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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

THE GREAT GAME:Shy Chechen's War Reporting Deserves Praise




Last week, I was in Bodo of all places, a small town in the far north of Norway. Fishing boats and fjords are about all there is there, but somewhat incongruously, I was steeped in Chechen issues.


Some 400 Norwegian journalists descended on the town for a yearly conference, and one of the seminars billed was "The High-8 versus the Kalashnikov" by Chechen journalist Khazman Umarova.


The sad thing was that Khazman never made it. She was stuck in Moscow trying to secure a passport from the Russian bureaucrats. The woman who escaped through Russian military lines time and again during the war failed when it came to dealing with officialdom. As one friend said: "The Chechens are brilliant fighters but no good at bureaucracy."


We were supposed to do the presentation together but in the end I had to do it on my own. I found that even in her absence, Khazman was the main draw. The local press was on to me to know why she had not been able to travel, suspecting Russian motives in the delay.


In a talk to local journalism students, the stories about Khazman raised the most interest and even a few laughs. Of my slides, full of the agony and horror of the war, the ones of Khazman laughing with Chechen fighters were a welcome high point.


She is a petite, shy 27-year-old. Looking at her, you would never imagine she was capable of such extraordinary feats of bravery and resilience that have made her a legend among both local and foreign journalists in Chechnya.


She became a journalist by chance. A British reporter gave her a High-8 video camera to take into the village of Samashki after the massacre by Russian troops. The village was blockaded, and only local Chechen women were being allowed in.


Khazman's footage of burned bodies pulled from the cinders of their homes was the first confirmation of the massacre.


From then on, she worked to film, for posterity, the major battles of the war and the scenes of bomb attacks, as well as demonstrations and interviews with the Chechen leadership.


She worked for Presidentsky Kanal, Chechnya's first channel set up by the then-President Dzhokhar Dudayev, which became a clandestine channel under Russian occupation, broadcasting from a mobile transmitter in the mountains.


As I watched it, I often thought of Khazman somewhere up in the mountains, interviewing Dudayev in his various hideouts, editing the film in the back of a car and transmitting the material from a makeshift television station.


She slipped through checkpoints and crossed the front line time and again, once bringing through a metal rod for a new transmitter, telling the soldiers itwas a curtain rail for her bombed-out house.


She followed the Chechen fighters into some of the most dangerous fighting, including the hostage raid in Pervomaiskoye, where she was the only journalist filming on the Chechen side.


She did a huge service to her people, gathering and broadcasting information and helping foreign journalists, which allowed Chechnya to win the propaganda war. And she had the hardest task of all, reporting a war against her own people that tore her apart inside. The risks were great -- in particular, capture by the Russian forces -- and she could never take a break or fly home to peace and quiet.


I wish she had been there to hear the applause.