Dispatches from Chechnya No. 10

The Humanitarian Situation in the village of Proletarskoye
(Grozny Region)

GROZNY, April 2, 2001 – The humanitarian situation in the village of Proletarskoye, as in all other areas of the Chechen Republic, remains very difficult and worrisome. There are exchanges of artillery fire nearly every night, drunken Russian soldiers man checkpoints, and residents are frequently detained solely for the purpose of obtaining a bribe. On the other side are the “Wahabis,” who send threatening letters to officials in the new administration and often make good on these threats, shooting unarmed people in their own homes and in front of their families. Crime has increased dramatically in Chechnya over the past months. There are a large number of criminal gangs that rob and murder, in spite of the fact that the entire republic is full of federal troops.

Often, it is the Russian soldiers themselves who are committing the crimes. The Russian troops are entirely lawless. The command post for the Staropromyslovsky neighborhood of Grozny is located near Proletarskoye, and there have been occasions when soldiers from the post have detained young men from the village without reason. Three of these young men were recently shot by the Russian soldiers.

Rumors are flying that the Russian troops temporarily “sold” several villages to the “Wahabis.” Villagers therefore live in constant fear, waiting for shelling or arrest by the federal troops as well as Wahabi attacks. They have no means of protecting themselves, even from ordinary criminals, because federal forces regularly check homes for weapons, and if they find anything out of the ordinary – not only firearms but even unusual knives – they demand enormous bribes or arrest the head of the household.  The criminal gangs and Wahabi bands, however, freely move about Chechnya and through the Russian checkpoints, terrorizing the local residents.

Unlawful arrests of young men and their subsequent disappearances have become the horrible norm in Chechnya. It is one of the ways that the federal troops commit genocide. Tens of thousands of young Chechens have disappeared without a trace during the war, and they continue to disappear. Their relatives try in vain to find even their bodies in the mass graves of Chechens shot without trial by Russian soldiers.

The entire republic remains under a curfew, but even during the daytime travel is difficult. Soldiers at all checkpoints vigilantly check for any irregularities in identification documents, but obtaining these documents (passports, birth certificates) was difficult even before the war – they were very expensive. Today it is still very difficult to obtain documents, even legally; one must pass through a great deal of bureaucracy and paperwork, which cannot be done without bribery.

The majority of villagers, who before the war were primarily farmers, are now out of work because in a conflict zone it is impossible to plow, sow, or graze cattle. Teachers and government workers are still employed, but they have not been paid in seven or eight months. Pensions are paid more regularly, but there is not always enough money even for pensions, and this often leads to conflicts among pensioners.

Most families are entirely dependent upon the pensions of older family members. The majority of people do not have a regular source of income. Villagers do not receive any kind of aid either from the state or from humanitarian organizations.  Over the past two years the Danish Refugee Council has given out food assistance in Proletarskoye only twice, and even then not to everyone who was in need.

Villagers experience serious problems with access to drinking water. There is no running water in the village. Water is brought in on trucks, and it must be purchased for 50 rubles ($2) a ton. There are constant shortages of water because the deliveries are so irregular, and the quality of the water leaves much to be desired. For many years the village has had no health department to monitor the quality of the water, and there are constant outbreaks of disease.

People also lack both summer and winter clothing. For several years they have not been able to buy new clothing for themselves or their children because they have no money. They have received no assistance from the state or humanitarian organizations.

There have been no military battles in Proletarskoye, and most of the buildings in the village are undamaged. For the past two years, however, there has been no electricity and only irregular gas service. Because of the lack of heat and gas, homes become very cold in the winter. It has been many years since roads, power lines and water mains have been repaired, and they are in very poor condition.

The availability of health care is also very limited. There is a clinic in the village staffed by a physician’s assistant, that is, someone with basic medical training.  He can only provide first aid or send the patient on to the hospital. It is practically impossible to obtain medical assistance late at night due to the curfew and the fact that there is no ambulance service. People who need medicines must buy them. The Red Cross provides some pharmaceuticals and occasionally also gives out food to some segments of the population, primarily disabled people and elderly people without families. As is the case all over Chechnya, people who suffer from serious chronic illnesses and need constant medical care and daily medication are unable to receive the treatments they need.

There is a school in the village. The school building is in disrepair and lacks sufficient furniture. Teachers and students bring chairs with them from home. In many classrooms, the desks are more than 25 years old. There are neither textbooks nor workbooks, so teachers must come up with their own. In addition, there are only about half as many teachers as necessary, and there are no teachers for a number of basic subjects: math, physics, chemistry and English. The professional qualifications of most teachers are very low, and the performance of the students is poor. Teachers face constant threats of physical violence from the “Wahabis.”

Because there is no electricity, there is no access to television or radio, and the only source of news about the republic and the world is rumors. Villagers have no way to buy either newspapers or magazines.

Both adults and children are under severe psychological stress. Having lived through the horrors of war, most people are in need of psychological assistance. They have lost all faith and hope for the future. All they can see is that they are being gradually eliminated by federal troops, Wahabis and criminal gangs, and they do not expect help from anyone.