Chechnya Testimonies: Interview of a group of men

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

Interview of a group of men in Akhmeta, Georgia.

This interview is with a group of men, the majority of whom had arrived December 24.
They are very nervous and bitter. They hang out in the streets because they have not yet found a house.

The first man speaks: "I am originally from Shagalli in the area of Urus Martan, but I was living in Grozny. The Russian forces were bombarding Grozny intensively and no one asked them for repayment.

"The first attack was launched on September 6. I was at that moment in the area of Katayama, in the centre of the city. After that, Grozny was bombarded without stop with missiles, rockets, which 95% affected civilians only. I came here alone. The 2nd of October, I made my whole family leave to go towards Shagalli, to my older brother's house. Since the roads have been blocked, I haven't been able to go back there. My brother-in-law, a doctor, was killed on the road to ltum Kale, in southern Chechnya, during Russian bombarding. The big central road in Itum Kale was completely destroyed. The Russian military use missiles of massive destruction, prohibited by the Geneva Convention.

"November 29, they also targeted a column of refugees heading to Ingushetia. There were numerous dead as well as many wounded. In Grozny, only Hospital Number 9 still worked. The others were destroyed... I think that the goal of the Russian forces is to make sure that the buildings that provide healthcare and help are destroyed... The people then tried to transfer the wounded to other buildings, to Stare Atagi, for example. The Russian military did not allow any of the wounded to go to Nazran, in Ingushetia, to get care.

"I believe that the Russian government is intent on completely destroying Chechnya.

Magomed, a young man of 32 who arrived December 16th, continues: "In Chechnya, everything that moves is a target: the cows, the cars... everything! I am from the region of Gargoshi, in the region of Shatoi. It is a village, comprised of around 20 houses that is today essentially populated only by older, poor people. But that did not prevent the Russians from dropping five bombs on Gargoshi in addition to multiple small rockets. All 20 houses, including mine, were hit: we could see the flames in some of them.

"A few women and 10 children lived in my house. During the bombing, three people were wounded; one of which was a seriously injured woman. It was very hard to transport the injured. For this reason, most of the transfers happened during the night. That day, it was practically impossible to go out because the planes continued their rounds above us.

"We finally succeeded in transporting the wounded woman to Chatoy where the last surgeon remaining in the area operated on her. Today she is close by, in Djokolo, with her three children.

"During this attack, Nichaloy, a neighboring village, also was directly hit. Three children and two women died on the spot. Nothing was left of them to bury.... Another woman became paralyzed with an explosion in her back.

Umar, a third man intervened, he arrived December 24th: "One woman and her two children were killed by a Russian sniper on the road to the Georgian border. Their bodies are still there. Nobody can get them. This road, it was our last possibility to leave Chechnya. It is now closed. Russian snipers are located all along it. I am originally from Chelkovskoy, in the north of the Republic. At the beginning of September, when I heard that war was coming towards Chelkovskoy, I brought my whole family to Itum Kale, in the South. I took my car with my wife, my two daughters and my sons. We traveled in the day, without a white flag. The road was constantly bombarded. At the edge of the road, we saw a truck ablaze with the bodies of its passengers inside. We couldn't get them out. We also saw a red car with five dead inside.
We arrived in Itum Kale in one day. We stayed in this village until our departure for Georgia, at the end of December.

"Itum Kale and its surroundings were bombarded without a break. All that moves was a potential target: civilians, cattle. . Our graveyards, our old fortresses were also targets. To protect ourselves, we built a shelter in the end of our garden. We were staying in it all the time.

"When we decided to leave for Georgia, we didn't take everyone with us. All of the children - mine and those of my relatives - stayed behind because we were not sure of the road; we were not sure if there were snipers hidden along it. In addition, we didn't know if the Georgians would let us cross the border. My children stayed behind with three of my brothers and my mother. A lot of people are still in Chechnya and a lot of people still want to leave. But this has become impossible.

"We arrived at the border on December 10. We were 24 people; men, women, and children. None of us were fighters. We stayed blocked there for nearly two weeks because the Georgian border was closed. By putting together all of our money, we were finally able to cross by paying the guard 200 dollars. Without it, we would never have crossed.

"Once in Georgia, we were transported to Kasbegi by helicopter, towards Northern Ossetia, in the Russian Federation. Certain of the refugees were forced by Russian officials to go to Nazran, in Ingushetia, also on the Russian Federation territory. We didn't want to go to Nazran. We wanted to stay here, close to our families. We were a group of 120: 57 left for Ingushetia, the others towards Akhmeta, in Georgia. We were brought with the help of the UNHCR and a Georgian official."

Said Ibrahim, another man in the group, interrupted him: "When, at the beginning of September, the war in Dagestan started, the regions of Itum Kale, of Sharoy, of Galanchoy, of Cheberloy were bombarded." Said takes out a calendar from his pocket: "The 6th of September between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. there were 30 passes of Russian planes. The 7th of September, there were nine between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. and two between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. The 8th of September, between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., the Russian planes passed 11 times and again three times during the night. And it goes on. I noted everything down." Said shows all of the annotated pages of his calendar. "I calculated that in one month, the Russian airforce had made 548 bombing raids on Itum Kale, Ceberloy, Galanchoy, etc. I also counted day by day, the number of deaths and of injured in Itum Kale: November 22, two refugees from Grozny were killed; another was wounded. October 26, there were five killed and three injured; October 30, 7 killed and 4 wounded. November 1, 3 people were killed and four others wounded.. .1 could continue like this for a while..."