Cleansing of settlements with robberies, murders and kidnappings, one after the other, took place every day. The human rights defenders had barely enough time for a very superficial description of some of them. The Butcher resurfaced by chance and in connection with other events. According to the Ukrainian investigative website “Peacemaker”, his full name is Vladimir Nikolaevich Kamenyuka. He participated in both Russian-Chechen wars, and at the time of the murder of Khozh-Akhmet Alsultanov and three children was the deputy commander of a battalion of the 22nd GRU special forces brigade with the rank of lieutenant colonel.

In 2019, he was already mentioned as the deputy commander of the notorious Wagner PMC.

Ukrainian investigators write that Vladimir Kamenyuka also fought in Syria. This is not hard to believe. In the actions of the Russian troops in this country, the signature was visible, if not this one specifically, then other “Butchers” who had become adept at Chechen blood. The same Wagnerites, for example, without embarrassment and fear of anyone, recorded on cameras the sophisticated murders of anti-Assad rebels captured by them, and entered into and finished off people in Syrian cities previously demolished by Russian aircraft. Impunity breeds permissiveness and encourages new crimes. It is hard to imagine that Vladimir Kamenyuka could not have taken part in the Putin-Russia war against Ukraine. One can only wish that justice will be served this time.

This note is based on the materials of human rights organizations, collected and systematized in the electronic database of the Natalia Estemirova Documentation Center (NEDC).

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