No one is Answering for the Murders in Chechnya!
In 1995, during the ‘First Russian-Chechen War’, after an air force attack, I lost two of my daughters, one was seven years old and the other was 14 years old. This tragedy occurred in May 1995, in the village of Kharsenoi, in the Shatoi district, where we were living as refugees.
On May 12, 1995 our village was bombarded. The workers who were repairing the road leading to the village were targeted by the attack. Two young men were killed. Then we heard news that a corridor had been opened allowing refugees and anyone who wished to leave for Grozny. However, it was only possible to move at night, without headlights, as vehicles were exposed to gunfire, rocket strikes, and bombardment. Before this, airplanes shot at practically any vehicle, regardless of the fact that women, children, and old people could be inside. And it was those who were trying to flee the war zone.
On May 29, we, four families, gathered together and left Kharsenoi in two vehicles headed to Grozny. We had to drive very slowly and carefully because the road was destroyed, and at any moment a plane might come overhead and fire on us. On the road, one of the cars broke down, and by daybreak, we had only reached the first sector (part of the forest). We decided to wait a bit and then move on in one car. Sometime in the second half of the day, planes flew over and began to bomb the area. We survived by some miracle and returned to Kharsenoi.
That night we slept in the village. There we had a wooden dug-out which was built earlier, so that we could hide in case of aerial bombing or artillery bombardment. Usually, the women and children hid there during the day, as there was constant bombardment. In the evenings they went home. Around four o’clock in the afternoon, everyone went home as usual, and I went to the neighboring house of a relative – Sultan Isupov. We sat together in the courtyard, talking when a plane appeared. First there was a sharp roar, then he choked and the noise subsided. I said to him: “Sultan, it looks like they are coming back”, and then the first explosion happened. The bombardment of the village started. Eight planes circled above the village. Four dropped bombs and rockets, and the other four let out a barrage from above. When the first four had dropped all of their bombs, the other four then started bombing the village, as well. That is how they bombed and fired at the village without any respite.
Under the roof of Sultan’s courtyard there was a small potato cellar, I hid there. I started to call to the others, but they all ran to the dug-outs. So, on that day nine people died in that courtyard – I was the only survivor. In total, on that day 20 people died in the village of Kharsenoi: children, women and old people. There were five or six children dead.
There were no fighters in Kharsenoi, I am sure of that. It is true that the road from Shatoi to Bamut passed close to the village. The fighters did used to take that road.
The residents of the village were very frightened that the fighters might enter the village and then the Russians would fire on it and bomb it. For that reason we organized a watch and never allowed any fighters in. We barred the way into the village and warned them to avoid Kharsenoi, so that they did not put the lives of peaceful residents in danger. They agreed to this and none of them ever went into our village. Therefore, there was absolutely no reason to bomb Kharsenoi. At that time there were only local residents and refugees from other regions, mostly women, old people and children.
One of the planes shot a rocket at children who were running to the dug-out; I do not think the pilot could see who he was shooting at. Even still, that plane returned for another round after all the others had run out of bombs and flown off. The children fell to the ground and my son (he was the eldest) covered his sisters with his body. Nevertheless, my youngest daughter (she was only seven years old), was killed at the scene and the elder (14 years old), broke her leg. My son was also wounded by rocket shrapnel in his arm and leg.
When the bombing stopped, I managed to find a car, and we drove my wounded daughter to the hospital in the regional center of Shatoi. At that time French doctors worked there. One of the doctors looked at her and said that they needed to amputate her leg. I agreed, because the most important thing for me was to save her. But later on, she died. That is how I lost both of my daughters. It was the 29th of May, 1995. It has been 11 years since that day. And, as far as I know, no one has been punished for the murder of these women and children, as it was in the order of things.
Later on that night we buried 20 residents of Kharsenoi who died on that day, and we left the village, throwing out all of our personal belongings, livestock and everything. People walked through a large forest tract to Komsomolskoe and Urus-Martan. Since that day none of us could return to our native village to see what was there, what remained.
As far as I know, after we left Kharsenoi, 200 Russian armored vehicles with soldiers went in. They looted all the valuable things, slaughtered the cattle, and burned the houses down. Just as the NKVD (People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs) forces did in 1944, when they forcibly relocated the Chechen people. The houses in Kharsanoi were all built of wooden frames. They were completely burned. There is nothing left there now. The residents are still not allowed to go back. I know that in 2000, Kharsenoi was again bombed with aircraft depth bombs. The cemeteries were completely destroyed, and the remains of the bodies were strewn about.
Twice I organized trips there. I got to Shatoi, and there the commandant’s head office did not give me permission to go further. “In a view of the complicated situation it is unsafe, we cannot allow you to go there” – that was all they said. Now it seems that it has become safer, but they still do not allow us to return to Kharsenoi. For this reason I wrote to the parliament – I received a notification that the letter was received, but beyond that, no reaction. No one has answered. I went to Kadyrov, and wrote to the interregional court in Shatoi. So far, no results. I would like to go there, so that I could repair the grave of my youngest daughter who was buried there. And I still want to revive our village.
I know that everyone considers his or her pain bigger than the pain of others. But I know that many residents of Chechnya have experienced the same as I have. They have lost their children, their loved ones. So many people died during this time, and then in the ‘Second War’ as well.
In the same year – 1995, I was told about one case, in which a Russian fighter plane shot a group of women who were working in the fields. Just like that, it flew over and shot them all. Even though it was clearly visible that there were no fighters there.
And I remember another case, again in 1995. A Kamaz truck drove by, with women and children inside. It was full. They were refugees, moving towards Shatoi. A plane flew over and shot the truck. Every single person who was in that truck was killed. I cannot say exactly, how many women and children were there, but I think that there were several dozen people. And there were many such cases.
All of this is now forgotten. No one is paying attention to that anymore. And no one is answering for these murders.
Not long ago, I happened to be in Kharsenoi and wanted to visit the cemetery where my youngest daughter is buried. But I could not find the grave – the entire cemetery was so torn up by heavy bombing that no graves survived.
The first war took away my daughter, and the second war took away her grave.
Resident of the former village Kharsenoi
*Text was translated by Waynakh Online and edited by Michael Capobianco