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

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Grozny's Most Vulnerable Find Haven in Volgograd

VOLGOGRAD, Southern Russia -- For the patients of the Grozny Home for the Handicapped, life in the battle-torn capital of Chechnya had become hell.

With the windows blown out by shelling in freezing weather and nurses and doctors driven off by the fighting, they were moved out of the city and abandoned to a cold and hungry existence in neighboring Ingushetia.

Until an angel, in the form of Dr. Vladimir Kuznetsov from Volgograd, arrived and took a bus-load of them to new homes.

Kuznetsov transformed an Ikarus bus into a rolling hospital, went to Chechnya, fetched a dozen of the home's residents, and took them to new nursing homes in the Volgograd region under a government-ordered evacuation.

"We were at battle stations" awaiting the arrival of what were expected to be patients at death's door, said Dr. Vladimir Isayev of the Volgograd Home for the Aged. "But what we got were patients in good condition. He had succeeded in reviving these half-dead people."

One of them was Fyodor Sizov, an amputee who said he had been driven from his home by Chechens who claimed it had been their property before the Stalinist deportations to Central Asia during World War II. Even though Sizov was born in the house, he was forced to leave.

Sizov said that when the bombardment began in October, "all the windows were blown out, and by the beginning of December there was snow. The cold was fearsome. The television assured us that Russian troops would not come to Grozny, but explosions shook the building. Then they turned off the electricity and the gas."

Then, he said, some soldiers came and took them to Ingushetia. By this time, one old person had died and others "were barely showing signs of life." Many fell ill with dysentery and developed skin problems, and went hungry during their odyssey.

Enter Dr. Kuznetsov.

Equipped with orders from the Volgograd Social Welfare Committee, he took an Ikarus bus and replaced the seats with cots on the way down to Ingushetia. "That way, we could take people in whatever condition they were in," he said. Arriving back in Volgograd on Dec. 26, he brought back 12 people, the youngest 24, the oldest 85 - Volgograd's share of the roughly 100 patients.

Several of them went to homes for the mentally disabled in the Volgograd area; others went to Volgograd's nursing home.

"It seemed that none of us would live, until our guardian angel, Dr. Kuznetsov, appeared," Sizov said.