published by the
Institute for Democracy
in Eastern Europe
 
Dispatches from
Chechnya
No. 31, May 2003
 

Before the World’s Eyes

Grozny: May 2003

 The situation in Grozny and the entire republic remains tense and bloody. A series of terrorist acts, inhuman in its result, shook Chechnya. The terrorist act in Znamensk, which was supposedly directed again the regional department of the Federal Security Service, took lives of more than fifty innocents, including women, children, and the elderly. This was the day for handing out pensions, playing an evil role in the tragedy: there were many elderly people by the regional administrative building. Those who had a hand in this act remain unknown. Yet again it is unexplained how a truck with two to three tons of explosives could pass through numerous road blocks.

 The explosion that took place on May 14, 2003 near the town Iliskhan-yurt took twenty to thirty lives. The site of the explosion was sacred for Chechens and Ingushetians. The mass killing of innocent people in a revered place shows the savage behavior of those who started this war, whoever they may represent.

 People’s disappearances continue. Local “sweeps” that were supposed to put a stop to lawlessness caused it. People are stopped and taken away by unidentified soldiers in camouflage uniforms and masks who take people to places unknown. In this way, thousands of Chechens have disappeared in the past two years. None of them were formally accused of anything and their whereabouts are currently unknown. At best, bodies are found in mass graves, usually bearing the signs of torture.

 Chechens in other regions of Russia, Moscow included, have met the same fate. Chechens are stopped for no reason; drugs and bullets are planted into their cars and huge bribes are taken for their release.

 Lately, militia actions were reactivated. There were a number of attacks on military outposts and federal guard posts. Shootouts take place regularly in various regions of Grozny; the mine war continues along with terrorist acts against the representatives of local government.

 There are rumors in Grozny about a planned militia attack on large populated areas of the republic. Russian soldiers, meanwhile, often report about yet another victory over this or that rebel group of the Chechen Rebellion, and about the killing of famous field commanders. In reality, there have been no serious encounters between the federal forces and Chechen detachments and the Chechen militia remains a strong military force, with three to five thousand well armed and trained soldiers in the mountains. . . .

 Many Chechen residents had some faith in the results of the referendum, thinking that life would take a turn in the positive direction after its conduction. In reality, the situation in Chechnya after the referendum has barely changed (see also April 2003 Dispatches). If it has changed, it is only negative. Detachments of Kadyrov and Yamadaev have taken on many functions of the federal forces. They act in the same ruthless manner toward civilians or anyone who disagrees with the current administration. Therefore, they are hated no less than the Russian soldiers.

 There is no actual reduction of Russian forces or check points, as was promised before the referendum. Russian soldiers simply move the guard posts wherever they wish and extort money from drivers. There is no real security benefit, which was proven yet again in the terrorist act in the town Znamensk, when a truck carried nearly 2 tons of explosives through tens of military check points. Even General Kvashin has commented on the general corruption of the checkpoints.

 The governmental machine that was reactivated in 2002 became thoroughly corrupt in a short time. Officials demand money for any document from people who have lost their houses, apartments, belongings, and savings. The government archives were burned. Re-registration of documents for homes, apartments, passport changes, and so on is demanded from everyone. And this is under circumstances in which traveling throughout the republic is still difficult. All the time, people are lined up in front of government  offices. People give officials their last money in order to get their documents. This author was denied re-registration of his passport because his own apartment was not re-registered during the new government. However, for $20 this problem was fixed within ten minutes. A passport without residence registration (propiska) in Grozny is considered invalid, and being without such a document is risking not only his freedom, but his life as well.

 Nighttime curfew is still in effect, meaning that Russian soldiers, including unpredictable snipers, fire without warning upon anyone standing in the streets during dark hours. Nearly every night, passers-by who are running late are killed or injured.

 Reconstruction in the city has been nearly stopped. The city still lies in ruins. If there is any reconstructive work taking place, it is only done through private firms and individuals. Although the city has been under the control of federal forces for nearly three years, people continue to live in inhuman conditions. There is a lack of electricity, water (hot or cold), and a functioning sewage system. Everywhere one sees the dark silhouettes of half-demolished building and mounds of trash. Sometimes it’s seems unreal that people can not only survive under such circumstances, but work, learn and laugh. Many homes still have mines within them; unexploded bombs, rackets and missiles hang from walls and ceilings of many apartments. People often live in half-destroyed buildings, where a few apartments have preserved. The ecological situation remains catastrophic from oil fires and destructive oil exploitation. The sanitary situation is equally bad (see also April Dispatches from Chechnya).

 The criminal situation in Grozny remains heavy. Regardless of the huge amount of police and Russian soldiers, crime is flourishing throughout the city. Nearly every night murders are committed; groups of killers lurk through the sleeping city in search of victims. Sometimes crime is committed by the soldiers themselves, including theft and murder.

 Medical services are unimproved during this time. As usual, hospitals do not contain the basic supplies or equipment and the sick are forced to pay both for treatment and medicines. There are many people in the city who suffer from very dangerous forms of chronic diseases. Many of them are in need of surgery. If, however, they lack the money to pay for an operation, they are forced to suffer a long and painful death. The same humanitarian organizations that worked in the city before continue working there: the Red Cross, Danish Council for refugees, Check organization “Man in trouble”, Polish humanitarian action. But even all of them put together are unable to provide for the basic necessities of the population.

 In the background of war, catastrophes, and political crises shaking today’s world, the international community has lost interest in the Chechen problem. But the Chechen wound continues to bleed. The Chechen people need more than human condolences and humanitarian aid. They require the intervention of the international community in the issue of the Chechen crisis. There is a need to put the Chechen crisis on the international agenda by ruling governments. The world must know that we continue to be exterminated both physically and morally. And the responsibility for this is borne not only by Russian soldiers and Kadyrov’s units, not just by the criminals fighting for Arabic money, but also by the entire civilized world before whose eyes and silent agreement we are being killed today.

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Dispatches from Chechnya is written by correspondents in Chechnya and distributed in English by the Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe (IDEE), a non-profit organization founded in 1986, dedicated to the promotion of democracy and pluralism in Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. For more information about IDEE, its programs, and the situation in Chechnya, visit the IDEE webpage at www.idee.org. To receive Dispatches by email, please contact IDEE at idee@idee.org. Eric Chenoweth and Irena Lasota, Co-Directors, IDEE.