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

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Moscow Families Take In Chechen Children

MTAbu Akhmatov, 7, spending a quiet February evening with his host family, police Captain Oleg Somichev, his wife, Irina, and their youngest daughter, Dasha, 18 months.
Oleg Somichev, who served four grueling stints in Chechnya, might seem like an unlikely foster parent for a Chechen child. But when the burly police captain read in a newspaper about an organization placing needy Chechen children with Moscow families for the winter, he picked up the telephone and volunteered.

Last month, 7 1/2-year-old Abu Akhmatov became the newest addition to Somichev's large family, which includes his wife, Irina, three children, a parrot, a large dog and a red cat.

The boy, who lived for three years in a tent camp in Ingushetia, was still adjusting to his new surroundings on a recent afternoon. He has his own room in the family's three-room apartment in Yuzhnoye Butovo in the southern outskirts of Moscow.

"I like it here," said Abu, his wide brown eyes blinking with excitement. "I saw an elephant and a giraffe in a museum, and I want to see a tiger."

Somichev said his colleagues on the police force do not support his decision, but they have not reproached him, either.

"Kids are kids, and they have nothing to do with our fight," Somichev said. "Our decision was spontaneous, but it was firm -- we want him to understand that Russians are good people."

Irina Somicheva said that Abu likes borshch, pelmeni and buckwheat porridge with milk and sugar but refuses to eat pork and doesn't like seeing others in the family eat it. She said Abu shows little creativity and has trouble concentrating -- after a month in Moscow, he still cannot memorize a four-line poem.

"His development level is that of a 3- to 4-year-old," Somicheva said. "He reads but apparently does not understand even half of it. He was fed, but no one cared about his mind."

Abu's father was killed by a bomb that hit the family's home in the outskirts of Grozny three years ago. The rest of the family -- Abu, his mother and three brothers -- fled to Ingushetia, where they barely get by in the refugee camp.

Abu came to Moscow with seven other Chechen children in January, and the Moscow-based Foundation of Assistance to Formerly Deported Peoples brought four more to live with local families last week.

The nongovernmental organization, which was set up a decade ago to help displaced persons, focuses these days on educational and humanitarian aid programs for Chechen children and families who lost their homes, said its president, Alikhan Akhilgov. It has brought about 70 children to Moscow in the past three winters. Most children attend classes in Moscow schools.

"If we want to end this war, Chechens should see that Russians are kind and warm-hearted," Akhilgov said in an interview. "We should develop such humanitarian contacts."

He said the number of families willing to take Chechen children has been declining -- families hosted 40 children the first year, 20 last year and only 12 this winter. He said he thinks support has dropped due to fears of terrorism and, this winter, the Moscow theater siege.

Akhilgov said mostly low-income families are taking Chechen children for the visits lasting several months.

Igor Tabakov / MT

Abu, who lived three years in a refugee camp, trying on Oleg Somichev's police cap.

Vladimir Yurov, a 60-year-old retired teacher, welcomed two brothers last week, Islam Omarov, 9, and Shamil Omarov, 12. He has raised three children of his own and adopted nine orphans.

"I was so excited when I found out about the program. Children are my life," he said in his two-room apartment near the Krasnogvardeiskaya metro station in northeastern Moscow. "I have just come back from a walk with Islam and Shamil. You should have seen how much they enjoyed the snow and how much fun they had sliding down a hill on a sled."

Their cheeks rosy after the walk, Islam and Shamil eagerly gulped down their lunch of cabbage soup, sausage sandwiches and beet salad.

"You should have seen how frightened they were yesterday when I gave them a shower. They hadn't seen a shower before," Yurov said.

Islam speaks very little Russian, and Shamil is acting as his interpreter.

Shamil said he likes the family and his new school.

Yurov took the boys to school the day after they arrived and enrolled them in the same class. The class has a special curriculum for children who are behind their peers and is attended mainly by ethnic minorities.

Yurov said he would like to help the brothers longer than just a few months and could send them to his dacha in the spring.

"Actually, I could take more Chechen kids, provided one of their mothers comes to help me with them at the dacha. My adopted sons said they would also help -- they would take vacations one after another and stay there with the children.

"My sons are very kind to me. They are all builders and help me a lot. They visit or call every day and bring money or gifts. I am getting back all the warmth and kindness that I invested in them.

"Likewise, giving Chechen children the warmth and kindness of the Russian people will help solve the terrible problem in their region," he said.

Somichev, who said his heart went out to the Chechen people during his four three-month tours in Grozny, said he fears the unrest in Chechnya will continue for many years. "It looks like there is no real will to have it stopped," he said.

He said it is a shame that many Chechen children have to live without adequate food and education in Chechnya and in Ingushetia's drab refugee tents.

He said Abu threw temper tantrums when he first arrived, kicking the cat, breaking things and screaming.

Abu has since calmed down and spends much of his time playing with building blocks, drawing and learning how to say "please" and "thank you," Somichev said. The boy is already offering to wash the dishes or vacuum on his own.

"I am sure that when Abu returns to his home he will forget some of what he has seen and experienced here," Somichev said. "But I am sure that if he is asked one day to shoot Russians, something will click in the back of his mind and he will not pull the trigger. It is worth having him here even if I save the lives of only one or two soldiers."

The Foundation of Assistance to Formerly Deported Peoples is located at 7/4 Bulvar Rokossovskogo. Tel. 160-0870.