Dispatches from Chechnya No. 14

The Situation in Grozny Worsens

GROZNY, July 9, 2001 – During the past two months, the conditions in Grozny, as in the rest of the Chechen Republic, have become much worse. On one side, the guerrilla fighters have become more active. The use of landmines has intensified, attacks on Russian soldiers are becoming more frequent, and religious extremists are intensifying their campaign of terror against the people of Chechnya. On the other side, the Russian troops have expanded their repressive and punitive activities in the Republic.

Nearly every day, one can hear landmines exploding in Grozny, and dozens of soldiers and civilians die. In the past two weeks, 20 civilians have been killed or wounded by landmines, mostly women and college students.

During the month of June, Russian soldiers conducted mop-up operations in nearly every neighborhood of the city – Leninsky, Staropromyslovsky, Central Market, Chernoreche, and in the suburb of Aldi.  In Chernoreche and Aldi alone 128 people were arrested without being charged with a crime. The majority were released within a few days, but they had been verbally abused and severely beaten. Some, however, have not been freed. The Russian troops are holding some for ransom, and others have simply disappeared without a trace, although relatives have been searching for them.
 In addition to arresting innocent people, Russian soldiers also steal money and valuables from people’s homes during these mop-up operations, threatening to arrest members of the family if they resist.

In the daytime, the city lives in fear of landmines and mop-up operations, and at night the shooting begins. It is never clear who is shooting at whom and why. Possibly it is the guerillas, possibly scared and drunken Russian soldiers are simply shooting into the air. Grozny’s residential areas frequently face artillery fire from the Russian base at Khankala.

At the many checkpoints scattered in and around the city, the Russian soldiers engage in open extortion. Anyone passing through can be detained without cause at the whim of the soldiers. The checkpoints themselves are not well-defended, and if they are attacked the Russian soldiers cannot defend even themselves.

The city itself lies in ruins. Nearly 80 percent of the residential buildings have been destroyed in the second war, but there have been no attempts at restoration. Most of the residents of Grozny have fled Chechnya, and even if the war ends, they have no home to return to.

According to official statistics, the current population of Grozny is around 200,000. Most people live in partially destroyed buildings with broken windows, leaking roofs and no electricity, water, or heat. Many of these buildings are barely standing and could collapse at any moment, burying residents in their ruins.

According to the mayor of Grozny, many of these buildings, particularly brick buildings, could be repaired fairly quickly, and by the end of the summer, at least 30 percent of Grozny could have a roof over their heads.  But so far no one has provided any money for restoration work. Making this situation worse is the fact that residential neighborhoods are frequently subjected to artillery fire, making repair work pointless. Residents of Grozny say that because of nighttime shelling, they are unable to put new glass into their windows and must sleep on the floor.

According to N. Takhayev, a resident of Grozny: “We can’t get any humanitarian aid, and we have to buy water. Water costs 75 kopeks a bucket.  There are four people in our family, and we need 10 or 15 buckets a day.  None of us work or get a pension. You can only get humanitarian aid if you are younger than 16 or older than 55. No one else can eat. Our apartment was ruined, and it rains right into the rooms. No one is doing any repairs, or helping us to do repairs. Grandmother was killed, and they took away her pension. We still don’t know who killed her. I don’t get a pension myself. It’s very dangerous here. When they start shooting, there is nowhere to go. Every night they shoot, who knows from where. It’s dangerous to sleep on a bed, so we lie on the floor.”

Sanitation in Grozny is very poor. There are 14 public health centers in Grozny, of which nine are bacteriology labs and four are sanitation and hygiene labs. There are all kinds of plans for preventing intestinal diseases and for preventing cholera in summer. Workers of the sanitary and epidemiological service are provided with transportation, food, antiseptics, equipment and furniture. This year, they have not received a single ruble, however, for improving the city’s sanitation system.

There is very little food in Grozny. Food is not stored according to health standards in the city’s makeshift markets. Issues of water service and regular cleaning of the city have not been resolved. Garbage is never removed. There are a number of plans on how to improve the city’s sanitation system, but there is no money to carry them out. There has been a catastrophic increase in the number of people with tuberculosis, but nothing can be done about it – there are no hospitals, no medicines and no laboratories or equipment. The same problem exists in relation to other serious chronic illnesses, such as cancer and heart disease.

There is essentially no health care available in the city, at least according to residents. There are a handful of functioning hospitals and clinics in the city, but they are located in run-down buildings and lack the most necessary items. Doctors have not received their salaries in months, and hospitals have neither medicines nor equipment, even the most basic latex gloves and hypodermic needles.

According to one doctor from Grozny, “The best of our doctors were either killed or have left. That has been the most serious obstacle to providing good medical care. Besides that, all the hospitals have been destroyed, and the few that have been restored were restored only as first aid stations. What can we do when the patient can’t even lie on the operating table because of all the shelling and bombing? Not long ago I was performing an operation, and suddenly they began firing at us, and a bullet just barely missed the nurse who was assisting me. Things like this happen all the time.

Most of our patients leave the hospital before they have fully recovered. As soon as the stitches are out, their families take them home. The conditions of war are not good for people’s health. Even if we still had a qualified staff, we just don’t have normal working conditions. We don’t get paid, and there is no money for anything. As university professors we did receive salaries for this year, but medical professionals get paid very infrequently. Beyond physical injury, there is also psychological and emotional trauma, which no one is concerned with right now. I would estimate that a minimum of 100 people are injured in Grozny every day.

I give orthopedic care only to people who have no way of leaving, and I explain from the start that I do not have the ability to take proper care of them. I don’t have an x-ray machine or any other equipment. All I have are my hands, my eyes and my experience. I can guess at a diagnosis, I can guess at an operation, I can guess at a treatment.

Medicine is a real problem. We have a list of medicines under glass.  People come, and we tell them, ‘these are the free medicines that we have. If you need something else, buy it yourself.’ They must buy the surgical gloves that I need, three pairs for each operation (for the surgeon, the assistant and the nurse). They have to buy alcohol and cotton, and we don’t have a laundry to wash bedding, so patients’ families have to bring bedding and wash them themselves, and they have to buy scalpels and thread for stitches.”

 Education in Grozny is in no better shape. Most school and college buildings have been destroyed. Children study in ruined buildings without a roof over their heads. There are not enough teachers, textbooks or equipment. Teachers are paid only every two or three months.

 The lives of children are constantly in danger. Children are injured or die from landmine explosions nearly every week. During mop-up operations, Russian troops have started arresting 14- and 15-year-old boys. Many parents are sending their sons away from Chechnya.

 According to Grozny resident Z. Ganayev, “My wife and I have two children, 8 and 10 years old. There is no work. We live by doing odd jobs, and every two or three months we get a stipend for the children. The school is in terrible shape – there is no glass, no furniture, no doors. Every month we get aid from the Danish Refugee Council for the children – 13 kilograms of flour, half a kilogram of sugar and 100 grams of salt for each. We have no electricity or water. For two years, we have been buying our water. The situation in this neighborhood is relatively quiet – people aren’t getting killed every day.”

 According to Grozny residents, the following humanitarian organizations are active in the city: Polish Humanitarian Action, the People in Need Foundation (Czech Republic), the International Committee of the Red Cross, and the Danish Refugee Council. The aid they provide, however, is only sufficient for about one quarter of the population.
Most residents of Grozny have no sources of income and do not receive any humanitarian aid. According to one woman, “My life is destroyed.  I live in an apartment and work for the gas company. They promise us a salary, but they aren’t paying it. For the first five months of this year, we have been paid one month of salary. I have no help from the Danish Council or from anywhere else. I was one of the first to register for aid from the Danish Council, and I received some once, but then they took me off the list. I live off of whatever odd income I can get. I have to buy water, and I have no electricity. Going to work is scary; you can always hear something exploding somewhere. I don’t go to the market at all – they are always shooting people there.”

 All in all, the humanitarian situation in Grozny is very disturbing. People have lost all confidence in the present and hope for the future. They have already given up hope of help from