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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Witness to Aldi Massacre Tells Story of Terror

Aset Chadayeva, 32, survived the massacre at Noviye Aldi on Feb 5. According to Human Rights Watch, OMON troops and contract soldiers killed at least 60 residents of the Grozny suburb, ranging in age from 1 to 82.

Chadayeva, a nurse, was one of the few witnesses not afraid to speak to official investigators when they came to Aldi after the massacre. Chadayeva said the investigators f who she says were from the Federal Security Service f told her the massacre was probably committed by Chechen fighters disguis ed as federal troops.

Later the videotape with her testimony, which she was told would be for internal use, was broadcast by NTV. Now, Chadayeva says it is too dangerous for her to go home. She says the authorities have come looking for her several times.

Chadayeva was recently in Moscow, where she told her story to Sarah Karush.

Before 1994, I had a great job f I was a nurse in a pediatric clinic. This clinic was one of a kind in the North Caucasus. We had all the best equipment f all imported. ? It was destroyed. At the same time I worked in another hospital. That hospital was destroyed too. ?

After the [first] war, they moved our clinic to another building where there was no door, no light. How can you work in such conditions? ? There's nowhere to sit, let alone wash your hands. ?

Then, after the last war, I went away. I came to stay with my sister in Moscow. And those four years are some of my best memories, connected to Moscow. I recovered.

Periodically, I'd go home, see the poverty, hunger. People literally fainted from hunger. I myself fainted more than once from hunger in 1995. I was like a skeleton. We didn't take the [humanitarian] aid because it was degrading f to take this bowl from them and eat like a dog. And it was the lowest quality aid f people found worms in the grain. In jail, they give people better bread. ?

Our house was completely destroyed in the first war. And then we built a little house, the size of a two-room apartment, but there's no bathroom. I had to go to my brother's apartment, about 10 minutes away, just to bathe. I had to lug canisters of water 4 or 5 kilometers. I still have calluses.

You have to have a strong will to survive in such conditions. You can't let yourself go to seed, because if you do, if you stop taking care of yourself, adapt yourself the way they want you to, you won't be able to respect yourself. ?

This war, I consciously stayed home, because I couldn't do it anymore, being on the run. ?

First the Bombs

In December, when they were already attacking the Zavodskoi district, the bodies started to come in. And our neighbor, Mula Shamkhan is his name, is an exceptionally brave, kind man. Thanks to this man, people didn't lose faith, he calmed people, gave them food.

And Mula said to me, "It's not the same war as last time. This time women are dying the same as men. Would you wash these bodies according to Moslem tradition? I don't have the right to touch them." ? I thought, what else can I do before God? I said, of course, because I didn't know what would happen to me. What if I die too, what if I am blown apart? The dogs will chew on me.

My brother said that house [where bodies are washed and prepared for burial] is very dangerous because they bury fighters there. They bring them from all over the city f any fighter, any civilian f they find a body and they bring it there. Because ours was the only town where they buried people according to tradition, in spite of the shooting. In other places, people had neither the strength nor the courage. ?

I came to that man's house on Dec. 4 and I saw a little body, wrapped in a blanket. And when we unwrapped it, it was a girl, born in 1983 f the first body that I had to wash. She had gotten married a month before. Chechen girls get married young. And she was in a white apron, her hands folded. And no head. Instead of a face, she had only a chin and her right ear. The rest was like an exploded watermelon. I had been in the morgue, in the operating room, but I had never seen such a horrible sight. ?

Her husband had wrapped her brains in newspaper and brought them separately. And he sat next to her and sobbed. He was 21, she was 16. And Mula said, "Aset, you have to clean out the skull, wash out the dirt, the fragments, because when Allah created this person, none of this was there. You have to bury a person the way they were."

I cleaned out the skull, I washed her hands. He said, "Now put the brains in there, clean off the newspaper from the brains." Because that also cannot be allowed according to our traditions. And as long as we're alive, we have to do it properly. I cleaned the brains f the newspaper in places got stuck to it, like to meat, and you had to do it gradually so as not to tear the membrane.

I didn't even put on gloves. I didn't even think about infections. Only later, I thought of it and put on gloves. ? We had no masks, it was hard to breathe f that stench from half blown-up bodies. ?

And after that, I washed so many bodies, so many women. ?

In January, bombs were hitting our village. Every day, dozens of people. There were no bandages, no painkillers, nothing. I cut up my sheets and made them into bandages. I boiled them in a kettle all night on a stove outside the house. ? Shrapnel was falling around me. If I hadn't prayed, I would have been long dead. I thought, keep me alive at least for now, so that I can tell people how it was afterward. It was the most desperate prayer of my life. ?

The most severe bombing in Aldi occurred from Feb. 1 to Feb. 4.

I buried a girl of rare beauty, she was like a top model. ? She didn't fit into that basement shelter, it was like she was not of this world. Such a beautiful girl f Zalina Khrayeva, 28 years old, but she looked like 18. A shell hit her on Feb. 1. I saw her at four in the morning, and at 6:30 I had to put her together again. It was as if she had gone through a meat grinder.

Then the 'Mop-Up'

On Feb. 5, Russian troops came in to "mop up" Aldi.

Before they got to us, they killed 16 people. And when I saw them coming, I decided we had to go meet them so that they wouldn't burn our houses. And my brother and I went up to them. ?

[One of the soldiers] put his automatic rifle against my stomach and I couldn't breathe, and he insulted me with the filthiest words. And here I had a grenade taped to my body in case of an encroachment, and I thought, any minute now I'll have to pull that ring if there is a risk of violence against me. I was ready to die the most horrible death, only not that, because it would be shameful. ?

For five months, that grenade had been lying on our windowsill. We bought it from a Russian soldier. My brother got it for four packs of Prima f the cheapest tobacco, but at that time, it cost 30 rubles a pack. ? That grenade was lying there the whole winter. ? My brother taped this grenade to me and said, "If anyone touches you, if there is a threat of rape, there's no other way out, Aset."

They [the troops who came to "mop up"] were cowards. ? They knew 100 percent that the town was not protected, that it was never a position of the fighters, there wasn't one trench.

All we did was bury fighters f bodies, that is, they weren't fighters anymore, they were bodies. ?

My brother and father went with them to every house on our street and begged them not to shoot, not to burn. My father said if you see one cartridge, shoot me. My father is 71. And that Russian officer said, "An old man wouldn't take such a risk f he must be telling the truth." ?

After the Carnage

Fifty-five people died f that we know for sure. At first, there was information about 82 bodies, because people didn't come out of their basements. People didn't come out of their basements for several weeks. ? I ran around the village after the fifth and it was like some science fiction film f crows flying, burning houses and not one person on the street. And I was running from basement to basement looking for people. ?

And on the sixth when I saw how many people they killed, I recorded it on an audio cassette, addressed to the world, whoever is not indifferent to the deaths of civilians. Maybe it will somehow help to stop the destruction of my people. ?

We took photographs of the bodies. ? Then one guy brought a video camera and we filmed it. ? If we stay silent now, they will write the history their way, and not oneperson will be able to prove it was otherwise. ?

They left so many orphans. A mother of eight children. She turned 51 that day. In front of her 9-year-old daughter they shot her, not just shot her, but she was literally cut into pieces by a machine gun. When I tried to pick her up, she fell apart. The right side of her fell off.

And this girl saw all this, she saw how they shot two other men point-blank. ? They were left with these holes, no faces. It was impossible to identify them. ? The little girl, Leila, hid under the bed.

Remembering Feb. 5

Among those killed Feb. 5 were Chadayeva's patients.

Lyoma Akhtayev f he got caught under fire on Jan. 11. A shell fell on the neighboring house and three died on the spot. Lyoma by some miracle lived. He was in a horrible state. ? Over three hours I pulled out all the shrapnel and started to treat him. It was a long process. ?

Then, by Feb. 3 everything had healed f all those big wounds. And they weren't swollen. I don't know how I did it in such conditions. Even in sterile conditions, it would be a miracle. He was in hellish pain, I would come and he would be sitting there praying. ? When I came on the third, ? I said, "I'll come back on the fifth and take off the bandages and put some zelyonka [an antibiotic ointment] on. You survived."

Imagine my state when I came on the sixth or the seventh and heard from the neighbors that they [the soldiers] had taken Lyoma away. They said, "We'll put some zelyonka on your wounds and bring you back."

And I had wanted to come on the fifth and put some zelyonka on him. It was such a horrible coincidence f this term they invented that day f "to put zelyonka on" meant to execute. ?

The good soldiers, they were ashamed at what they saw, they stood silently. ? They also couldn't fight it. Some of them brought people into houses, told them to lie down and then shot into the air, and then said, "I already killed them."

A few soldiers saved people that way on the fifth. ? One of them said to this woman, my teacher, "Forgive us." She's blue-eyed and has a European face. He said, "Forgive us. You look like my mother. And if I survive, I'll come find you someday." He gave her a piece of paper, took her hand and began to cry. He said, "We brought you so much sorrow. And if you can, write to my mother and tell her I didn't kill you." ?

Later, several times, people from the FSB [Federal Security Service] came and demanded this piece of paper with the soldier's address. That woman will let herself be killed before she gives up that address, because that soldier saved her. She told them, "I don't have any address, we made up that story." ?

Holocaust Revisited

[President Vladimir] Putin is another Hitler. The whole world looked on calmly as Hitler rose to power; when he started to persecute the Jews, everybody thought it wouldn't affect them. They looked on silently, but fascism touched the whole world, didn't it? Everyone suffered.

And when they destroy us Chechens in the "filters," where is the guarantee that Putin won't walk upon the bodies of other peoples?

Everyone is washing their hands of Feb. 5. ? And now nobody can find that OMON division, it vaporized. ?

As long as I live, I will tell people how they "brought order," what those Russians brought to our republic, our people, how they "liberated" us.