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

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Of First Causes and Their Bloody Aftermath

Since my return from a trip to Chechnya and Ingushetia a month ago, I can't sleep, eat or live in peace. I continually see before me lice-ridden tents and railcars, half-built houses, cattle yards and barns in cemeteries - refugees from Chechnya huddle in all the nooks and crannies of Ingushetia. In a cemetery of the town of Achaluka, four families with 14 children are living in a shed normally used to store shovels. Children play among the graves, and the parents ardently thank the town's administration for giving them a roof over their heads.

During the height of the war, Federal Migration Service figures indicated there were 263,000 refugees in Ingushetia; now there are 213,000. Russian and foreign delegations usually visit the tent city of "Sputnik" in Karabulak and the "Severny" camp, a kilometer-long train in Sleptsovskaya. People there often run out of coal, medicines are in very short supply, children live side by side with people suffering from tuberculosis. In the camps, at least the people have someone they can turn to. In the camps, only 15,000 refugees live in organized conditions; the other 200,000 have been essentially abandoned by the government to the whim of fate.

Of the aid sent to this area, the "private sector" is able to receive only bread. As for canned meat and milk, most of the dozens of people I talked to said they get this "luxury" one or two times every three or four months. But standing in endless lines for gumanitarka, or humanitarian aid, is their main activity. They have to get up early in the morning and spend the entire day in line, but there's no guarantee that they'll get a kilogram of rice or flour.

I attended a meeting at the Ingushetia headquarters of the Emergency Situations Ministry, and I was struck by how many foreign organizations and foundations have a representation in Nazran. But, so far as I know, few foreign humanitarian aid organizations risk working in Chechnya itself. The war there will rage for a long time yet, and after the horrors that foreigners experienced there, those in Chechnya can hardly hope for help from them.

During the first war, our organization assisted 5,000 refugees, many of whom I interviewed. In March 1995, I was in Samashki a week after the "cleansing," and also in Grozny, which already looked like a skeletal city then. But at that time, I did not hear of such severe and widespread instances of cruelty as in this war.

Since December 1999, when the generals announced that Grozny would be destroyed along with those residents who did not leave, I have been tormented by this question: Why don't those thousands of people leave this condemned city? Why, after leaflets with their monstrous content ("Those who don't leave will be considered terrorists") were dropped over the city, did only small groups of people leave? Only now have I learned the answer, from refugees who fled the hell of Grozny. They didn't see any leaflets; they had no information in their basements. And the humanitarian corridor, which our mass media assured them would be open, did not in fact exist. Many families who tried to leave came under fire, so they returned. Those who remained in Grozny are ill and infirm. Refugees have asserted, "There are many old Russian men and women in those basements."

Over the last 10 years, I have worked with refugees, participating in the creation of three organizations that assist those fleeing their homeland. My work has been part of a concrete goal: to encourage Russians to show, in concrete ways, sympathy to the victims of war.

As is known from surveys, 80 percent of Russians have supported this mad war, not thinking about its cruel methods or pernicious consequences. But the response to our call to help the victims belies Russians' indifference. In our office, the phone does not stop ringing, and from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m., people come to us with aid packages.

We have sent to Ingushetia and Chechnya about 50,000 rubles and approximately 400 kilograms of aid: food, medicines, toys for children. On the radio, I told of one family with 10 children to whom I gave 100 rubles; there was no end to their joy - many families in Chechnya have not held money in their hands for two years. One bent, old woman with a cane brought in her entire pension.

Once again, we plan to go to Grozny and Nazran. Members of our organization will distribute aid we have gathered. We encourage readers to help the victims of the Chechen war. These spontaneous acts of mercy are particularly precious because they clearly show that the image of the "Chechen as the enemy" so actively painted by many in the mass media is not so deeply rooted in people's consciousness. Consequently, the future of Russia is not so grim, since so many people - who, for the most part, are Orthodox Russians - are hurrying to help Moslems on that side of the front.

Lidiya Grafova, a reviewer for Literaturnaya Gazeta, is the chairman and coordinator of the Forum for Resettlement Organizations; she is also a member of the State Committee for Migration Policy. She contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.

Those interested in contributing aid may call 208-9462 or 208-8802. Or contributors may bring aid from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. to the building of Literaturnaya Gazeta, 13 Kostyansky Pereulok, near metro stations Chistiye Prudy or Turgenevskaya.