15 September 2000
Grozny, the capital of Chechen Republic, was one of the most beautiful cities in the entire North Caucauss not too long ago. Now it is a shattered piece of earth which has been completely destroyed. All that is left is the earth which is stained red by the blood of innocent people.
I was living in the center of Grozny with my husband and children. When the Russian army entered the city we closed our home and moved to my parents home which was situated in the suburbs of the city. My husband and I decided to stay there until the military operations calmed down. But that never happened. Instead, it got worse. When it became too dangerous to stay, we decided to leave Grozny. Even leaving was dangerous as the bombing was constant and there were land mines, snipers and more. But we had no choice. By this time, Grozny was being bombed indiscriminately and without stop. I feared for the safety of my children as so many were dying as the bombs destroyed house after house. Our whole family decided to move out of the city except my father. My father refused to go and said that he would stay home and protect it from looters.
My husband, mother, brother, my children and I all moved in one care. My husband was driving. The bombing was intense and there was explosion after explosion. I was afraid and was begging God to help us, as I was afraid that one of those bombs will hit our car. It was already twilight, and we were moving very slowly, we had no possibility to switch the lights on. My mother and I were in a half-crooked position from the fear. I pressed my children tightly to my body. They were crying and I tried in vain to calm them down but that was impossible.
Suddenly I heard a sound that I have never heard before-- as if there hundreds of stones falling on our car. The sound only lasted a few seconds but I found myself screaming, begging to go faster and to take us out of this hell. The car stopped. Seconds later I heard blood-curdling shriek of my mother. I looked and found her in a pool of blood. I thought that my mother was badly injured, and I started to check her, trying to find the place where the blood was coming from. Moment later I realized that I also was covered in blood. It was at this time that I saw that blood was pouring somewhere from the front side. I checked my children and nothing happened to them. I was in shock and did not quite understand where the blood was coming from or what was happening. It was almost dark and there were no lights. I screamed out “What happened ? Where does this blood gets from ?” I was hoping to get an answer from my brother and husband. When no answer followed, I noticed my brother slowly falling to the left side while my husband was sitting straight without emotions as if looking down.
Then I understood that the sound of those falling stones was the sound of bullets ripping through our car and hitting my husband and brother in their heads. I still did not know if they were alive or not. I was in a panic and did not know what to do. I told my children to get out of the car. Then my mother and I went to the front of the car to get my husband and brother out. When we took them out of the car I saw that blood pouring out of the head of my husband and brother. I understood only then that they were dead. I started screaming and calling for help, but there was no one to help us. We dragged their bodies to the road side. Mother was in shock: screaming and crying.
After several minutes, we saw tank moving toward us on high speed. I was scared that they will kill us too. I told my children to hide while my mother and I stayed near the bodies. Soldiers looked out of the tank just said that we have to move out quickly from this district otherwise we will be killed. My mother cried asking them to help us, to help her son and my husband. But they said that they could not help us and they gave us a blanket to cover the bodies. We had to leave. I covered the bodies with a blanket. I remembered the place they were lying on.
All this have happened in not more than 15 minutes, but for me it was like an eternity.
My mother said that we had to get back to my father so that he could get the bodies. We left the car and started back. I was very afraid for my children and my mother. My mother was in shock and crying all the way back. The way back was very difficult and exhausting. There was no man with us: it was just two women and two children. We had to move-- otherwise we would be killed. As it was dark, we did not recognize the streets. Everything was in ruin. The streets were full of burning military machines, bodies and people in panic. No one looked at other. Everyone was trying to save their own lives. . This is the only thing that comes on the mind when people are killed around you-when they are killed for no reason and killed just for their presence.
The distance that we had covered by car in one hour was took us en entire day and night to walk. By day we had to stay in the basements of houses in order not to be killed or to be caught and placed in concentration camps. Russians call these “ filtration centers”.
Thanks to God we reached our house and found my father. When he saw us and the tears in our eyes he understood everything and asked “ Where did this happen, and where are the bodies …. ?” I have explained everything and explained the place where the bodies were lying. He waited until dark, then told us to hide in basement of the house and wait. Then he left.
I have not seen my father since. He didn’t come back. One week passed. A second week passed. And my father didn’t return. After one month I had the first chance to go to the place where this all happened. I went and found nothing there. It is impossible to find somebody who is missing or killed. There were no specific places for the gathering of bodies. We searched for my father and the bodies of my husband and brother for another month, but all was in vain. We found hundreds of other people who were also like us looking for their parents, children, brothers fathers and mothers. And they, too, never found their loved ones.
Up to today I don’t know what happened to my father. I do not know if he was killed or captured and sent to a filtration camp where people are tortured to death, humiliated and beaten up.
During this time, my mother, children and I were living in the basement of my parents house. There was no light, no sanitation, no heat, no medicines if we got sick. There was never enough food and we had to cook on fires made of wood. Hot tea was the only possibility to warm the body up, as the basement was all concrete and it was very cold.
Everyday there was “cleaning up” of the territory by Russian soldiers. The Russians called it the “mopping up” campaigns. It was very dangerous to come out of the basements at these times. Russian soldiers were concentrated on capturing all males, even as young as 12 or 13 or as old as 60. They would place them in filtration or concentration camps. Any one who resisted was killed on spot. Any male from 12 to 60 years old was considered a rebel and captured or killed.
Killed because he is a male. There was no distinction between fighters or civilians; young or old. Or the shooting down of women and children. The raping of women. The contemptuous treatment, physical and spiritual humiliation, torture, fear and intimidation. This will never be understood by me nor by anyone else who has lost her husband, brother, mother or children in this war. It is shameful. And all of this is ordered by military leaders, commanders, government leaders and others who never see the horrors of what they order. They do not hear the screams of children or truly “see” the blank stares in the eyes of children who have seen so much horror and destruction in their short lives. They do not truly see the horrors due to their constant bombs and land mines which do not discriminate. They do not see what goes on the ground with soldiers who come into our villages. Because all of these crimes are war crimes. And why the Russian soldiers do this: because they fear that a person may represent a danger of resistance to the Russian army or may fight against the Russian army. Because some may thirst for revenge. Because some Russian soldiers fear for their own lives and transfer it into aggression against those who cause this fear. Maybe that is why so many of our women are raped. Why so many of our innocent civilians are tortured, murdered, mutilated and intimidated.
Several times we were forced to leave the basement of our house, because our neighbors informed us that there is a possibility that our district will be bombed. And it was bombed many times. We would have to quickly leave and find other basements in other districts to hide. Many were overfilled by people. Sometimes it was difficult to find a place to lie down and we would have to sleep sitting up. There was a lack of fresh water, food or sanitation. There was sickness. It is impossible to describe all that happened with the people. It is impossible to describe what people were going through or what their eyes have seen. It was nearly impossible to sleep or to relax. Our minds and bodies were always tense and filled with fear. We feared that the soldiers could reveal the place you sit in and kill everyone. This happened a lot. We feared that our house could collapse and bury us alive. That also happened a lot.
After some period of time my mother told me to take my children and go to join my eldest son who was studying in another country. I had sent him there several months before the war began. This was a blessing from God. However, it was very difficult for me to leave my mother. But she insisted that I have to do this for the sake of my children. It was extremely dangerous and difficult to get out of Chechnya. Today I am temporarily living in another country with my two youngest children eldest son. We have no idea what our future will hold.
My house in Chechnya is destroyed. I have lost my friends and my relatives. I am not the only who encountered this. We have lost 10% of our population, if not more, in less than 5 years. Tens of thousands of Chechens are victimized and physically and spiritually maimed forever. Thousands of Chechens remain in captivity by the Russian army. There are tens of thousands living in squalor in refugee camps in neighboring republics of Chechnya. Everything has been destroyed. Our children have grown up with only war, horrors and the stench of death. All of us have been maimed by this merciless and brutal war which does not seem to end.
Anyone can clearly understand the target of the Russian government. They want Chechen land without Chechen people, and they know very well how to do it. Russian government tries to take away memory and culture of the Chechen nation. Stalin tried to do this by exiling all of us in 1944, destroying our books and removing us from maps and references. Now the Russians have once again come back. This time our museums, libraries, historical monuments and centers are completely destroyed. Our water supply & sewage systems, hospitals, schools, homes are all destroyed. The discrimination against Chechen people is extreme everywhere. International laws and conventions regarding protection of our culture, help for our people, human rights and war crimes are virtually ignored by the Russians. International aid groups, press and others are severely restricted from helping us. Tens of thousands are displaced not only in refugee camps, but internally. They have nowhere to go, nowhere to hide. We have been deprived of basic human conditions. Infectious diseases are spreading due to contaminated water, lack of sanitation and lack of doctors and supplies. Food shortages are causing extreme malnutrition, especially in children. People literally live in sub human conditions inside Chechnya. The rate of infant mortality is high. More than half of the babies born in displaced families die. We are suffering in silence with so much horror around us.
Many times I have been asked about this war. And every time I am at a loss for word. I don’t know what to say. I do not know where to begin. I often do not know who to blame. And I do not know how to describe what is happening. I am still in shock.
How should I name or describe something, that can’t be given a name or described ? From what to start ?
Should I tell you about a young women who gave birth to a handsome baby in a basement next to ours ? The boy died after two weeks. He could have lived, but there was an absence of elementary conditions, an absence of water, heat, of milk to feed him. His body became weak and he was not able to withstand these subhuman conditions. He died. Who should the mother blame in death of her baby ?
This women stayed two days silently crying with this innocent baby tightly hugged in her arms. For two days she wasn’t able to go out because of constant bombings. She was not able to bury the baby in proper way. How can I describe what this women felt ? How can I describe the expression of her eyes ?
Or better to tell you about a 19 year old girl with name Hava ? Daughter of an old and ill women. Hava went out to bring water for her mother. After 10 minutes her body was brought in by women in front of which Hava was killed. She was killed by a sniper. How should I describe the heart-tearing scream of this old and ill women after she knew that her daughter, which she saw 10 minutes ago alive and sitting near to her. was killed ? What else should I tell about ?
How should I describe the helplessness in front of monstrous injustice ? How to describe weakness and absolute exhaustion from the struggle for trying to exist. And exist for what? How can anyone call our type of “existing” the word “liviing?”
And only now, when I have left my motherland, I have realized that I miss my homeland. I miss my mother who is alone to suffer. My heart aches constantly. This is the land where I am from. It is where my husband and brother and father lived. It is the earth where my friends are buried. This is the place to which all Chechens return, dead or alive. Chechnya is the place where I am most relaxed and at peace in my heart. Because when I am there, I know that I am on the ground which belongs to me and to my ancestors. I miss the tranquil nature of Chechnya before these wars. I find the outside world a strange and noisy place where everything goes so fast. I miss my Chechnya. And God willing, I will return there someday to be with my ancestors and to greet my mother if she is still alive. It is only there that I will find the tranquility and rest that I yearn for.
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