Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Atrocities Return to Samashki, Refugees Say

URUS-MARTAN, Chechnya -- Russian soldiers have run amok for a second time in a year in Samashki, massacring civilians and looting where they could as fighting raged in other parts of the village, wounded refugees and medical personnel said Thursday.

Some 20 wounded civilians were brought out to Urus-Martan's central hospital, 30 kilometers away, with tales of terror of marauding soldiers who threw grenades at them and planes that bombed their convoy as they tried to escape.

Aset Dutayeva, 26, said she hid with 17 others, 7 of them children, on the first day of the storm in her cellar on Ulitsa Kalinina on the south side of the village backing onto the woods.

"A tank stood pointing at each house, standing outside the backyard. We went out to show that we were just civilians, to ask them not to shoot. When we came out, they began firing," she said.

"The soldiers told us to come out and stand in a group. They took all our things from the house and put them in an APC," said Dutayeva. "They loaded our sheep into an APC."

"They were young soldiers and adults. They were cruel and vicious. The old women wanted to embrace them and plead with them not to shoot, and they hit them away with their rifle butts."

"We gathered together in a group as they ordered, and then suddenly they tossed grenades in among us, five grenades," she said. been under artillery and aviation attack for a week now, as Russian forces battle with rebel fighters in the village.

Dutayeva, whose husband and father were killed in last year's massacre and brother crushed by a tank months later, thought her mother was dead, too. Shrapnel pierced through her eye and lodged in her brain, but the 65-year-old grandmother survived four days in a grain cellar beneath the animals' stables, hiding from the soldiers before the family escaped. Doctors gave her a 50-50 chance of pulling through Thursday.

The group cowered in a cellar for four days under constant bombardment, while in another street Ramzan Dadayev, 36, a doctor on leave from his usual job working with the fighters in the mountains, toiled with two nurses in a cellar five meters square on dozens of wounded.

"It was a nightmare. There was so little room you had to stand on one leg," he said. "All I had was a small medical bag. By the second day, everything had run out."

Dadayev kept 27 badly wounded patients with him, sending away dozens more who could walk to other cellars. "We had five the first day, then a pause, then two to three people were coming every hour." Two died in the cellar, he said, one other on the way out.

Young fighters urged Dadayev and most of the civilians to flee Monday, saying they expected the Russian troops to storm again.

They gathered on the main street, loading the wounded into a Kamaz truck and set out mid-afternoon, heading south. Within minutes, they came under shell fire, then jets roared out of nowhere and bombed the main street, killing two and wounding several more civilians who were following on foot, said Fatimah Isiyeva, who was with her wounded brother.

She had saved him from Russian forces who torched their cellar, begging them on her knees to let her carry him out first. "They were in a panic, all the women were screaming. One soldier aimed his sniper rifle at me, then another said 'Run quickly.'"

Finally Tuesday they succeeded in getting through to Achkoi Martan after long delays at the Russian checkpoint, Dadayev said. Soldiers were not allowing males between the age of 10 and 50 out through the checkpoint, Isiyeva said, although some did get through.

Khasan Isiyev survived, his entire body pockmarked by mortar fragments when a shell landed before him as he went to feed his cattle on the first morning. A tattoo on his upper arm, done when he was serving in the Soviet Army, was the only patch unscathed -- even his teeth were smashed. "It was fear and terror all around. After this, even hell could not be worse," he said.

Russian forces, which moved on Samashki last Thursday from Sernovodsk, claimed to have freed the town of all rebel fighters after six days of fierce battle Wednesday.

Officers guarding a roadblock some 15 kilometers from the village said Wednesday they heard first the town was taken and then an hour later that fresh fighting had broken out.

They refused to let this reporter through to Achkoi Martan, just south of Samashki, where many refugees from the village are sheltering.

Chechen commander Doku Makhayev in the nearby town of Gekhi said rebel reinforcements had gone into Samashki on Monday. He said he did not know how many fighters there were, since they were not his men, but he said there could be as many as 200 to 300.

He predicted a long fight. "[Russian forces] will not take Samashki. The fighters have dug trenches, even bombs cannot touch them."