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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Women Scorn Both Sides in War

GROZNY -- As their men are slaughtered and their city is destroyed around them, a growing number of women in Chechnya are not only speaking out against the Russian Army, but against their president, Dzhokhar Dudayev.

"He is an adventurist. For two years he has not paid us our pensions. He said: 'Your children should look after you.' In fact all the money is going towards the military and the war," said Nina Silayeva, 70, a third-generation Russian living in Chechnya.

Silayeva, a former champion gymnast, still sparkles with energy despite her arthritis and the strain of living in a city under constant artillery attack and aerial bombardment.

She and her husband Yevgeny have refused to leave their fifth floor apartment just off Prospekt Lenina, the central street leading to the Presidential Palace -- the main target of Russian guns in recent weeks.

"We have tea and plenty of potatoes," Silayeva said cheerfully. They had swept up the broken glass from the blown-out windows and neatly nailed cardboard over the gaping holes.

Like many of the Russians who have stayed on, the Silayevs are well assimilated, professing a deep love for the republic of Chechnya and its people. But the president's extravagant comments are too much for Nina Silayeva.

"Dudayev said women should stay at home and be only mothers and wives and not study or earn a living," she said, her blue eyes flashing and amethyst earrings catching the light as she shook her head. "That I cannot agree with."

There are many Chechen women who, despite the traditions governing their lives, agree with Silayeva.

Dr. Zura Yusupova, mother of two and doctor at the biological disease hospital in central Grozny, said she had not heard Dudayev's comment. "But he did say girls should not study beyond the third class, that is nine years old," she said. "Many Chechens do not agree with that."

Yusupova and her economist husband, members of the educated Chechen middle class, both went through higher education and want the same for their teenage children.

Her husband lost his job in the Economics Ministry when Dudayev came to power and Yusupova herself has not been paid for two years. "Women are now all working in trade, selling goods in the street," she said.

Over the last two years Zura Asukhanova, a Chechen mother of three, has traveled to Hungary, Austria and Poland to buy women's and children's clothes, selling them in Grozny to help her husband, a driver, build their house.

They live in the village of Alkhan-Yurt, only 12 kilometers from Grozny, but their lives are bound by rural village traditions.

Men and women live in separate wings, and guests are expected to follow suit.

Despite her equality in earning power, Asukhanova and her daughters fulfill the traditional role of housekeeping. They bake fresh bread every morning, serving the men at table, waiting until they are fed before eating themselves and washing their clothes and boots long into the night.

Only one Chechen woman, a 30 year-old, armed with a Kalashnikov, has been spied fighting alongside the men on the frontline in Grozny -- although several others have been happy to pose with guns for the photographers. Journalists have failed to find the famous Baltic sniper women who, according to the Russians, are fighting as mercenaries in Chechnya.

But even if the women of Chechnya are not fighting as equals, they remain a formidable force providing unstinting back-up to their menfolk in the struggle for independence.

Svetlana Dudayeva, 24, a Russian housewife married to a Chechen fighter and no relation to the president, said she stayed alone in her apartment on the outskirts of Grozny waiting for her husband to return from the front.

"He comes back after three days or so to wash, eat and rest and then goes back to fight," she said.

Chechen fighters, mostly irregulars and volunteers, have the luxury of a strong family support system that the demoralized Russian soldiers sorely miss.