“We came across a destroyed armored troop transport vehicle in Grozny. We halted to remove the bodies from inside. I stood on top of the latch and opened it.
The smell hit me immediately and immensely. It was so bad I vomited. Inside were three men in various forms of decomposition. I jumped inside and helped my comrades move them outside to be transported for burial.
On the ground next to the vehicle lay three young dead Russians. One of them was badly burned. His uniform had been burnt off of him. Inside one of the pockets of one of the others I found a letter. It read:
‘My darling, Igor. Come back to me. Finish this war and come back safely. It’s not fair that you had to be taken to Chechnya and away from us. When you get back we will be married and forget any of this happened. My mother and I pray for your safe return. So please, my darling. Return to us.’
I stood over the body and looked at his face. His eyes were closed, and they would never open again. He just have been Igor. I wanted to write to his sweetheart and tell her what the fate of her Igor had been, but I never had the courage to do it.
So many sons never returned to their mothers. So many men never returned to their sweethearts.”
– Alexei Yermolov, Russian Army. Second Chechen War. Chechnya, 1999