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Unsung heroism of a nurse caught in the crossfire

Urus Martan - Ruman Ibrisova, 34, deserved a medal, but as she sat in the nurses' room at the hospital 20 kilometres south of Grozny, few were aware of her feat, writes Carlotta Gall.

Ms Ibrisova, a nurse at Grozny's Hospital No 4, which was inundated with wounded from fighting on Tuesday, was climbing to the operating theatre to donate blood when disaster struck.

As she opened the door a rocket slammed into the operating theatre, demolishing the room. Ms Ibrisova was thrown across the corridor by the blast, and survived with a small wound, but the three surgeons and four nurses inside the room were all killed.

Ms Ibrisova was left with a hospital full of more than 100 sick and wounded, fresh casualties from that day.

Chechen fighters battling their way into the city had been headed off by snipers and made a detour through the hospital compound. The Russian helicopters pursuing them turned their guns on the hospital itself.

Ms Ibrisova and her two colleagues rushed to move the wounded down into the cellars of the five-storey building.

"I was running all the time. I was looking for people to give blood, carrying the wounded down. I was not thinking, I was just running and running," she said.

That night one of her helpers, Andrei,, died. She buried him and two of the nurses. Her mentor, the chief surgeon, she could not reach in the operating theatre where he had been killed.

That night the fighters urged her to evacuate patients from the city, as the battle was likely to intensify.

Ms Ibrisova pressed civilians in a nearby bunker to help find buses, and together, amid continued air raids, they started loading the sick and injured, sending them out south and then west as directed by the fighters. "We women walked out ahead, holding white flags up. They let us through, thank God."

Of the 100 to 150, she lost only nine killed from the original rocket attack.

Shaken and haggard, she said she blamed the Russians, not the Chechen fighters. "It is Russian bombs and rockets that are killing people here."

She found her family, who had escaped on Thursday. "My daughter ran to me, feeling my legs and arms, saying 'Mama, are you wounded?'," she said, finally bursting into tears.