One Soldier’s War in Chechnya

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One Soldier’s War by Arkady Babchenko

Translated from Russian by Nick Allen

Published by Portobello Books, November 2007


This book makes plain the degradation experienced by ordinary Russian soldiers now serving in what was not so long ago the most fearsome fighting machine on the planet. These days, as is graphically recorded in this searing book, the army is so starved of resources, communications, organization and self-respect that its soldiers are often reduced to scrabbling around on wasteheaps to find food, cannibalizing farm equipment to maintain their arms, and acting blindly in the absence of any leadership or tactics. The Chechen enemy is tenacious, but they are not the focus of this book, which instead demonstrates in prose of Chekhovian clarity and acuity the sub-human life lived by those the Putin Administration sends into action to defend Russia’s borders and prevent attacks on her security. It is also, more universally, as powerful a depiction of how deadening the daily devastation of life on the frontline is.

Arkady Babchenko was still a naïve 18-year-old when he and his fellow teenage Russian Army conscripts arrived in a transit camp just north of Chechnya. Fresh off the truck, the new recruit rapidly learned the meaning of savagery and fear, before he’d even been near the front line. By the time he started his active duty, he had developed a tough skin against the harsh treatments meted out by his seniors and grew hardened and cynical. With unblinking honesty, Arkady Babchenko traces his journey from innocence to experience, taking the raw and mundane reality of war and twists it into compelling, chilling – and eerily elegant – prose.


Arkady Babchenko was born in 1977. He fought as an 18-year-old conscript in the first Chechen War of 1995-6 and then volunteered to return for six months in 2000 during the second Chechen War. A law graduate, he currently works in Moscow as a journalist on the non-conformist newspaper Novaya Gazeta. This is his first book. He is married with one small child.


Nick Allen is a British journalist now working for the German Press Agency dpa in Pakistan. He formerly worked in Russia for 11 years, also covering the conflict in Chechnya. He has translated for the literary journal Glas New Russian Writing. 


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