Chechnya Testimonies: Interview with Djabrailov and Danaiev

Testimonies from Chechen Refugees in Georgia. Taken by MSF in December 1999, in Akhmeta, Georgia

Interview with Djabrailov and Danaiev

Interview with Djabrailov, 49 years old, and Danaiev, 43 years old, on December 25 in the region of Akhmeta, Georgia. Djabrailov and Danaiev are originally from Chatoy. They both arrived in the valley of Pankisi December 24. At the Georgian border, they were separated from their wives and their children, who arrived before them. Their entire group is composed of 24 people from four different families. All of them are from Chatoy.

Djabrailov begins: "We left Chatoy on December 11. Friday the 10th, a day of prayers, 12 'deep bombs' and four missiles hit Chatoy. The houses closest to the main street were destroyed. Ours was also hit. That day, nine people died. Many others were wounded."

Danaiev continues: "I must tell you the story of my brother who, at the end of October, was burned to death in his car. He was traveling with a column of displaced people who came from the Naour district, north of Grozny and of the Terek river, and were going towards Chatoy, in the south of the Republic. In this column, some people were with their cattle intending to hide them in the mountains of the South.
The column of refugees was bombarded. My brother's car was hit and his body was burnt inside of it."

Danaiev, who was not in the column, at the time of the bombarding, arrived on the spot a few hours later.

"We were not able to save my brother. Under the incessant firing and bombarding, it was impossible to reach his car, which was at the other side of the river. We were only able to reach his body six days later, November 4."

It is only after long negotiations with the Russian ground military that Danaiev was able to retrieve his brother's remnants:

"We first spoke to a Kumik (a Russian officer). We paid him. Then we went to see a second officer, in a bulletproof vehicle. He asked us why we wanted to pass. He told us: 'Over there, there only dead people left!'...We gave him money and vodka. With that he finally let us pass and we were able to take my brother's body. Only his bones were left. The cattle were also killed. . We rented a mule cart and spent the night there with the Kumiks because night was falling. The next day, we left the region and buried my brother."

Danaiev's other brother, a driver, was also in this refugee column was at the driver's seat of a bus.

"He was also wounded: a grenade first entered the front of the bus but didn't explode, then a rocket hit his vehicle. There were many people in this column. The people were traveling with white flags but that didn't prevent them from being fired on."

Danaiev continues his story of his departure from Chatoy.

"December 11 we decided to leave Chatoy. The wife of my dead brother had just given birth to her second daughter. She didn't want to come: she preferred to escape to Vashandaroi. Because of the intensity of the bombing, she was sure that she was going to die and wanted to stay in her country with her two daughters.

"A large number of people stayed, old people, children. A lot of cattle was abandoned too. In my family, we are six brothers. I am the only who left. My children are blind: during the first war, they were hit by debris from a bomb that landed on our house. They are still in shock. Today, we must guide them everywhere."

Danaiev's two children are between 12 and 13 years old and wear glasses with thick lenses. Danaiev continues:

"Before leaving, we were living in the basement. The Russian planes flew very low to the ground and bombed continuously. Maybe they knew that there were no fighters and could fly at low altitudes without risk. We could see the pilots' heads. . When the bombarding stopped, we would run to find food that we ate cold, uncooked.

"We had a small Gaz (a small truck). December 11 at 2 a.m., everyone that could fit in it squeezed in, and we tried to approach the Georgian border as close as possible. We had food and clothes but we had to abandon the truck (due to the bad road condition). We heard that it was burned by Russian parachuted troops.

"We arrived at the border at sunrise. December 12, in the afternoon, women were forced to pass over the border by the Georgian troops. These latter told them that the men would pass later. The women were screaming, crying and didn't want to go without their husbands. Finally they were so scared that they passed the border.

"We, the men, waited for nine days. December 14, a border guard told us that Russian snipers had parachuted down on the road leading to the border and that one woman and her children were killed. This woman must not have known that the border was closed.

"That day, there were planes and helicopters that, with their characteristic sounds that children know well, arrived out of nowhere and bombarded the entire region. December 19, four missiles hit the zone were we were staying. There were a lot of explosions but no one was hurt. A helicopter then came and dropped a type of rocket at our group. In all, we were around one hundred: our first group of men, plus women and children who had arrived the following days. During those days of waiting, three children died from the cold.

"That day, the Georgian guards finally let us through. We also waited two days on the other side.
Even though we asked to be transferred towards Akhmeta (the region that receives the most of Chechen refugees in Georgia), we were taken to Kasbegi (in proximity of the North Ossetian border, in the Russian federation)."

Djabrailov, the other man, restarts: "We didn't want to go to Kasbegi (the refugees, particularly the men, are scared of being forced back into Russian territory). Despite this, we were all transferred to Kasbegi. There, the Georgian Omons (Georgian special forces) and a Russian official in charge of emergency situations, insisted that we leave Georgia and head towards Nazran, in Ingushetia (in Russian federal territory). They threatened us; one Georgian colonel told us that he was going to bury all of us alive because we were the provocateurs. The same day, a part of our group, around 70 people, left towards the border, in the direction of Nazran. As for us, a Georgian policeman warned us not to go there: from what he knew, people (returning to the Russian federation) passed the border by bus, then were put in trucks and taken to unknown destinations. Most likely to filtration camps (Russian prison camps that also existed in the first war).

"The next day, the Russian colonel, claimed to be a representative of EMERCOM (the Russian organization in charge of the coordination of humanitarian aid) came to tell us that everyone who had left for Ingushetia was fine and that they were well taken care of... Despite all of that, I still didn't want to go, first of all because I still thought it was risky, and also because my whole family was in Akhmeta and I absolutely wanted to join them. The pressure then increased: the Georgian Special Forces surrounded the building where we were staying. We were forced to evacuate the building and then were continuously harassed, controlled, and tormented. Everything was done in order to provoke the men in our group to get angry and start a fight so that the Special Forces could intervene. But we did not move.

"Once outside, we spread our blankets on the ground for the women and children to sleep on. The locals came and shamed the military, telling them that it was scandalous to let the women and children sleep outside. Because of them, we were able to re-enter a building for the night. The UNHCR, on their part, gave us food, bread, candles and blankets. During the night, a Georgian representative, that we had not yet seen came, he told us that we would leave by bus early the next morning. We left, accompanied by the UNHCR, to Zinvali (principal point of registration for refugees arriving in Georgia). There, still in presence of UNHCR, we were carefully searched: they inspected our shoes, our clothes etc. I had some clothes for my children: the man searching me threw all of them on the floor and looked at all of my belongings one by one. The women were not searched... We then left again and were taken to Akhmeta, under police escort. The UNHCR left. We arrived at Akmeta on December 23 around 9 p.m. We were finally able to spend our first normal night, in a heated room with windows and doors. We were able to sleep, it was wonderful!

"The morning of the 24th we were driven towards Duizi (one of the principal Georgian villages welcoming refugees). We were told that we would be registered later. Since we had our families' passports, no one had been able to be registered and no one had received aid. Now, it is done: we have received blankets, mattresses. We were well received: we were offered tea and food. Without the help of the UNHCR, we would not be here!"

Djabrailov's wife takes her turn to talk. She is a nurse and, before her departure to Georgia, would once in a while help out in the hospital of Chatoy.

"There were many wounded most of them displaced people. Many children and women. Many died. The doctors worked night and day, they were always there. Such a nice hospital that we rebuilt with you (MSF was present at the hospital during the first war.)... All of the windows were broken. And we had to take the laundry, the big blankets to cover the dead.
Once in a while, medication arrived from Georgia.

"On December 11th, all of the doctors left, except Dr. Isaa, who stayed behind with a few local nurses. At that time, the hospital was filled with wounded civilians. All of the doctors left towards Duba Yurt where there was a sort of transit zone for the refugees. We also wanted to go there, but we weren't able to pass.

"Here in Georgia, the people are wonderful. They help us, they give us food. But we are 24 in a room, and with the arrival of the men, it's impossible, tomorrow we will try to move...