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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ingush Hospitals Stretched to Limit

NAZRAN, Southern Russia -- The doctor who heads the trauma department of the Nazran hospital is overwhelmed with fatigue and frustration. Dozens of injured civilians from war-ravaged Chechnya show up at the hospital every week, but in most cases doctors have no choice but to turn them away.

Ingushetia, next door to Chechnya, has taken in most of the approximately 250,000 refugees who have fled the fighting, and the hospital in the Ingush capital, Nazran, is the first stop for many of Chechnya's wounded.

Yet the hospital has only 40 beds for the injured - even after the trauma unit took over wards from two other departments. And as the fighting in Chechnya rages, more wounded civilians than the hospital can accommodate are crossing the border into Ingushetia in hopes of finding treatment.

"If we had beds we would admit 50 people every week," said Dr. Ibragim Murzabekov, the head of the trauma department. "People who need hospitalization walk around with serious injuries, with infected wounds, but we have to treat them as outpatients."

The Russian authorities insist their strikes in Chechnya are targeting rebel fighters, and deny heavy casualties among the civilian population. But human rights groups, Chechen officials and Ingush doctors all say that thousands of Chechen civilians have been killed or wounded during the fighting - though no one has a more precise estimate of the entire toll.

In the hospital's fourth-floor trauma unit, patients lie on bunks placed against walls in the corridor. Nurses hurry by, carrying syringes and steel trays heaped with iodine- and blood-soaked cotton swabs. The air is heavy and stale, tinged with the smell of disinfectants.

Thirty-year-old Zarema Sadulayeva lay on a makeshift bed, her injured arm heavily bandaged, her face bruised and her lips caked with dried blood. "I had to plead with doctors to take us in," said Sadulayeva's husband, Alibek Kiriyev. "All the hospitals kept refusing to admit her."

The bones in Sadulayeva's left arm were smashed in several places by a fragment of a Russian shell during last week's fighting in the Chechen town of Shali, Kiriyev said. Since the couple arrived from Chechnya on Saturday night, the bunk in the corridor has been the only available berth in the overcrowded hospital.

Two other clinics in the area - in the Ingush towns of Sleptsovskaya and Malgabek - also admit wounded civilians from Chechnya. But these rundown facilities are even worse off than the hospital in Nazran, with little space, even less cash, no modern equipment, and overworked doctors and nurses.

Asked whether the government is doing anything to ease the medical centers' dire financial and material straits, Murzabekov snarled, "Absolutely nothing!"

"Only a handful of people are transferred to central Russia" for treatment, he said. "And even then, there are hurdles at every step."