City where the dogs eat the dead
February 14 2000
Janine di Giovanni, the only British
reporter based in Grozny, witnesses the
devastation wreaked by Russian forces
THE Russians have wiped Grozny off the map. It is
uninhabitable, even for the packs of hungry wild
dogs. It is these dogs, according to Hussein, one
pro-Moscow Chechen working as a volunteer
grave-digger, which are tearing apart the bodies of
the unburied throughout the city. "The dogs are
eating the corpses," he says.
It is difficult to find a building not gouged by bombs
or reduced to a pile of bricks. Apartment buildings
with no roofs are booby-trapped and mined. There
is no water, electricity, heating or telephones.
When this war started, there were about 400,000
people living in Chechnya's capital. But Grozny now
has only a small, ragged band of civilians. The living
dead are emerging from hiding places. They shuffle
out of their cellars, clutching plastic soda bottles to
fill with water. Some wear white armbands to
distinguish them from fighters. Most are women,
some are so old they are nearly bent double.
When the military curfew descends at 6pm, nearly
everyone goes back to the cellars, but those
caught outside tell stories of drunken Russian
Interior Ministry troops looting, shooting randomly
into cellars, taking women away.
The first unconfirmed reports of rape are filtering
through. Alpatu, 40, says she left Samashki, in
western Chechnya, on February 1 with three women
friends, aged 39, 23 and 40.
They arrived at the first Russian checkpoint in
Grozny and produced their passports. Alpatu was
lucky - she was last in the queue. The others were
marched off and not heard from again. "They were
soldiers from Dagestan and North Ossetia," she
says. " I've tried to find my friends. What is strange
is we haven't found the bodies."
The rape stories are not limited to one side. Another
woman, an ethnic Russian, comes forward weeping,
clutching a photograph of a beautiful teenager: her
"Chechen fighters came on November 15," she says
slowly. "They burst into the room, wearing black
masks and carrying Kalashnikovs. They said, 'We
need her', that was all." She has searched three
months in vain for the girl."Nothing," she says,
rubbing her red eyes. "She just seemed to
The Russian emergency services have set up four
"feeding points" which include hot showers in an
attempt to prevent an epidemic, as well as a full
surgical hospital. But in the Staropromyslovsky
district, once heavily populated and less damaged
than other city areas, there were fewer than 200
people gathered. They wait silently for three hours
in the freezing cold, shuffling their feet for warmth,
for a bowl of buckwheat kasha, a cup of sugared
tea and a loaf of dark bread.
More are creeping to the hospital, complaining of
shrapnel wounds, infections, illnesses or
Near Minutka Square, Lyobov Yasinsaya, 42, a
Ukrainian doctor who has lived in Grozny for years,
screams with rage and frustration. She says that
she could not leave the city because her elderly
mother and her four children were unable to travel,
and she emerged from her cellar only ten days ago.
"We had to steal to get food and we often had no
water. Now the war is over, I have been standing
here for two weeks, and no one will help me!"
She is covered with dirt and grime, her face hidden
behind weeks of unwashed soot. She stares at her
hands, cracked and raw. "I'm an educated person, I
hate going around like this, but I have descended
into the condition of a monkey."
Dzhanat Aktulayeva, 62, says she has gone through
two wars as well as deportation in 1944 to
Kazakhstan. Her son was killed in the 1994 war and
she raises his three children on her small pension.
"We've been tortured," she says. "Life in Grozny has
been hell on earth."