Old and infirm left to suffer daily ordeal of bombardment

Civilians are still awaiting relief from war, reports Carlotta Gall in Grozny
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The people living in Chernorechiye had no knowledge of any ceasefire yesterday. They came under mortar attack mid-morning as planes circled overhead, stretching their nerves to the limit.

This district on the south-west edge of Grozny showed the signs of heavy bombardment from the last week of fighting.

Smashed tree branches lay in deserted streets pock-marked with mortar craters. People hung around outside their apartment buildings, not venturing far into the courtyard in case another mortar whistled in.

It was noon when the latest attack began. The night had been quiet, residents said, although they still all slept in their cellars. "We heard that Moscow announced an end to air strikes but the planes bombed again yesterday and today, just look what happened," said one Russian woman, pointing at the crater and shrapnel marks gouged in the side of the building.

"It was a deception. They deceive us every time," she added.

This time, only one man was slightly wounded, but in the next courtyard where a second mortar fell, an old woman was killed outright and a one- year-old baby, hit in the head by shrapnel, had been taken to the hospital, residents said.

The elderly victim lay in the cellar under white sheets as neighbours gathered to dig another grave. The garden of an abandoned psychiatric hospital was being turned into a cemetery for the dozens who had been killed, one woman said.

"We buried five people in a single grave," said Khesir Dzhapkayev, a telephone engineer. He just escaped injury this time, bolting into the cellar where his family of four children and his mother were sheltering.

Some 20 to 30 people were in the bunker, a dark warren of nooks and crannies. People ducked under water pipes, lighting their way with matches. Mr Dzhapkayev's paralysed mother lay on the earthen floor on a mattress in a tiny pantry.

"This is the third time we have had to live down here. It is an absolute nightmare," he said, shaking from the strain. "This is not even safe - how do I know it will not be hit with a penetration bomb?"

The fear is real. Less than a block away a penetration bomb had torn through every floor of an apartment building, blasting right down into the cellar.

The only people left in Chernorechiye are, as in the early days of the war, the old, the infirm and many Russians who, unlike the Chechens, have no family network to help them.

Chechen refugees were still pouring out of this district, driving along the tram lines, crossing two dangerously precarious bridges over the Sunzha River, half patched up since they were destroyed in the first battle.

Families with small children and old women scrambled down a muddy bank as the men frantically pushed cars along the rails. Mortars had landed in the field beside them minutes before. A grandmother collapsed, her family in tears.

The sound of heavy artillery explosions rolled across from the centre of the city every five or 10 minutes - less intensive than in recent days, but still more or less constant.

A silent procession followed: a young man carrying a wounded retarded boy and a group bearing a woman on a mattress, who was unconscious, her face marked by shrapnel.

Behind them the sky was black from four fires burning in the western district where Grozny's oil refinery appears to be completely destroyed.

The Chechen fighters, who have the run of the district, said they would demand clear action by Russia before easing up their stranglehold on Russian positions. "The war will not end until their troops leave," said Aslan, 21, as he walked back from fighting in the centre.

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