Dispatches from Chechnya
No. 1, September 18, 2000

Devastated by War, Chechnya's Civilian Population Faces Approaching Winter

The new war in Chechnya has proven to be more destructive than the war that preceded it. Before the fighting began, the Russian military claimed that their actions would be selective, so as to keep damages and casualties among the peaceful civilian population at a minimum. However, the first massive rocket attack upon Grozny, during which hundreds of non-combatants died and maternity hospital No. 1 was partially destroyed, serves as definitive proof to the contrary. The "anti-terrorist" operation in the Chechen Republic has in fact turned out to be a large-scale war against the Chechen people.

Although the military operations against Grozny itself have not been as intense as those of the first war, the city has been subjected to systematic air and artillery attacks, even after the rebels left the city. Agricultural and economic establishments, administrative buildings, and institutions of education and culture were the first to be destroyed.

Housing in the city of Grozny has been subjected to serious destruction. Practically all of the multiple-floor buildings in the Leninsky district of the city have been demolished, especially those in the first, second, third, fourth, and sixth sub-districts. One of the most beautiful corners of Grozny, the neighborhood known as "Minutka," has been completely obliterated. Located in the Olimpisky sub-district, Minutka was home to a large number of tall buildings. Residential buildings were gravely damaged in the Oktyabrsky region, in the community of Kalinin, and in Staraya Sunzha. Almost all of the Prigorodny settlement has been destroyed.

As a result of the fighting, practically all communication within Grozny has been wiped out. The destruction of the hydro-plant has crippled the city’s water system, not to mention that the actual pipes which are to carry water have not been in service since 1991 and are in desperate need of repair.

There is no electricity in the city, and considering the damage done to the city’s infrastructure, it is unlikely that there will be electrical power until at least next summer. Gas lines have been repaired in most parts of Grozny, though interruptions in service are common. There has not been heat in the city since the beginning of the 1990s.

The sanitary situation in the city remains poor; sewage systems are disabled, as are the facilities to disinfect drinking water.

Out of a total of 6.5 million square meters of private and state-owned housing, 4.5 million square meters of Grozny’s residential space has been classified as totally destroyed or gravely damaged. The remaining housing consists of mere roofs and walls and is considered "partially destroyed" and in need of "cosmetic repair." Restoration plans for the year 2000 call for 120,000 square meters of municipal property and 100,000 square meters of private housing to be rebuilt. This will cost 25 million rubles, or almost $900,000. However, this restoration has yet to be financed, and to this day there is no plan to rebuild Grozny’s socio-economic sphere.

The ecological situation in Grozny is similarly dire. For several months oil wells surrounding the city have been on fire, and as before, oil is being extracted and distilled under the protection of the Russian forces. Irreparable harm is being done to the environment and to the health of the populace.

According to official figures, the population of Grozny fluctuates between 80 and 150 thousand people. Depending on the military situation, almost half of the city’s residents migrate between Ingushetian cities and refugee camps and rural regions of Chechnya.

Residents of the Chechen capital live in those buildings that have retained their roofs and walls (there are no intact residential buildings left in Grozny), in most cases sealing the windows with polyethylene film. They lack the most basic conditions for sanitation and day-to-day survival. Water for drinking and food preparation does not go through any disinfection process, and thus there is the constant threat of an epidemic.

The majority of the city’s residents go hungry, and their primary means of subsistence is aid sent by relatives living outside Chechnya.

Right up until the end of August there were practically no humanitarian organizations working in Grozny to provide food to the population. Recently the Czech foundation "People in Need" and the Danish Committee for Refugee Issues began to work in the city, and the International Red Cross organized the issuing of free bread to the elderly and handicapped. But these isolated incidences of aid cannot relieve the desperate lack of provisions. Even the Russian government does not have the ability, the desire, or the money to resolve the food problem within Chechnya. We here in Chechnya need coordinated and directed aid: if not from other countries, then at least from major international humanitarian organizations.

Mountainous regions outside Grozny like Itumkalin, Shatoi, and Nozhai-Yurtov have fared even worse. The city of Shatoi lies in ruins, as does the regional center Itum-Kale. Almost nothing remains of the village of Komsomolskoe, and there are many destroyed buildings in the cities of Urus-Martan, Argun, and other populated areas in the immediate vicinity of Grozny.

Rebuilding has not begun in these regions either. If building materials were made available, residents could themselves rebuild their homes or at least build more or less passable shelter against the coming cold of winter.

In the majority of regions there is again provision of electricity, water, and gas. However, surviving the winter will prove very difficult for those who live in villages without gas, as they are prevented from collecting firewood by mines and constant shelling.

Agricultural production has been stunted by the war as well. The fighting prevented many from sowing their plots, and many were forced to sell their livestock, or lost the animals as a result of the fighting. Humanitarian aid, which is neither plentiful nor regular, is now the only source of food.

Almost 90% of the population is now unemployed, and those who do work only receive their miserly salaries once every half a year or so. The worst off are those in Chechnya’s northern regions, where the unemployment rate is extremely high and people are doomed to a pitiful existence in near-starvation. Not only do the majority of people in Chechnya not have the basic means for survival, but they have lost everything they own as a result of the war. Many people do not have warm clothes for the winter, and they do not have the money to buy any.

The humanitarian situation is even further complicated by the increase in the number of invalids and people who are ill. Just the number of orphaned and abandoned children has reached 30,000. There are 1900 such children in the Shalin region, 800 in Naursk.

Medical services, such as hospitals, maternity centers, and polyclinics are returning to the plains regions. While there are 15 hospitals and polyclinics operating in Grozny, many of these are partially demolished. The veterans’ hospital and children’s hospital No. 2 were repaired this year. However, practically all the medical centers suffer a shortage in qualified medical personnel and necessary equipment. Medicines are supplied by the Russian Ministry of Health and also humanitarian organizations like the Polish Humanitarian Action and Medicins sans Frontieres. Nevertheless, there is never enough medicine, and many of the medicines supplied by smaller humanitarian funds and organizations cannot be used because they are past their expiration date. The sick and bedridden are not supplied with food and in addition are asked to pay for their medical treatment. Those suffering from serious chronic illnesses such as tuberculosis or cancer are faced with a particularly difficult situation. The number of hospitals is insufficient and those hospitals that do exist lack the necessary medicines, equipment, and funding. In most cases those sick with tuberculosis or cancer die a painful death at home. There is a great risk of contagion in homes with a sick family member, as the war makes even elementary sanitary measures difficult.

Practically the whole population is in need of psychological rehabilitation, and the two or three centers set up for this purpose by the OSCE and Doctors of the World are completely insufficient. Every day in Chechnya dozens of young people die of heart attacks, strokes, and other illnesses connected with psychological overload and stress. A network of psychological rehabilitation centers must be set up in the republic in order to reach the whole population.

As before, the main problem for the population of Chechnya remains that neither of the warring sides observes any kind of humanitarian norms or the rights of the non-combatant population. The real power, even after the appointment of the heads of the administration, remains in the hands of the Russian soldiers, who deal in lawlessness and arbitrariness: detaining innocent people; firing [artillery] upon unarmed settlements and transports; killing and crippling women and children. The use of mines, carried out by the belligerents without deference to international laws or norms, poses a terrible threat to the health and lives of the civilian populace. A thousand of children have been killed or maimed by mines, and the number of victims grows with every day. Therefore, the need for international observers to monitor the upholding of humanitarian norms in Chechnya is extremely urgent.

Center Lam