Install

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

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

War Has Left Medical Care in Crisis




STARYE ATAGI, Chechnya -- The teenage girl lay in a coma, her face raw and black from shrapnel wounds suffered while she was fetching water at an outdoor well during an air raid.


Doctors have been fighting for days to keep 16-year-old Maren Avdadayeva alive, despite dire shortagesof medicine, equipment and no electricity or heat in the makeshift hospital. But with no X-ray machine, they have no way to determine if any metal splinters remain embedded in her head.


After weeks of fighting, medical care in Chechnya is close to collapse. In overcrowded hospitals, patients lie on filthy, bloodstained beds - or on cold stone floors. Corpses are often left for hours beside the living.


Patients and their relatives marvel at how doctors have struggled to save lives.


"I can't find words to express what the doctors here are doing,'' said Tamara Akhmadova, a 45-year-old patient. "Without any equipment, almost with their bare hands, they save people."


There are just two X-ray machines in all of Chechnya, according to doctors in the breakaway republic. The machines are vital for treating the hundreds of people wounded by jagged shrapnel.


The makeshift hospital in Starye Atagi, about 20 kilometers south of the Chechen capital, Grozny, has been set up in an old school building. It has two operating rooms, but the single diesel generator can only provide enough power for one.


"If we had more power, we would be able to operate on the second table," said Dr. Andarbek Bakayev, his face haggard from overwork.


"We are short not only of equipment, but the basics, such as anesthetics, antibiotics and bandages," Chechen Health Minister Umar Khambiyev said. Russia stopped sending medical supplies to Chechnya almost a year ago, and most hospitals have almost nothing left, doctors said.


"When there is no other way, doctors look for medicine at home and sometimes even try to buy some with their own money," Dr. Musa Idigov said. "But we have already located everything we could find, and we don't have money to buy more."


Local residents have pitched in to help, repairing old buildings and bringing food to doctors and patients.


Like most hospitals in Chechnya, the hospital in the village of Chiri-Yurt has no heat and a single generator that provides enough power for just one operating theater.


Umar Zibukayev, 12, shivered under a thin blanket, both his legs wounded by shrapnel. His father was killed in a recent Russian air attack on Grozny, while his mother was killed during the 1994-96 war.


"Almost all of our patients are civilians, hit by bomb fragments while cutting wood in the forest, working in the field or traveling in a car," said Dr. Zhamalail Altemirov, head of the Chiri-Yurt hospital.


"Russians are using barbaric weapons against civilians," Dr. Khasan Bachayev said. "Most of our patients have very bad wounds that require amputation.''


Russian officials insist only military installations are targeted, but reporters, aid workers and others say hundreds of civilians have been killed and wounded in massive air and artillery attacks. The Chechen government claims some 4,000 people have been killed and about 8,500 wounded, mostly civilians.


Bachayev and other doctors complain Chechnya hasn't received any humanitarian help from abroad since the start of the conflict. A shipment of foreign medical aid sent via the former Soviet republic of Georgia was seized in Russia in October, they said.


"Chechen doctors are honestly fulfilling their duty despite the absence of the most basic conditions," the republic's doctors said in a joint statement. "They are bewildered to see the complete indifference on the part of the world community to deliberate destruction of civilians."