Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: World: Europe
Front Page 
Middle East 
South Asia 
From Our Own Correspondent 
Letter From America 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 
Wednesday, 8 December, 1999, 13:31 GMT
Analysis: Besieged in a doomed city
Grozny refugees Refugees from Grozny comfort each other

By regional analyst Tom de Waal

Russia's representative to Chechnya, Nikolai Koshman, estimates that there are around 40,000 people left inside Grozny.

Battle for the Caucasus
Other estimates are somewhat lower, but it is clear that there are many people still there, mostly living in cellars and basements.

Leaflets dropped by the Russian army on the city warn them that they must leave by Saturday - the fifth anniversary of Russia's first land invasion of Chechnya - or face destruction.

It says there will be a safe corridor for them to pass through to the village of Pervomaiskaya in the north-west.

leaflet The Russian leaflets told people to leave or face destruction
After furious Western criticism of these warnings, Russian officials have softened their tone.

They now say that the corridor will remain open after Saturday, and that the message is directed against fighters, not civilians.

Nonetheless, the threat of a new and massive air bombardment still hangs over the remaining residents there.

But it will be very hard to ensure that those remaining in Grozny do all manage to leave.

Russians in city

The practical problems are enormous.

By their very nature, the people who have stayed behind are also the weakest - the old, the sick and the wounded.

There are reported to be many Russian pensioners still in Grozny.

The Russians used to be the majority community in a city of 400,000 people.

An Austrian journalist recently in the city estimated that about half of those still there are Russians.

By contrast, many Chechen residents came to live in Grozny only in the last 20 or 30 years, and still have family in the villages with whom they have taken refuge.

Long walk to safety

Even the commander of Russian forces in Chechnya, General Viktor Kazantsev, acknowledged that there was a problem.

Elderly woman with other refugees Many of Grozny's elderly remain in the beseiged city
"I don't want to launch any strikes at the moment, since I'm well aware that mainly old people and children have stayed on there."

The Russians' task is to persuade these vulnerable and sick people to leave the city and walk the 15km to Pervomaiskaya.

Many of them cannot walk at all, there is very little transport for those who cannot walk, and the roads have been heavily bombed.

But perhaps the biggest problem is fear.

Reporters who have been in the city recently talk of frightened and irrational people enduring their second war in five years, reluctant to go out on to the streets.

Many people simply do not want to leave their houses and brave another bombardment - whatever the price to be paid.

During the last war Grozny suffered the heaviest bombardment of any city in Europe since World War Two.

It seems that it is about to endure something even worse.

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
Europe Contents

Country profiles

See also:
08 Dec 99 |  Europe
Grozny ultimatum 'aimed at bandits'
08 Dec 99 |  Europe
UN says Chechens face death
07 Dec 99 |  Europe
Grozny: A city in terror
07 Dec 99 |  Europe
Analysis: Russia's fighting tactics
07 Dec 99 |  Europe
Putin rebuffs Chechnya warnings
08 Dec 99 |  Business
IMF delays Russian loan

Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites
Links to other Europe stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Europe stories