Bullying an optional extra in Russian army 'holidays'

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The Independent Online

Military service in Russia is known for its brutality but a group of Chechen war veterans are offering the curious, and the masochistic, an opportunity to experience the real thing as tourists - for a price.

Military service in Russia is known for its brutality but a group of Chechen war veterans are offering the curious, and the masochistic, an opportunity to experience the real thing as tourists - for a price.

The "holidays" are being offered in the provincial town of Yaroslavl, 150 miles north-east of Moscow, and are apparently attracting large numbers of beer-bellied middle managers, guilty draft dodgers, patriotic student types and war gaming aficionados.

The holiday reps are unconventional: they are all veterans of Russia's brutal wars in the breakaway republic of Chechnya. Tourists get to live in an army barracks, drive armoured personnel carriers of the type favoured by the Russian army in Chechnya, undergo basic training, learn hand-to-hand combat skills, clean floors, peel potatoes and generally subject themselves to military discipline.

They can also ride in military helicopters, learn the basics of military cooking and do parachute jumps from small aircraft. In the interests of safety real guns are replaced with paint-balling ones.

For those who want a taste of the truly authentic the veterans have dreamt up an optional extra for masochists only - dedovschina, the Russian form of hazing and bullying which drives many servicemen to suicide every year.

The "holidays" run from one to 10 days and there is a detailed price list of activities. A basic 10-day "tour of duty" costs around £400.

Tourists are not referred to by their own names but merely called "comrade cadet". Organisers say there have been no complaints so far but concede that some tourists have baulked at some of the abuse they have been subjected to as part of the dedovschina module.

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