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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Mothers Weep as Chechnya Celebrates


Chechen leaders celebrated the third anniversary Wednesday of the first skirmish in their independence war against Moscow, but in the Russian capital women wept for sons lost in the botched and bloody campaign.

Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov addressed a festive crowd in the capital, Grozny, on the site of a battle with pro-Moscow Chechens on Nov. 26, 1994. It began a war that ended 21 months and some 30,000 deaths later with the region's status little changed.

Speaking amid the ruins of Grozny, Maskhadov told the Moslem Chechens that Allah recognized their independence, even if Moscow and the rest of the world did not. Chechnya and the Kremlin are still haggling over a final settlement more than a year after the war's end in August 1996.

For some, though, the war is far from over.

Yulia Zharina, for example, is still fighting her battle -- with the Russian authorities -- to find the remains of her son Ivan, a 19-year-old conscript listed as missing presumed killed on Aug. 6, 1996, the day Maskhadov's guerrilla army launched its final victorious assault to retake Grozny.

She has little hope he is alive. But, like many of the mothers who used the third anniversary to publicize their problems, she is concerned at the lack of progress in finding and identifying remains to return them to grieving parents.

"I've been several times to Chechnya and to Rostov," said Zharina, a lecturer in astrophysics from the central Ulyanovsk region, referring to the army morgue at Rostov-on-Don.

"We don't want them to bury our children in a mass grave at Rostov. We want to take them home," she said, tears welling in her eyes. "But for that we need money for special equipment to do tests on the remains, genetic tests and so on."

"I haven't seen or heard from my son for three years. But I believe he is still alive," said Nadezhda Chegodayeva from Samara. "No one is helping us find him and now it's even harder for us to go to Chechnya and look than it was during the war."

Her son Alexei, a 19-year-old conscript junior sergeant, was commanding a light tank on New Year's Day 1995, when Russian armored columns rolled into Grozny with heavy losses.

In his nine months of service, Alexei had never even taken part in an exercise in his tank. He and his 18-year-old gunner, Alexander Anufriyev, also from Samara, were taken prisoner.

Chechens told the mothers, who traveled to the region during the fighting, that the young men were taken prisoner.

"They're not in Rostov [morgue]," Chegodayeva said. "So we have some hope. But we're getting no help from the state."

Activists from the Mother's Right lobby group condemned obstructionism on the part of the army, the government and the courts in recognizing the rights of relatives of those killed in what Moscow insists was a civil disturbance rather than a "war."

Separately, a group of gunmen kidnapped nine police officers in Russia's republic of Ingushetia on Wednesday and took them to neighboring Chechnya, officials said.

The early-morning abduction was carried out by Chechen gunmen who want to exchange the police officers for eight Chechen guerrillas detained by Russian authorities, Ingush Interior Minister Daud Karigov was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.

Chechen Interior Minister Kazbek Makhashev said an emergency task force was investigating the attack, Interfax reported. An Ingush delegation led by Deputy Prime Minister Askhap Goigov left for the Chechen capital Grozny to look into the kidnapping.