Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

No End to Grozny Misery

The misery of life in the Chechen capital grinds on unrelentingly
By Zuleikhan Bagalova

"I am so sorry for sharing my troubles with you," writes mother of two Aset Magomadova. Her husband went missing at the beginning of 1995, she was injured last year and now she's begging for help. It's just one of dozens of letters that appear every day at the LAM, local NGO to promote Chechen culture.


Magomadova, a Chechen civilian, describes in the letter how she and her sister were hit by shrapnel and taken by federal troops on a seemingly interminable trip, supposedly to be treated. "I hope no one else will ever witness and experience what we experienced," she continued. "I would never have believed that something like this would happen to a human being."


The thirty-one-year-old mother, who had lost part of her foot, was hauled through a series of refugee camps in Alkhan-Kala, Chernokosovo, Mozdok, Stavropol, Krasnodar. At no point did she receive adequate treatment. Her experiences of "the Russians who were grossly abusing me" during the trip remain with her. "All the memories ... are terribly painful, it was such a nightmare," she writes.


These letters offer a stark insight into the tragedy of day-to-day life of those trying to survive here in the Chechen capital - a city that now barely exists. Any buildings which have somehow managed to survive are being demolished, the bricks shunted to some unknown destination The few buildings with entrance halls still intact house residents who live in dire circumstances. The only financial support here are old-age pensions - 25 US dollars a month which has to make do for an entire family.


But there's nothing much to buy here anyway. The market opens every day just because it's the only source of income. Sometimes you'll find medicine there, sometimes caviar. So life goes on. There are even three schools up and running and despite the dangers of making the daily trek to and from the classroom, young Chechens are eager to continue with their education.


But, at six in the evening everything comes to a standstill. Members of the new Chechen government leave the city for the country to stay with friends or relatives, because their apartments in Grozny have been destroyed or because they feel it's unsafe here after dark. The streets are prey to a dissolute parade of drunks, drug addicts and thieves, all well-used to the nightly shelling by federal forces - sometimes caught unawares by troops using them for target practice.


People have put up screens in their doors and windows - scant protection against explosions often set off by young boys. They say they get paid to do so. Whether they are or not, they carry on unpunished - save for the ones who blow themselves up.


The most tragic and miserable lives are those led by the Chechen militia who patrol the city unarmed. They are frequently targeted by locals because they work with the Russian government


We, the inhabitants of Grozny, know that this is a commercial war. We see how the Russians export oil in convoys protected by armoured personnel carriers and helicopters. Maybe Putin wishes to end this conflcit but not all of his generals are rich enough yet and not all the 'mercenaries' are generals.


Zuleikhan Bagalova is the director of the LAM cultural centre in Grozny


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