. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Disbelief, Sadness In Grozny

GROZNY -- As the new leader of rebel Chechnya gave his first press conference, just kilometers from where Dzhokhar Dudayev was killed, the people of Grozny voiced only confusion and disbelief over the death of the Chechen president.


"When I first heard it, tears came to my eyes. But I do not know if it is true," Nikolai Sambiyev, 43, a former field commander now working to clear the ruins of the presidential palace where Dudayev ruled for three years in central Grozny.


"I personally do not believe it. If a man dies, they show his body," he said. "He was our first president. If he was dead, he would not be buried by just two or three men, like a dog."


Although leading Chechen officials and field commanders, including Shamil Basayev, had officially announced the news of Dudayev's death, Sambiyev said: "Basayev just spoke from the car, they put the microphone through the window. You could not see his face."


Dudayev's death has on the face of it made surprisingly few waves in the capital, where survival is more often in people's minds.


The yellow bulldozers crawled on their caterpillar treads over a massive pile of rubble, all that remains of the presidential palace. People walked past, barely glancing at the workers, covered in dust, directing them.


Across the street, women manned stalls in the market as usual. "We believe that most likely he is dead," said Tumisha, a woman selling clothes and high-heeled shoes.


"But we did not see the body," she said. "Our life is just about survival," she said. "We live for today, we do not know what tomorrow will bring, we just live for today."


Another group of women, one a doctor, one a teacher, trading in the market, suggested Dudayev might be wounded and weak or even have gone into exile. All of them said they could not trust the official news.


"They said Salman Raduyev was dead, and then he appeared on television only wounded," Mina, the teacher, said of Dudayev's relative and the leader of January's hostage raid in Dagestan.


Beneath the disbelief, the recognition of the passing of their president was muted. People also said nothing would change.


Russian soldiers in the airport said they did not believe the news either and that it would not stop the field commanders' behaving as they always did.


"I always complained that he [Dudayev] always had to do it this way, through fighting and confrontation. But all the same, it is sad," said a woman who only identified herself as Mina.