Chechnya Testimonies: Interview with Akaev

Testimonies from Chechen Refugees in Georgia. Taken by MSF in December 1999, in Akhmeta, Georgia
Interview with Akaev, December 21, 1999 in the courtyard of Hospital ##1, 11:30 a.m. Akaev is 47 years old. He is originally from the 'Rodina rayon' district, in the proximity of the airport of Grozny. On October 19, Akaev sent his wife, his two daughters of 19 and 14 years old, and his son of 13 to Voronej and stayed alone in Grozny. He finally left the capital November 26 for Itum Kale, his native region, where his brother lives. Between October 19th and November 26th, Akaev made 12 trips to Itum Kale in order to evacuate the people of 'Rodina Rayon' to the South.

"The surrounding hills were all occupied by federal troops who positioned their heavy artillery. The Chechen fighters were situated close to the Electric power station of Radina.

"During this period, apart from one exception, the centre of our village was not hit: the Russian targeted the airport and notably, small civilian planes. On the other hand, when the Chechen fighters were fighting back the Russian attacks, the village was under fire from the airforce. The first bombardment set off a wave of panic: the people ran in all directions to save their lives, as if on a sinking boat. We were under the impression that the Russian military not only wanted to force the civilians to leave, but also to destroy us completely, because they followed the columns of refugees with their planes and pillaged them.

"After the bombarding of the Grozny market, around October 22nd, where a few dozens of people were killed, Hospital ##9 didn't have the capacity of receiving any more wounded. The wounded of Rodina were then taken to Hospital ##36, 6 km from Rodina. One of my relatives died during the transfer between the two hospitals.

Almost all of the doctors left with the refugees and we didn't have anymore drugs apart from those from our personal pharmacy cupboards. Those who had money were able to pay the transport to a hospital; the others managed, hitchhiking. And everyone tried to help everyone else.

"Ruslan and Beslan Saidulaiev, two brothers from Rodina, were also killed during the Russian bombarding on the village: one was dead on the spot, the other during the trip to the hospital. Their two bodies as well as a woman's and a young man's killed in the refugee column fleeing towards Nazran were taken to Itum Kale, their native region, in accordance to our clan's traditions. Because of the bombarding, the burials were held at night.

"When the bombarding started to touch our village, I decided to send my family to Ingushetia, to a cousin's. At that time there were no strict controls to go to Nazran. But the Russians stopped men from 15 to 55 from leaving Chechnya if they didn't have residency cards in Russia. During the incessant bombarding, we lived in cellars. Many cellars were built during the Soviet period. We had little food but we left at night to find some. Some people left to sleep in their houses and returned to the cellar at any minor alert.

"When I arrived at Itum Kale, all the wounded were transported towards Shattili, in Georgia. But the men, even the wounded, were not authorized to cross the border if they didn't pay $200 or $300 to the Georgian border guards. At that time, the price of passage of woman and children varied from $50 to $100.

"December 4th, I transported in my truck three families, around 26 people, to the Georgian border. The least dangerous time to move was during the night, starting at 2 a.m. Thus we travelled at night but it was as bright as daylight: there were explosions everywhere and the forest seemed ablaze. The trip is very difficult due to the impact of the bombs: the roads and bridges destroyed.

"December 6th, I made another trip to the border, with refugees. People were already there: they could cross averaging $400 per vehicle.

"When I arrived at Itum Kale, the village's central road and all the neighboring buildings were completely destroyed.

"December 9th, I left for the border, this time for good. We formed a small convoy of seven vehicles with people from Itum Kale but also from the neighboring villages of Tasbischi and Kakadoi. That day, the Russian airforce made 52 raids. I counted them - the planes dropped 'deep bombs.' During four days, the planes passed non-stop: 72 times the first day, 54 the second etc - hitting the roads, the villages and targeting the refugees.

"We arrived at the border at 5 a.m. Since the road leading to the border was in terrible shape, we had a very hard time crossing. We had to push our vehicle and then it fell into the river. Everything was lost.

At the border, the Georgian guards did not facilitate our crossing! We had to wait from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. Some people had been waiting for three days. One had been hiding for one week in some sort of ditch, situated in no-man's-land between the two borders, a zone hit by the rockets. Finally 12 cars were able to cross at one time. The border guards waited until the last second, after taking all they could: money, flour, potatoes, and even a car! We gave them all they asked for. In any case we couldn't turn around, we would have all been killed. We had no other choice but to wait at the border, until death if necessary.

"Finally, as if the guards were scared that the border would get bombarded, they let us through. Once in Georgia, customs officials first registered us in Djinvali. They controlled everything, even laundry detergent, as if we were transporting drugs. We then left for Tbilissi, then to Akhmeta - where we spent the night - and finally to Duisi. Here, we have been registered again. I carry the number 921. From what we were told, this status allows us access to humanitarian aid but we must find lodging on our own. We have been here for three days; we haven't seen the Red Cross. There are long lines everywhere, people who are looking to settle down. The locals help us a lot, even if their living conditions are very hard.

"A lot of people stayed in Itum Kale. People must stay with the elderly and the sick who cannot travel. I don't have any more information on them or on the eight people that stayed in our house. In the day, they probably hide in a hole ion the forest and return to their house at night. The food is cold: a fire cannot be made or else it will be a signal for the planes.

"This war is against civilians. They want to exterminate our nation. What the Russians want, is Chechnya without the Chechens."