Raiders leave a trail of squalor and deep anger

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The Independent Online
Khasavyurt - The scene the rebels left behind in the Kizlyar hospital was one of squalor and devastation, writes Phil Reeves. White flags fluttered from smashed windows which were buttressed with old mattresses. Walls were pockmarked with bullet holes.

Bottles, cigarette packets and half-gnawed joints of lamb the Chechens brought in to supply them for several days lay strewn over the floor. Outside hot water pipes punctured by bullets spewed water, which froze into bizarre ice sculptures. On a balcony lay the bloody detritus of an operation - possibly one of many carried out by surgeons on injured fighters.

As shocked staff carried out frightened patients the body of a Russian police officer lay in a pool of blood on the third floor. Magamed Malacheyev, a surgeon trapped in the siege, said the officer was shot by the Chechens in an effort to force the Russians to stop bombarding the building.

Trembling, Valerie Karpenko, 40, lay in bed and recalled how the rebels burst in with machine guns and rocket-launchers. "They shouted: 'Don't worry, you are now under the protection of the Free Chechen Republic. We won't touch the sick. We just want the Russians to leave Chechnya so they won't kill our women and children'."

In front of the hospital lay 21 aircraft missiles and a small pile of anti-tank mines, which Chechens had placed in every room to deter Russian fire.

Across the muddy street, Ilmira Remikhanov, 21, and her husband, Anvar, hid when they heard the rebels arrive. But they decided to surrender, with their six-month-old son, after spotting a Chechen aiming a rocket launcher at their home.

The raid came as a profound shock to the town, which is a patchwork of different nationalities, including scores of Chechen families who until now have been regarded as trusted neighbours. The Chechens' decision to mount an attack so close to home has caused deep disgust.