Faces of war in a Russian winter

The fear and confusion of a refugee family, an old woman's mask of bereavement, a prisoner's distant haunted stare: characters in a ruined frozen landscape. These photographs show the bitter face of Boris Yeltsin's campaign to crush the breakaway Chechenstate in southern Russia. Not since the battles of the eastern front in 1943 have photographers captured such stark images of a winter war on Russian soil.

Tolstoy had seen the 19th century version of war in the Caucasus and the Crimea. He later became a pacifist but he admitted - in War and Peace - that an unfolding battle had a ghastly, bizarre visual impact. Today, 140 years later, the Caucasus is in flames again.

To the leaders of the West, the battle for the Chechen capital, Grozny, may only be an internal Russian problem. But in its horror and its futility, together with the scale and sophistication of the weaponry, it surpasses the experience of the former Yugoslavia.

In the last few days, since these pictures were taken, the front line has moved right into Grozny. The Russian forces advancing through the city have shown little concern for the Russian people who lived side by side with their Muslim neighbours.

On Monday , at a village very close to Starye Atagi, the people buried a Muslim fighter, Khamzat Agayev, just 18 years old. The Muslim funeral was quick and quiet, with no women present - they mourn at home - and a seven-foot pointed stone bearing a crescent moon and star was seated in the grave.

The following day, in Chernorechye, the southernmost suburb of Grozny, there was a Christian funeral as Russian shells rained in, sweeping towards the southern city limits.

By this time, the inhabitants of the suburb were packing up to leave. A few possessions were piled into cars or trucks, but these people had lost almost everything.

The Chechens are holding many Russian prisoners. This has led to allegations that the Russians are taking civilian hostages to exchange for them. It would be a ruthless move in keeping with the nature of this war.

In the basement of a building on the Minutka roundabout, a mile south of the presidential palace, the Chechens were holding 17 Russian prisoners. They were all conscripts, most of them 18 years old, although their sergeant was a little older. One of the young men had been in an armoured personnel carrier right in front of the presidential palace when it was knocked out.

The Chechens seemed to treat the conscripts well - there were even a few beer cans about and the conscripts joked with each other, nervously. But even so, their position was unenviable. Yesterday Russian forces based in the eastern Khankala suburb subjected the Minutka district to constant shelling. The Chechens, armed with rocket-propelled grenades and automatic rifles, said they were sitting out the bombardments, waiting for Russian ground troops to move in.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft and co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
businessUber, Snapchat and Facebook founders among those on the 2015 Forbes Billionaire List
News
news... and what your reaction to the creatures above says about you
News
Homer’s equation, in an episode in 1998, comes close to the truth, as revealed 14 years later
science
News
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - Covent Garden, central London - £45k - £55k

£45000 - £55000 per annum + 30 days holiday: Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - ...

Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator - Lancashire - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: 3rd Line Support Engineer / Network ...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Web Developer

£26000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Web Developer is required to ...

Ashdown Group: PeopleSoft Developer - London - £45k

£45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: PeopleSoft Application Support & Development ...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003