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Wednesday, 1 December, 1999, 22:37 GMT
How war came to a Chechen village
Russian tactics: Heavy bombardment ahead of troops

By Tom de Waal in Ingushetia near the Chechen border

In front of a tent in Ingushetia, Chechen refugees are sawing wood for the winter. The tent here is now the home for a family from the village of Samashki. It is only about 20 miles away across the border but in another, more terrible world.

Battle for the Caucasus
In peaceful times, Samashki is a village of farmers. Four years ago during the last Chechen war it was the scene of fierce fighting.

This time around, the villagers say that at the end of October, they tried to reach a deal with the Russians.

"There were no soldiers or - how do you call them - fighters in the village at that time," said Vakhid Derbyshev, a former policeman.


It was autumn, people were getting ready for winter, bringing in the hay and firewood. And then out of the blue the bombardment started"
Vakhid Derbyshev
"The local residents, with the head of the administration and the mullah, took a decision not to let any soldiers into the village so there wouldn't be any fighting.

"So we lived calmly, thought that if there were no fighters they wouldn't touch the village. It was autumn, people were getting ready for winter, bringing in the hay and firewood.

"And then out of the blue on 23 October the artillery bombardment started.

Shower of rockets

Rockets rained down on a village which the refugees say the fighters had left. On the night of the 26th, Derbyshev tried to evacuate his family by car. Just outside the village his neighbours brought him his sister, wounded in the head and raving about her 12-year-old daughter

Refugees facing a severe winter
"When she gained consciousness she kept saying 'Don't leave me here, take me into the cellar, into the cellar,'" said Derbyshev.

"And she kept asking about her daughter and saying 'My daughter was with me, my daughter was with me.' It turned out that they just crawled out of the cellar when there was a lull.

"And at that moment a rocket crashed into the courtyard. It blew apart her daughter and her sister-in-law who had fled from Naur region. She was a refugee and had nine children.

"They just crawled out of the cellar, they were in the porch and the rocket landed. The girl died instantly from the force of the rocket - we only found her head and her legs - and the sister-in-law was also blown apart."

Pattern of heavy bombardment

There could be some Chechen fighters in Samashki. Or maybe not. What is certain is that civilians were the main victims of the attack.

The human rights organization Human Rights Watch has been talking to refugees in western Chechnya for the last two months.

"Refugees interviewed at the Ingush border as they fled Chechnya have related that their villages and towns in the west of Chechnya and in the areas approaching Grozny have been severely bombarded from the air and from artillery over a period of days and weeks," said one of their monitors, Cassandra Cavanaugh.

Russians now control Samashki
"The pattern has been heavy bombardment for a good period of time before Russian troops approach, take up positions outside the towns and try to come to an agreement with the village elders in order to come in without meeting any resistance."

In Samashki it seems the agreement did not work. One reason may be revenge.

The Russians lost many soldiers in Samashki during the last war and when they finally entered the village they threw grenades into the cellars killing many civilians.

New crop of casualties

The latest storming of Samashki has yielded a new crop of wounded. The Sunzha hospital in Ingushetia is the first line of help for many casualties from across the border. The tiny wards are packed with the maimed and the bombarded.


Do I look like a terrorist?
Madina Avturkhanova
Madina Avturkhanova is 22. She was wounded during the last war. Now she lies in a hospital bed and asks me "Do I look like a terrorist?"

"I lay for three days in a cellar when they bombarded us with Grad missiles. It didn't stop." she said.

"On the fourth morning I came out and then I got hit. Both arms are broken, one leg is broken. I got some help in Urus-Martan and then on the 29th they opened up the corridor and I barely made it here."

Human Rights Watch estimates that dozens of people were killed in the latest Samashki tragedy.

Since then the war has moved on, to other villages deeper inside Chechnya.

They are even further from the border, from the hospitals of Ingushetia and from the outside world.

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See also:
28 Nov 99 |  Europe
Escape route for refugees
25 Nov 99 |  Europe
Analysis: Russia's fighting tactics
28 Nov 99 |  Europe
Under the bombs of Grozny
19 Nov 99 |  Europe
Analysis: East-West relations must shift
26 Nov 99 |  Europe
Picture gallery: Chechnya at war

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