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Families try to get on with life amid carnage

CHECHEN FAMILIES are trying to keep up a semblance of normality amid the Russian assault, which targets civilians and guerrillas alike.

In the few villages under Chechen control, children did their homework in cellars lit by oil lamps. All they drew was war. "If they draw anything, it's a plane, or a helicopter," said Asya. She shared two rooms with 10 other family members and two young boys separated from their families as they fled the bombing campaign.

Beds were prepared in makeshift shelters for refugees. "Sometimes it feels like we live here," said Asya. Her village of 200 had swollen to 2,000 in a few days. Looking at pictures of the village, she said: "I'm wondering who will be missing next. Ten people from our mosque have been killed."

In Elistanji village the men went out to collect firewood, risking their lives with each step because of landmines. The women tramped down to the stream with buckets to fetch water. "When the weather is a bit better we go into the wood and collect firewood but you have to get into the deep woods to find it and it's very dangerous," said Zaina. "There are mines everywhere. People are blown up with every step."

Doctors at Shali hospital were helped by medical students and volunteer nurses unable to conceal their distress as they cared for the wounded, whose screams rang out as they were treated without anaesthetic.

I returned to Shali next day find the centre of the town, crammed full of refugees, had been hit by a Russian cluster bomb. Seven hours before the attack the mosque elders had sent a deputation to the Russian commanders outside the town to appeal to them to spare the refugees.

Raisa Talkhanova spent a week filming in Chechnya.`Correspondent inside Chechnya' is shown on BBC2 today at 7.30pm.