Russians run amok among the Chechens

Even the Fascists did not treat us like this. Stalingrad wasn't as bad
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The Independent Online
A day after Boris Yeltsin declared the battle for Grozny won and the Russian military confined to "creative work", Said Dudayev, an 80-year- old Chechen invalid, hobbled , with the aid of a crutch, to a market on Tukhachevsky Street.

There he met an armoured personnel carrier full of jeering troops. The encounter cost him his life. "They were laughing. It was wild laughter," said Madina, one of the stall holders who survived this particular victory celebration by what Chechens and Russians left in Grozny describe as an army running amok.

"There was a girl next to me from my apartment block, Ira, selling cigarettes," recalled Madina, "She thought they were turning round but they drove straight into her, crushing her legs." According to witnesses, four people died and four were injured.

Mr Dudayev's body lies naked in the front room of the small brick house where he lived in north-east Grozny. Relatives scrubbed the corpse, as the skull oozed blood.On the front porch huddled a group of wailing women. "Even the Fascists didn't do this to us," cried Khara Akhmadova, Mr Dudayev's niece. "My father fought in Stalingrad and he said it wasn't as bad as this."

On Saturday, a day after the market place killing, the old man's crutch still lay where he fell, a trophy of another Russian triumph.

Now they have captured the Chechen capital of Grozny after two months of war, Russian troops, say residents, have gone on a rampage of killing and looting. Ordinary people, many of them Russians, speak of the horror of life in what President Yeltsin last week called a normal situation."Please tell them, tell them what's going on here," said Mrs Akhmadova.

Liza, the mother of Madina the stallholder, said soldiers came asking for vodka every day and were all drunk by nightfall. "They are beasts, not men," she said.

In Moscow the official line is that the Russian army and Interior Ministry troops are restoring "constitutional order" and "disarming bandit formations." The Justice Minister. Valentin Kovalyov. said last week that there had not been a single instance of looting.

As we approached Grozny from the north-west on Friday, the sky darkened, the dust thrown up by tanks mingling with the black cloud from burning oil refineries.

A grey pall has settled over the ruined city. We were on a bus, trailing a white flag from the wing mirror, bringing 40 refugees back to see what was left of their houses.

People gasped at the destruction, which mounts as you drive further into town. Many one-storey houses have been gutted, their blackened innards spilling onto the street. Whole apartment blocks have been incinerated, the streets full of churned up mud, burnt out cars and dangling trolley bus wires. A few gates and doors have been chalked with a feeble plea for mercy: "People live here".

In the Microrayon district where Mr Dudayev died , the boom of artillery still echoes from the south and west but people pay scant attention. The real danger is no longer shells, air raids or mortar fire but marauding soldiers.

Natasha, a Russian woman, was the only person of 50 inhabitants in the staircase of her apartment block. She had sat out the entire battle for the city, staying put even after a heavy-calibre bullet smashed through the wall of her bedroom. She said she had not slept for a month after she watched from a neighbour's window three Russian soldiers blown to bits by a grenade.

Like many Russians she feels little sympathy for the Chechen leader Dzhokhar Dudayev, but is appalled at the chaos the Russians have brought.

"We lived in fear for three years under Dudayev and now we are living in fear," she said, lighting the candles for the evening and drawing the curtains against another long night.

No one appears to be in control of the soldiers, drawn equally from regular army and Interior Ministry units. "Lena, my daughter, was walking along with a friend when some soldiers came up to them, put guns against their heads and said: `they're nice, its a pity to shoot them,'" said Tanya, a Russian woman. "The girls cried out: `we're Russian` and the soldiers went on."

Most vulnerable are the Chechens, despised as "blacks" and "bandits" by many Russians. The village of Staraya Sunzha, just outside the city, had not seen a Russian soldier until a a week ago. Untouched by the fighting, most of its relatively prosperous residents opposed Mr Dudayev. But Russian troops are now dragging them into the war.

Rusland Utsiyev said riot troops came into his house, put a gun to this neck and asked for dollars. They took his bottles of Amaretto and vodka, shot up his car in the courtyard, smashing the windows and engine.

They then moved across the road. A machine-gunner guarded the gate as colleagues searched the brick house. When they left, neighbours rushed in to check on two brothers, Aslambek and Musa Atayev, living there.

"We couldn't find them anywhere," said Said Hassan, "Then we found them. They'd thrown them in the septic tank." The bricks above the tank are daubed with blood. Aslambek had been shot in the back of the neck and Musa in the neck, according to neighbours. "Now they are forcing us to take up arms," said Said Hassan.