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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

After Abduction, UN Leaves Chechnya

The United Nations said Monday that it was indefinitely suspending humanitarian aid in Chechnya after the kidnapping of a Russian woman in a partner program.

Other relief agencies in Chechnya said they would shut down for two days at the UN's request but resume distributing aid Wednesday.

Nina Davydovich, the head of Druzhba, which works with the UN Children's Fund, was whisked away by masked gunmen last Tuesday on a trip from Grozny to Nazran, Ingushetia.

The kidnapping of the St. Petersburg native took place about a week after the Federal Security Service, or FSB, warned the United Nations at a consultation meeting that Chechen rebels were planning to abduct a foreigner, said an official at a relief agency working in Chechnya. The official said the FSB retracted the warning the same day Davydovich was kidnapped.

UN spokeswoman Viktoria Zotikova said humanitarian programs by the UN Children's Fund, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the World Health Organization and the World Food Program would be halted in Ingushetia for two days and in Chechnya indefinitely.

"We had to make this decision because we are very concerned about the safety of our workers in the region," Zotikova said. "We are also very worried about Nina Davydovich, whom we respect and whose work we appreciate very much. By suspending the work in the region, we are showing our solidarity with her and her family."

She added that a drinking water distribution program in Grozny would not be affected because it was essential for the local population.

Satsita Khaidukayeva of Druzhba said the Nazran-based organization was suspending operations for two days but would then continue the work Davydovich had started.

Druzhba employs about 40 people and is implementing educational and social programs in Ingushetia and Chechnya.

Davydovich, 56, and three of her colleagues were in Grozny last Tuesday setting up activity centers for children. The centers are in dormitories inhabited by Chechen refugees who have returned from tent camps in Ingushetia.

In Ingushetia, Druzhba works with Chechen children in the camps.

"We moved part of our operation to Chechnya during the [federal government's] drive to relocate Chechen refugees to Chechnya," Khaidukayeva said by telephone from Nazran. "The kidnapping will not make us stop our work because it is very much needed in Chechnya."

Peter Sorensen, the head of the Danish Refugee Council, a major distributor of humanitarian aid with the World Food Program, said supplies would start to be handed out again Wednesday "no matter whether Nina Davydovich is released or not."

The Danish Refugee Council distributes essential food such as flour, oil, sugar and salt to 115,000 people in Ingushetia and to 140,000 people in Chechnya. "I have only been instructed by the UN to suspend operations for these two days," Sorensen said.

He said foreign and Russian staff continue to work in Ingushetia but Ingush authorities are no longer allowing them to go into Chechnya, and distribution hours were cut back after a land mine explosion July 8.

"We are only allowed to be in Chechnya from morning until the afternoon ... and only ethnic Chechen and Ingush staff are delivering aid now," he said.

Michael Hofmann, head of the Russian mission of Medicins Sans Frontieres, said MSF quickly evacuated three of its five foreign staff members from the region after Davydovich was kidnapped but had not yet decided whether to pull out.

"Some of these essential services cannot be stopped overnight without an alternative solution being found," Hofmann said. "If we can't return our international staff, we will have to completely restructure programs accordingly."

MSF is all too familiar with kidnappings. Hofmann's predecessor, Kenny Gluck, was abducted in January last year and held for 25 days. He was released without ransom in what the FSB called a special operation.

"We will re-evaluate on Wednesday whether or not we will continue [work], at least in Ingushetia," Hofmann said. "We can suspend indefinitely, but it definitely depends on the developments in the coming day with regard to Mrs. Davydovich's abduction."

Akhmad Kadyrov, the head of the Moscow-backed Chechen administration, criticized the decision of international humanitarian aid organizations to suspend operations.

"The kidnappers of ... Davydovich wanted such a result. They hoped that the programs to provide aid to poor Chechen residents would fold," Kadyrov was quoted by Interfax as saying Monday.

Chechen police said they have not received any ransom demands or any other communication from the kidnappers, Interfax reported.

Kidnappings are common in Chechnya. Just Sunday, four Chechens, including a police officer, were snatched in Grozny and Gudermes, Interfax said Monday.

Zarema Israilova, a computer expert at Druzhba who was in the car with Davydovich, said the vehicle was stopped as it was leaving the Chechen town of Goragorsk about 30 kilometers from the border with Ingushetia.

"We were very frightened when the car, a white Zhiguli, overtook us and stopped in front of us," she said.

"People in masks in camouflage jumped out and started shooting at us. We bent down as far as we could, but they opened the door of the car and took Nina Sergeyevna out," she said.

"The car immediately left toward Grozny. We were shocked. They did not say a word in Chechen or Russian. They were completely silent."