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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Air Attack Mars Noon Cease-Fire

GROZNY -- The cease-fire which Chechen and Russian leaders had sketchily agreed would start at noon Wednesday was broken only a few minutes after it began.


On the south edge of town, residents of this battle-scarred city were scrambling down a hillside as their cars and trucks negotiated an almost vertical mud track out of the city, taking the chance that today things would be quieter.


It had been broadcast that after eight days of raging battles Chechen leader Aslan Maskhadov and Russian commander General Konstantin Pulikovsky had struck a cease-fire deal.


A few minutes after noon, the cease-fire was supposed to be in place and many of the refugees on the makeshift road must have thought they had nearly made it.


But two Russian Sukhoi 25 jets appeared from nowhere in raking the cars driving down the hillside with rocket and machine gun fire.


Some lucky passengers fled just in time, leaping from their cars and running away across the open slope, the eyewitnesses said. Chechen rebel spokesman Movladi Udugov told Russian Ekho Moskvy radio that some refugees had been killed.


The wreck of two cars could be seen smoldering on the hill. The hood of a white Volvo had been flung 50 meters beyond the car, which, smashed and half-burnt, was barely recognizable.


A white Kamaz truck lay smoking below, its tires still burning. Around it, the hillside was pitted by at least eight deep craters, exploded rocket casings still visible inside them. Refugees were still running down the hillside, terrified to sit in their cars, and scanning the sky nervously for more helicopters.


"They said on the transistor there would be a cease-fire from noon and that they would open a corridor [for people to leave the city], so we came out," said Lyalya Eldarova, who was riding in a bus behind the two destroyed vehicles.


"There were two planes, they were circling, we saw them and we all ran for cover. They fired with their machine guns," said another passenger.


"It is complete chaos. They say there is a cease-fire and they shoot up civilians on the road," Eldarova said, shaking and crying.


People on the edge of the village of Gekalo watched the frantic procession, wondering whether to risk driving in to fetch relatives stranded in the city.


"I came out this morning to see how it was and now I'm going back in to fetch my sister and her family," said one woman, Tamara, determined despite the attack. "It was quieter this morning, they are still firing, but it was a bit quieter."


"We could not stay longer, we had no food or water and Russian soldiers came the last three nights into our cellar to check passports. They arrested many men in the district," Eldarova said, adding she came from the southern district of Oktyabrskoye.


Many refugees came out in battered Lada cars, dented by shrapnel and with blown-out windows, testament to the heavy explosions they had endured during the last week in Grozny.


Beside the road, Umar Khamsatov sat smoking a cigarette after the journey out of Grozny. A ragged hole gaped in the roof of his car, torn by a mortar that landed on it a few days before in his backyard. The back seat was ripped to shreds but the engine was intact, and he had made it out safely.