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"In Winter 1994/95 Russia and Chechnya fought a war over the independence of Chechnya. The victims were as in most armed conflicts civilians. The assignment focuses on the situation in Vedeno, Chechnya and the refugee impact on neighbouring Dagestan and Inguchetia 1995."

Chechnya is one of the former autonomous Soviet Republics of the ex Soviet Union. Chechnya is a member of the Russian Federation, and in 1991 became independent. Officially this declaration of independence has never been recognized by the Russian authorities. Instead, the Russian Constitutional Court ruled that Chechnya had violated the constitution.

Chechnya is a landlocked country situated in the Northern Caucasus surrounded by Russia and bordering Georgia in the south. It is located between the Black and the Caspian Seas but without access to them. It's area of 17,200 Km2 is rich in oil, chemicals, gold , iron and agricultural products.

This is considered as to be one of the reasons for the war in 1994/95.

Armed civilians at marketplace in Vedeno, Cechnya

Vedeno, Chechnya
Thousands of people have been killed and more than 400,000 driven from their homes since Russian forces stormed into Chechnya on December 11th 1994 to crush Dudayev's government and end the regions self-proclaimed independence.  The Russians controlled the border to Chechnya and let nobody pass it. We were driving through the river for a while to avoid the checkpoints and once in Chechnya we returned to regular streets. It was incredibly good weather, the land turned to spring. Inside Chechnya Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) had set up a surgical center and had opened an orphanage in Vedeno, 60 Kms south of Grozny. The hospital was vacant for 4 years and MSF reopened it with its former local staff. It was then  running considerably well and the local population started trusting the crazy foreigners that came to the country because of the war.

There were 35,000 inhabitants in Vedeno before the war, during the war the population grew to 70,000 to 100,000. Vedeno has no industry and the nights were silent and very dark. During the first nights there was no moonlight and one could see all the stars even the very small ones. In those nights one could also hear big Russian propeller airplanes flying over occasionally. There was no chance of seeing them in the darkness and what remained was the low sound getting closer and then eventually flying over. From the second day on we heard heavy bombing from Shali a town not far from Vedeno. It continued one day, one night and another day. I never heard the sound of bombs falling on peoples houses before. It's a deep thunder far away, once or twice and then it's silent for a few seconds. The sound is reflecting back from the high snowy mountains in the south. I had to think that people have little chance to escape.

Human rights continued to be violated on a daily basis. Helicopters were launching  attacks on villages - purely civilian zones - and continually injuring women and children. Most of the injured were suffering from shrapnel wounds. Thousands of refugees have fled into neighboring republics such as Dagestan and Inguchetia where cholera is endemic in the region. Most horrifying is the fact thatmarketplace in Shali splinter bombs, prohibited under the Geneva Conventions, are being used.

Many Chechens were fighting independently of the forces loyal to Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudayev, and Dudayev's representative at the peace talks, Aslan Maskhadov, has warned that he did not control them. The Chechens seemed to have no real organization within their troops. They were hiding in the mountains with light weapons waiting for the Russians to move in.

mourning civilian in Vedeno, ChechnyaIn the afternoon of March 4th 1995 Vedeno was attacked by Russian helicopters. Simultaneously four Russian helicopters entered south through a valley and opened fire. From a secure distance they shot 8 missiles each towards Vedeno.

Minutes later the MSF-Team had to rush to the hospital where the first dead and wounded were brought in. All of the victims were civilians among them women and children.

One two year old girl and members of her family were hit by a missile while driving inside a car. The child had no more legs, it was conscious and looked at us with big green eyes, without understanding what was going on.

The helicopters disappeared immediately after their attack and the darkness fell in within victims of missile attack Vedeno, Chechnyaminutes. A generator for the following amputations and dressing had to be set up since there was no electricity. The whole scene was a chaotic mess with all village citizen and injured people inside the hospital at the same time. Vedeno remained silent the next few days and it is very hard to see any strategy behind these Russian attacks. The assault Emergency operation after missile attackbrought up 13 victims all from the civilian population, 4 dead and 9 wounded suffering from serious injuries. The two year old girl that just learned to walk lost both legs, its mother, its sister and remains disabled for the rest of its life. injured civlians in chechen war 1994-1995

Chasavjurt, Dagestan

In Chasavjurt, Dagestan, which is near  the chechen border, Médecins sans Frontières provided assistance to a population of 60,000 displaced people. Approximately 90% of the displaced were staying with families, but the rest of them was lodged in schools and kindergartens. In February 1995 there were about 100 new arrivals a day. The Teams work included the provision of basic health care, the installation of epidemiological surveillance systems, sanitation and the all-important support MSF gives to local medical structures.

Russian officials said they have registered close to 300,000 refugees, or one quarter of chechnya's prewar population with another 100,000 staying with friends or relatives without registering.

The situation in Chasavjurt was quite tens because there were already 38.000 chechen refugees in town. Part of the problem was that almost every Caucasian man had his own gun and there was great sympathy for the Chechen independence movement within the Dagestanian population. Ramada was almost over and there was a huge fighting potential accumulated in the city. The Russians knew this very well and they tried to keep the city tight. There were Russian checkpoints all over the city and a big army base just outside of town. Traveling became difficult since every checkpoint required seven permissions issued by 21 chiefs, subchiefs and subsubchiefs. For the work of Médecins sans Frontières this meant it took weeks to get the logistical and medical equipment out of customs when the Russian administration found new excuses every day to block cars and cargoes. Officials hide themselves behind the slogan: "Order from Moscow!".

Nasran, Inguchetia

Morning in Nasran, Inguchetia We were driving for hours on straight roads. There was no tree and no bush growing amid this desert. Every 50 Km we would find a settlement where forgotten people stared at the white flagged Landcruiser. Then we entered into plain nothing again with the only thing to look at are dry salt lakes and electric wires parallel to the route. The only interest in this country is its oil. Caucasian fuel is considered to be the best in the world. It all comes down to money. There is no other reason for a war than money. At one a.m. we arrived in Nasran after passing 21 checkpoints.

Compartment inside train loddging one family eachOnce in Nasran MSF France told me that I could not obtain the permission required to enter Grozny. But I was more than welcome to cover a little bit of Nasran, Inguchetia. Chechen and Ossetian refugees were living in train wagons waiting for better times. The translators of MSF-F showed big interest in what I was intending to do. They asked me if I had been to Chechnya, what exactly I had seen and how I would manage to bring my films out of the country. Whether I knew Dr. This from this organization or Miss That from that NGO. I told them I had not been to Chechnya and I wouldn't have any problems leaving the country with my film the classical way since I only Grandmother with child in train wagonhad taken pictures from expatriates and MSF-cars.

From Nasran, Inguchetia, MSF provided medical and non-medical aid to the displaced and supplied medicine and medical material to health structures in Nasran and Grozny. As in Dagestan many of these refugees were living with families but others found shelter in public buildings or in long rows of  train wagons. In addition to the displaced people from the Chechen war, there was a large population of displaced persons from previous border conflicts.

Nasran, Ingushetia


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Copyright 2022 Wim van der Helm, Berlin.
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