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

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

In Chechnya, Everyone's a Victim

Lyudmila Fyodorova, a 51-year-old nurse from Grozny, is a war refugee.

Her house was bombed by Russian warplanes and she fled to Moscow, where city authorities have denied her registration.

Fyodorova was among dozens of displaced persons - most of them from Chechnya - who gathered Wednesday at the downtown office of Civic Assistance, a human rights organization that helps refugees cope with Moscow's Soviet-era registration policies.

"My home was destroyed in the airstrikes and now they won't even accept my documents so I can live in Moscow," she said, as others nodded knowingly.

"Are you Chechen?" one woman asked.

"No, I am Russian," Fyodorova said.

The Chechens who heard Fyodorova's story shook their heads in dismay - and sympathy.

If Russians and Chechens are supposed to be at each other's throats, this comes as news to members of both nationalities who have fled the latest round of fighting in the volatile North Caucasus.

In Chechnya, they are all victims of a war they say has nothing to do with them.

And in Moscow, they are all victims of Mayor Yury Luzhkov's draconian registration policy, which - despite being declared illegal by the Constitutional Court - still requires all non-Muscovites to register with the police. After law-enforcement officials blamed a series of apartment bombings that killed nearly 300 people on Chechen rebel leader Shamil Basayev, Luzhkov ordered all temporary residents of Moscow to re-register - with special attention paid to Chechens.

As the refugees waited their turns to see a counselor, they milled about in the organization's first-floor office and the dusty courtyard, swapping horror stories.

United by their common experiences, the Chechens and the small smattering of Russian refugees on hand showed no animosity toward one another. Indeed, they appeared to get along quite well. Those asked said they always have.

"Chechens and Russians from Grozny have no problems with each other," Fyodorova said. "We lived together peacefully as neighbors and now we are all suffer ing from the games of our politicians. This whole war is a fake conflict, a political game."

"We were friends, we lived together peacefully," said an elderly Russian woman from Grozny who fled Chechnya in 1995 during the last war and gave her name only as Yelena Petrovna. "We have no argument with each other. Banditry and terrorism exist among all people and have no nationality."

Lyubov Yunusova, 53, who fled Grozny last month when the bombing started, agreed, saying: "Let them kill Basayev, but why are they being so cruel to women and children?

"We got along fine before all these wars started. Now the police look at my passport and say with wide eyes, 'Oh my God! You are a Chechen,'" Yunusova said. "I say yes, but I am also a person, a human being. ... I am not a criminal. I am not a drug addict. I don't even drink. They say we are bandits and terrorists. I worked at the railroad my whole life. Do I look like a bandit? This all makes me sick in my very soul."

Lyuiza Saidova, a 44-year-old Chechen who fled Grozny last month, told of how her son was arrested and brutally beaten by Moscow police as he was trying to get his car repaired.

"They are the bandits," Saidova said in reference to the Russian authorities. "They bombed our house, they denied us registration and now they took my son and called him a criminal."

This time, the Russians nodded in sympathy.

Saidova and other Chechens present expressed sympathy for Russian soldiers who are being sent to fight in the Caucasus.

"I feel sorry for those poor Russian boys who are being sent down there to die for nothing," Saidova said.

Most Russians left Grozny during the 1994-96 war, Moscow's ill-fated attempt to prevent Chechen independence that left 80,000 people dead.

And many Russians who fled Chechnya for Moscow then are still being denied registration today.

Consider Sergei Dovedenko, a native Muscovite.

Dovedenko, now 60, finds himself in the same boat as Chechens, whom the Kremlin has done such an effective job of demonizing.

In 1983, Dovedenko exchanged his Moscow apartment for a large single-family home in Grozny. Now, he is a refugee in his native city. He has no registration papers, receives no pension and makes ends meet by collecting empty bottles on the street.

When he made the move to Grozny back in 1983, Dovedenko thought he was getting a good deal.

"The climate is better there and I was getting a whole house in exchange for a cramped Moscow apartment," he said. "I was thinking about my health."

And for a decade, Dovedenko didn't regret the move - that is, until Chechnya declared independence in 1991. When Russian troops invaded in 1994, Chechen authorities tried to draft Dovedenko's son Pavel into their army. The two then fled Grozny for Moscow. Since then, the city has denied father and son registration.

Dovedenko has plenty of nasty words for the Russian authorities, but has nothing bad to say about the Chechen people.

"I lived with them for years," he said. "How can I now suddenly believe that they are all bandits?"