Salvation Army allowed into Chechnya

As the war in Chechnya appears to be drawing to a close, the whole of northern Chechnya and most other areas have been declared safe zones in control of federal forces. Some of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) who took refuge in Ingushetia have returned to their homes and others are considering making this move. The majority, however, have nowhere to return to, particularly those from Grozny. Their homes have been destroyed by the bombing and so they are likely to stay in the camps and settlements in Ingushetia for the foreseeable future.
On 2 March, a team of 12 Salvation Army monitors, including Captain Geoff Ryan (Regional Officer, Russia South), entered Chechnya carrying food packages for 2,600 children. Official invitations had been received from Yakub Illyevitch Deniev, the First Deputy of the Temporary Administration of the Chechen Republic, and Colonel Ivan Sergeivitch Beli, the Commandant for the Grozny region. The team was accompanied from Nazran, Ingushetia, by federal troops and Lieut-Colonel Yuri Gregorivitch Shandirov, the representative for the Russian Ministry for Emergencies (EMERCOM) attached to the Grozny Region Military Command.

The next day the team went to the Tolstoy-Yurt administration and commenced registration and the distribution of aid both to refugees and the local population. Captain Ryan and Idriss Musaev, The Salvation Army's Nazran Project Coordinator, drove to Gudermes, where the Chechen government has been temporarily relocated from Grozny. There they met officially with the First Deputy and a number of his deputies. Deniev reiterated his need for every assistance possible and assured the Salvation Army representatives that the government would be willing to assist in any way in the further distribution of aid in Chechnya. Also present at the meeting was Letchi Hamilovitch Gidizov, who is in charge of IDPs for the Chechen Republic. He also expressed his willingness to help The Salvation Army's efforts. He said that, although other organisations had applied to commence work in Chechnya, The Salvation Army was the first to take aid there. Following the meetings, Captain Ryan and Idriss Musaev travelled to New Grozny, Shali, Argun and Alkhan-Yurt.

By 4 March, the monitoring team had not finished distribution in Tolstoy-Yurt, so the rest of the aid supplies were unloaded and stored in a warehouse provided by EMERCOM. A team of four monitors was left in Tolstoy-Yurt to continue distribution there and then to go to four surrounding villages with aid.

On the way back to Nazran, the team drove through the centre of Grozny and saw EMERCOM members operating a small outdoor feeding programme, mainly for elderly people. The Salvation Army representatives met with the First Deputy of the Leninsky Region, Musa Amadenov, Sultan Alimhadlev, the head doctor of the Grozny Republican Children's Hospital, and Maglmev Ernuhanov, the head doctor of the First City Hospital (Leninsky Region). Once again, they expressed their need for any kind of help and promised their assistance. They said that, apart from EMERCOM, no organisation had entered Grozny to offer help since the beginning of the hostilities.

Grozny is practically destroyed, particularly in the centre, where half the buildings have collapsed and those still standing have been gutted through bombardment and fire. The team saw very few people - just a few elderly. The Salvation Army has received an official pass through the mayor's office to enter Grozny and distribute aid, even though the city is officially closed.

On Monday 6 March, Idriss Musaev took a further two trucks of supplies into Chechnya for distribution in the villages of Stary Athai, Chechen Aoal, Dekala and Prigorodomy.

At the end of the week it is planned to have two teams based in Chechnya, undertaking regular food distribution. It is hoped to obtain a permanent warehouse site and future aid shipments will be split between Ingushetia and Chechnya. Distribution inside Chechnya will be undertaken exclusively by Chechen and Ingush volunteers.

The Head of Technical Cooperation from the Canadian Embassy in Moscow, Eric P. Yendall, met with a Salvation Army representative while visiting the UNHCR in Ingushetia. The Canadian Embassy has a small project fund and NGOs are invited to submit proposals for money to assist with the crisis.

There has been frequent media coverage of Salvation Army efforts over the past few weeks. Russian television (NTV) has featured two reports covering the distribution of aid in Ingushetia, and a brief interview with Captain Ryan at the Nazran Republican Hospital by Associated Press was distributed internationally. An independent journalist for the Christian Press (Beverly Nickles) visited Ingushetia with The Salvation Army at the beginning of March. She covered relief work by evangelical organisations but centred her reports around Salvation Army efforts.

AUTHOR: Captain Geoff Ryan

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