Lt.-Col. Father Nicolas, Ret.
Father Nicolas, AKA Lt.-Col. Kravchenko, is a former sniper who fought in
four wars, from Afghanistan to Tajikistan to two Chechen wars, and in
numerous "war conflicts." After experiencing clinical death, he realized
that "there are no atheists in the foxhole." He says, "atheism ends where
questions of life and death begin."
Sergei "The Muslim" Birk, trained Mojahideen in Afghanistan in 2001.
Sergei "The Muslim" Birk had a religious experience while fighting in
Karabakh. He met a mullah in a destroyed village and after speaking with him
for many hours realized that the answers to all major life questions can be
found in the Koran. Sergei fought in many wars, including going to
Afghanistan in 2001 as a volunteer, "after the Russians got out and before
the Americans got there." He insists he is not a mercenary, that he did not
fight for money. Being a sniper for him is his nature. He calls himself a
beast, a predator.
Maj. Alexander "The Shaman" Tarabanovsky, Ret.
Hero of Russia nominee.
Alexander Tarabanovsky, nicknamed "The Shaman" by his military comrades, was
the commander of a platoon and because of the shamanism, because of his
spirits, he says no one in his platoon died: "I don't think it was because
of my skill, he says. "I think it was because of the amulets that I had.
Nobody died who had amulets." Tarabanovsky is now a bouncer in a local
bowling alley in the city of Krasnodar. In 2001, he was nominated for the
Hero of Russia title by President Putin.
The Muslim Spy
Zhanna Ismailova, AKA "Jamal Ismail."
Soviet Spy in Afghanistan for 13 years.
Zhanna Ismailova is an orphan from Tajikistan, former Soviet Republic. She
grew up in a Russian orphanage and was sent to the military academy when she
was a teenager. Later on, she spent years in Afghanistan as a spy. "I had to
kill," she says. "It was only scary the first time. But you have to shoot
first if you don't want to be killed." She now lives in the south of Russia
with her grandchildren.
Soldier, Martyr, Popular Hero
Pvt. Sergei Rodionov was captured by the Chechen fighters in the 90's and
killed for allegedly refusing to renounce his Christian religion. He was
canonized by the Russian church shortly afterwards. His mother, a member of
the communist party for 20-some years, is trying to reconcile with the fact
that her son is now a martyr and a saint.
New York Times article on The Saint.