As the tanks advance on Grozny, one man's tale of life in a hellhole

Musa Mazyev, 24, is an economics student at Grozny University. This is his harrowing account of life in the city under Russian bombardment, and his terrifying experiences as he escaped
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The Independent Online
THE BOMBING for the past two weeks was very heavy. Ten people on my street died, mostly the old. They were all killed by a single surface- to-surface rocket. The men were in the mosque praying, and the women were passing by the mosque.

The mosque was hit straight on. It was noon, it was time to pray, and my cousin was there. We did not have a funeral. We washed the bodies as well as we could, and buried them in the cemetery. We had enough white cloth to wrap them in.

He had four shrapnel wounds in the front of the head, and two in the back of the head. The bodies were thrown out of the mosque by the force of the blast. The roof of my house was blown off by the explosion.

The Russians say they throw leaflets for the civilians with information [on how to leave Grozny] but this is not true. I saw the leaflets myself. They were addressed to the fighters to give up their guns and leave Grozny. There was nothing about safe corridors or about civilians.

The leaflets were typed and were jokingly written: `Dear refugees - You are given time until 11 December to go by Pervomaskaya checkpoint. If you do not believe, the city will be destroyed.' But frankly speaking, the people are afraid to go out because everybody who stays is considered a fighter or a supporter of the fighters. Since they gave the ultimatum, many people joined the fighters because now there is no way out.

I saw a bomb with an inscription on it: `For my son from Mother, 1941.' It was made in 1941. It was very big. The bomb was in one piece and did not explode. It was about three metres long and one metre wide. There were crowds of people looking and laughing because the bomb was made in 1941. They said: `See, Russia has no new bombs.'

We were living in the cellar first with 50 people, then with 30, when others left for Staraya Sunzha. The 30 were mostly old people, there were no children. They were still there when I left, and they were running out of food. There is a small lake where we got water. We had no gas, so we made a fire to make flat bread.

We knew there would be war when the Russians started bombing so we built up reserves. There was no electricity in the cellar. It was dark and for the last two weeks we could not leave it.

There are no people in the streets but there are many people left in the cellars. I decided to leave yesterday and spend the night in Nadterechnya. Our neighbour came and told us that [Emergency Services Minister Sergei] Shoigu promises safe passage but when we came to the checkpoint, there was no Shoigu, so I had to pay a bribe.

It was hard to walk because we were hungry and it was cold outside. There were about 50 people at the checkpoint when I arrived. I saw about 100 soldiers at the checkpoint itself, but there were many more out in the fields in trenches.

There were tanks, Grad rocket systems and other things. I had no hot water and shaving equipment in the basement, so I could not shave in Grozny. The soldiers were suspicious of my beard, and asked me to show my hands and shoulder for signs of fighting. They made me undress to my waist in front of my wife and other women.

Then the captain came and asked to see my passport, and the captain said I must be checked on the computer. When we entered the wagon where the computer was supposed to be, there was no computer. I asked them to bring my wife but they said: `Your wife is already dead.'

I said: `I will never forgive you for all this. I will seek revenge or you can kill me right now.' Then they brought my wife.

They said: `Do you see all these people who cannot got through the checkpoint?' I said: `Yes, I do.' Then they asked me: `Do you have any money?' I said: `I have the money to pay the fee.' They said: `If you want to go, you must pay.' They asked for 1,000 roubles or four boxes of vodka. Then they said that 30 per cent of the population [of Grozny] will be killed when they enter the city.

I paid the money and the soldiers let me, my wife and another old woman go through. When we passed the checkpoint, the soldiers were firing above us into the air.

When the others asked why we were let through, the soldiers replied: `If you pay you will be let through.'

The soldiers at the checkpoint said things like: `Do you have young women? We know there are young men, but we need young women. Is your mother young? If she is young, she will do.' When my wife was brought to where I was, the soldiers looked at her and asked: `You have paid for yourself and your wife, but do you have any other pretty women in Grozny? Is your mother young or old?'

When a stranger comes and asks such things about your mother and sister, it is very humiliating, it touches your pride.

If a Chechen did this to another Chechen, there would be blood revenge. The insults I received would be serious enough for a blood feud.

I've lost my father, mother and sister - I know they are in the city but I could not find them. I came to take out my wife and will go back.

Fighting increases, page 11

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