"Rebyata (Guys!)! Don't kill me - I have small children!"
Source: French list
February 5, 2002 was the second anniversary of mass killing in the Chechen village of Novy Aldi, a village a few miles south of Grozny. On February 5, 2000, hundreds of Russian troops entered Novy Aldi and began methodically killing the inhabitants, in the streets or in their houses, leaving dozens of corpses behind. Later, the surviving villagers speculated that the soldiers were Russian mercenaries - faces blackened with mud, uniforms without insignia. The murders' "reason" for the killing was as follows: completely drunken soldiers, demanding money. If a household had no money or not enough, soldiers would grab gold earrings or gold teeth. When a household could produce neither cash nor gold, a man in the house would be killed - begging would not save his life.
But there was a reason for the exceptional cruelty of this massacre. Because of Novy Aldi's proximity to Grozny, many Chechen militants passed through the village during retreats from the fight for Grozny (2000): during December 1999/January 2000 the Federal army heavily bombed and shelled Novy Aldi. The inhabitants, including children and elderly, hid for weeks in basements, only rarely venturing out in search of water. Many elderly people suffered strokes and heart attacks; in damp, freezing basements, people died from pneumonia. Many villagers who tried to deliver water died in bombing raids: within two months, the small village had 75 new graves. For the Federal commanders, in particular for Generals V. Shamanov, G. Troschev, V. Manilov, and of course the man responsible for all that happened in Chechnya, the commander of the joint troops in Chechnya, General Viktor Kazantsev, these civilian deaths were not enough.
On February 4, 2000 there was a routine check of the passports of the Novy Aldi villagers. During the inspection, some soldiers were heard to mutter something strange, "Leave the village - we are followed by beasts, they're right behind us. They have orders to kill."
Next day the nightmare began.
Here are fragments, frame by frame, of the documentary film shot by peace activist Viktor Popkov and his cameraman on February 9, 2000.
We see the cemetery of the village of Novy Aldi. A group of middle-aged Chechens are burying two corpses, the bodies wrapped in blankets. Both are lowered into the same grave. On the relatives' faces we see expressions ranging from desperate grief to passive numbness. An elderly Chechen man turns to the camera and says," After the boeviki left Novyi Aldi, the elderly got together and went to the Russians, and saw their colonel, Lukashov. We told him that there were no boeviks in our village. `Your soldiers can come in and check this out. You can detain us as hostages, if you don't want to take our word for it; or we can walk in front of you, as human shields.' On February 4 there was a regular passport check. On February 5 other Federal troops, a different battalion. What happened then is hard to talk about. Soldiers, all drunk and on drugs. By our count, 84 people were killed. Among them were elderly women and children. Killed in cellars, in houses, in the street. Killed because they didn't have enough money to pay off the soldiers.
The elderly Chechen man tries to continue but is choked by tears. Off-camera another voice speaks: "This man is the brother of one of the men we buried. It's the second brother - these bodies are right near the father, and another brother - well, the soldiers didn't see them." The camera shows the speaker, and he continues: "After that, the Russians took all the valuable stuff and set the house on fire." He adds: "The soldiers who came here on February 5th were said to be of the 245th division , 6th detachment."
The camera shows a barn. Standing before it are an old man and an old woman in a headscarf, her arms folded over her chest in grief. She says: "We've buried my two sons and my husband. Camera shot: newly dug graves. "They are not guilty of anything. They came to my nephew to fix a roof, and when they were returning ..." (she is wailing with grief) "Who are the killers? Why are they such barbarians?" She breaks down, sobbing.) "They killed my good sons, my innocent sons, and my husband. I am now all alone ... Another neighbor, he was carrying my dead son's body - and he was killed. Can't anyone come to help us?" An old Chechen, leads her away. She continues to talk wailing, "They never in their life took into their hands a weapon. My sons are not guilty of anythi-i-ng!"
Camera shot: near freshly-dug graves, an elderly Chechen man squats on the ground. Nearby a dead man, maybe 55 years old, is lying on a stretcher. On the chest of the dead man is his hat. The elderly man is holding a passport and looking into it, says: "This is Sapper Street, before you is Chatura, Viktor Platonovich, a Ukranian. He went out to help a neighbor, and on his return home, ... look [what happened to him]" He places the passport of the dead man on his chest. "Killed on February 5th. There's a bullet hole through his passport."
An elderly Chechen man in a sweater and fur hat is speaking to the camera: " The Federal troops came, supposedly to check passports, and ..." The camera moves to show the bodies of two dead men. "These two brothers were killed, Guna and Omar, men about 50 years old. One of them got it in the eye, and he bled all over his chest. Look, he still has his hands in his pockets - he didn't have time to take them out. Kudozov, Guna and Omar, of 88 Cemlian Street. Russian guns, and the brothers' bodies have been lying in the street until now."
An elderly Chechen woman is standing in front of a house, her hands clasped tightly in front of her. She is staring straight ahead, and we can see that it is very difficult for her to talk. "It was February 5th, I can't remember what day of the week it was. I was told that the soldiers were coming as they did the day before, to check passports. We already had come out of the cellar and were in the house. Then the shooting started, and it was very close. We didn't realize what was going on. But people yelled to us, "Something terrible is happening!" Something we heard, not far from here - we could hear someone speaking to soldiers, `Guys, I just came here to help my friend to fix the roof.' And another was standing near the gate, he was taken away somewhere. And another was taken away. To where? Later it turned out that they were taken to their own houses: the soldiers demanded gold, silver, from their families. Whatever they had. One took from his father money, I'm not sure how much, and then the soldiers took the man back with them to return him to where they picked him up - but the soldiers killed him on the way. We know the exact place where he was killed. The second man's house - his wife offered all her money, their goat - and the soldier shot the ground right at her feet and told her "If you don't get more, I will kill you." Somehow these two managed to stay alive, this man and his wife." The woman gestures with her hand: "In that house over there, everybody got killed. Only Akhyad survived. Three others - Sultan Gabrailov, Vakha, another Vakha who always wore dark glasses, I don't remember his last name - these three were killed on the spot. And the soldiers ripped out their gold teeth. Then they came to us, made all four of us stand outside: my husband, son, me, and my granddaughter. Right here. And said, `You got three minutes. If you do not give ... ` And they shouted obscene threats, things that didn't sound like human language. The smell of vodka from them was very strong. They could hardly stand. The soldier told my husband, `If you don't give me more, I'll kill you.' And more swearing and curses. The soldier counted the money, then walked up to me. `And you, old ---,' and more cursing - I can't repeat what he called us. `We'll take your gold teeth and you'll die.' And more swearing in Russian. I said, `Sonny, my teeth are in my denture, it's simple - you can take it.' I took it out, and handed it to him. He said, `Get it out of my face (another obscenity). And to my son: `I'm going to shoot you in the eye - you look like a boevik.' My son never was a boevik - on our street there were no boeviks at all. Not in the first war either - not even one young man went to war. We're poor people; the rich people have already left the village, and we have nothing. No food, no dreams, no living, nothing left." Living place ruined, razed by bombs, soldiers, house ruined ... airplanes, by bombs, by soldiers, by artillery, automatic weapons, they were killing us. We were sitting in cellars, hungry, cold, nothing to eat, just surviving. And what now? I took out my earrings, my granddaughter took out her little earrings, gave them to the soldier, I told them `Sonny, please take them. Leave us alive.' And he again to my son, `I will just shoot you in the eye.' Then father said, `Sonny, he has six children - don't kill him. He's my only son.' And he still threatened, `If you don't give one more gram of gold, I'll kill everybody.' My son used to have crowns - they had already been removed. My granddaughter went in the house to get these four crowns, brought them out. Then the soldier said, with obscenity. `OK, everyone into the house. If you leave the house, I'll kill you all.' Then he left our yard. He was very drunk, barely managed to get out of our yard."
Through a tiny shot-out window the camera shows a cellar, so dark we can hardly see a body lying on a bed. Off-camera a woman is speaking very emotionally: "That's her body, there on the bed. She was a Russian - she got killed when a soldier threw a grenade in here. See, there's a piece of the limonka [grenade]. They were very good Russian people, our neighbors - we lived next to them as friends. When the shelling got bad we took her with us to our basement and we stayed here together for five months. She never did anything bad to anyone. Why did they kill her? And they told us they laid mines next to her body - but why? Her body is starting to smell bad, but we are afraid to touch her. We covered the window so that cats and dogs can't go in to gnaw at her. ..."
The camera shows the interior of another house. Lying on the floor are three corpses. One, a man about 70, has died from a matchbox-sized headwound, and blood and brain tissue have oozed onto the floor. Off-camera we hear the voice of an elderly man speaking slowly, his voice shaking with emotion: "Abulhanov, Akhmet; he was born in 1921." Another corpse is a woman, about 60. Her fingers are contorted in a pre-death agony. The voice continues: "Abdulmejinova Zina, born 1940 ..." The next corpse is lying somewhat to the side: a man about 50. "Abdulmejinov Hassan, born in 1953. He was killed on February 5, 2000 at 2:30. They were in their own house - and they just came in and shot them on the spot."
The camera moves to the speaker, an old Chechen man of about 75 wearing a fur hat. Standing a bit away from him, we see a woman crying. Through her tears she says, "They were waiting the day when the Federals would come and say `There is no more war.' They were waiting for the day when no one is killed anymore, and we will be free. But the Russians came with automatic guns and grenades. They threatened us, they took all we had - money, gold. And this old man, the people saw him: the soldiers promised to leave him alive. But when he gave them his last kopek, they shot him. They said, 'You old man, you are also a boevik.' He pleaded with them, `What are you doing, guys?'" The woman continues: "On February 5 they killed in Novy Aldi almost a hundred people." (She is weeping noisily). "I have no more words. This is that war, we saw with our own eyes what terrorism is. We lived through it ourselves. And the Russian radio declared on February 6th that the war is over. How can it be over for us, if we can never forget this day?" She is sobbing. "How did we survive? I cannot explain why. Allah let us be spared. Russian soldiers killed our men, and they were going to kill us, women and children."
The camera shows the interior of a neighboring house. A Chechen man about 45 years is speaking: "Sultan Mukhaev came to my house on February 5th about two in the afternoon, asking me for money. A Russian soldier had him at gunpoint, a machine-gun and grenade in his hands. I'm asking, `How much do you need? I'll go to collect whatever I can.' My father had only 75 rubles, I borrowed from my neighbor 150. I myself had 200 rubles. I gave Sultan all the money, but the soldier still took him away and said, `We will let you go free.' And now tonight I found Sultan - dead." He looks at the camera and is silent for a long time. "I cannot find any more words."
The camera shows the interior of another house. On the floor is lying the corpse of an elderly man. A young Chechen man reaches down to straighten a coat which is covering the corpse. He says, "This old man lived in this house. When he heard the shooting he went out to see who had been killed, and he was shot on the spot. He was about 76, or closer to 80. They didn't shoot him with one bullet - they emptied half an ammunition belt into him. Then they ripped out his gold teeth." The camera follows as the young man walks into another room. On the floor is a dead woman, about 45 years old. "After they killed the old man, this woman Koko Bisultanova was the first to run out to see. Right there in the yard, they got her with a small cannon." A few feet away we see another dead woman. "This is Amani," the young man continues. "She jumped out after Koko - she saw her falling and immediately rushed back to the house. A soldier followed right after her and shot her down. They went into the house and seized everything of value and smashed up the house. And not only in this house, they were going and do this in all houses." An elderly woman interrupts the young Chechen man. "There are so many dead bodies - I saw them with my own eyes! I first saw them killed - " Her face is twisted with grief. "First I saw this woman . They ripped out her gold teeth - she had some, and now they're gone. The Russians ripped them out - nobody else but them would do this. My neighbor, an old man, also was lying here. And another old man was here, next to him - and they also ripped out their teeth." We hear the cameraman ask, "Who? Who is `they'?" Both the young man and the elderly woman answer quickly. They shout, "The soldiers! The Russian soldiers, and the special forces soldiers!"
The woman continues emotionally: "Then they came to me and said, `You! Up against the wall!' I was saved by a miracle. They just told us openly, `We have an order to shoot all! An order to kill every one of you!' And then down the street, if you go there right now, they will talk to you ... A girl, nine years old! Her mother, 41 years! They shot the mother down, right in front of the girl! Eighty-four people were killed. It's unbearable! We have to do something, whatever it takes!"
A young Chechen man speaks to the camera: "Two streets - 84 bodies!" A woman: "And on our street - they killed the wounded! She seems to be quoting someone. `They're suffering so badly - better finish them off!' (she continues): "And they did finish them off. It was a hideous genocide on that day! February 5th!"
The camera shows the interior of another house. The corpse of a man is lying on the floor, his face covered with blood; in place of the upper half of his head is a mass of bloody tissue. The young Chechen man who was speaking previously continues, off-camera, (but we can't hear the name): "He was about 45 years old ... He got shot simply because he left his house and walked out on the street. They beat him up, real bad, then shot him - they shot half his head away!" We see another dead man - with a deep, bloody hole in his temple. "This is Dadaev Ibrahim - he was at his friend's house. He, too - just walked out on the street and they shot him in the head. He's 50 years old. Both of them, shot. They didn't have pity on anyone - just one after another, shot!"
Another house. An aged man gestures to a corpse lying on the floor. He says, "It happened on the 5th of February. He is Podvershky - he was shot on the spot." Another corpse is lying there, covered with a blanket. "Jahmbekov Vakha - they mutilated him badly. They asked him for money or gold, but he's a poor man. And because he had no money to pay them off, he was shot down!"
Interior of the house next door. On the floor we see six corpses. Three are old men about 70, the others are men around 40 years of age. The hands of the dead men are clenched. One of them has a bloody face. Off-camera, a man's voice: "These three are my cousins. That one is my second cousin. They were going for water that day, they were carrying large bottles, and right here on this corner, they were all killed. That one is our neighbor, Shamil. They found him and his cousin Moussa - that's him - they were killed just at the gate. All these innocent people were killed on the spot."
Camera shows a yard in Novy Aldi. Everywhere are traces of a fire; we can see the walls of the burned house. Off-camera, a man's voice: "The owner of this house was taken away, the neighbors said. You can see - the house was set on fire, everything smashed, broken, looted." We can see different broken items in the yard. The voice continues: "This is the way the Federals left Novy Aldi that day. Over there you can see a sofa. And windows. Doors! No one knows where they took the man who lives here."
The camera focuses on a small grenade, a limonka, which is hanging from the door of a small barn. Off-camera, the same man's voice: "They mined our little store! They took everything that was there. See on the door, a limonka! And inside, there's another. There are so many of them - on the doors, on the gates. They set up trip-wires, and they went away ... And there aren't any boeviks here, so who are the limonkas for?"
The camera shows four people on the street. One is a Russian woman, about 55, another is a Chechen woman of about 45 with a Chechen boy, about 10, and another Russian woman, about 75, wearing a blue headscarf. The Russian woman speaks: "Was it on the 21st we came here?" The Chechen woman: "The 21st of January, when they bombed us in Chernorechie, killed our relatives. We decided to move to Aldi. We came to Aldi, brought with us everyone we could, our neighbors. The Russian woman continues: "Several of us from a couple houses got together, with the children, in one basement. It was so terrible - it was hell. All we heard was bombs exploding. There were no apartments anymore, nothing. Then we realized that bombs could land in our basement, so we had to get out of there, and then we came here. Some other people took us all in, and we were able to get some rest. And then the bombing started here. There aren't any boeviks here, but they were bombing here anyway! When the bombing ended, we were so happy! We got out of hell! And then the first Russians who came here February 4th were normal. But February 5 came, and they starting the killing. Killing peaceful people! We got from being bombed to this, from one hell to another hell." The Chechen woman speaks: "It was a terrible sight. You would have to see it - shooting innocent people!" She turns to the elderly Russian woman: "Aunt Anya! Tell them what happened, how they shot your husband! It was a terrible thing! They didn't spare Russians, didn't spare Chechens. They just said straight out, `We were given orders to shoot everybody. Kill everybody!' OMON [Russian special forces] or MOMON, I don't know. Mercenaries! ... They had special hats on, and ... Such a terrible sight! ... They took everything they could from the women. And then the second day after the killing, when the bodies were in the houses, a "Ural" drove up. I thought, `It's a BTR [armored truck]. It was a truck. It turns out that that day they took all the stuff from the houses and hid it somewhere, and on this day they were returning to pick it up. They stepped over four dead bodies in this house, and took everything they could. They're not human, they are beasts. They came to kill.. 'Chechens!' they said. "Do not leave any Chechens alive ... ALL Chechens are boeviks. Every one of them is a terrorist, women, children. Kill everybody!' And children. This boy, you see?" She removes his hat and caresses his head. "They told him, `You'll grow up to be a boevik. You're a terrorist, you have to be killed!'" Shyly, the boy takes his hat back from her and walks to her side. The Chechen woman continues: "That's how they terrified the child."
Aunt Anya, the Russian woman, speaks to the camera: "I'm Russian. We've been living with Chechens as neighbors. This is one of my neighbors, and here's another neighbor. We all were trying to survive together in the same basement." The Chechen woman continues, speaking with great emotion: "And they threw grenades into the basement! They blew people up alive! It is terrible - they're facists. Facists!"
The camera focuses on evidence collected by the organization Human Rights Watch.
Nageeva Aminat (not his real name), a citizen of the village Novy Aldi, speaks to the camera: "February 5, about noontime - my father, brother, and I came out and saw soldiers setting houses on fire ... When they saw us, one of them cried out, 'Put a mark on their foreheads, Seryi, so it'll be easier to shoot them through the head.' Ruslan Ellsaev - he was about 40 years old - he was standing outside his house smoking when they shot him. One bullet hit 2 centimeters from his heart and he needed a doctor, but we couldn't show him to a Russian. They finished off sick and wounded people, peaceful people, elderly and women. Lyoma Akhtaev, born 1968, - he stayed alive by a miracle after a mortal shell landed in his house. Three of his family were killed, and he was badly wounded. On February 5th the soldiers burned him alive, him and Isa Akhmadov (born 1950). We found their bones afterwards, we collected them in a container. Any expert can prove that they are human bones, it's human DNA. They also dragged Shamkhan Baytiarov out of his house and burned him alive. The beasts killed 80-year-old Rakiat Akhmatova - first they wounded her, and then they threw her to the ground. "Don't shoot!" she cried out - and there are other people who witnessed this. Ramzan Ellmurzav, born 1967, he was an invalid - on February 5th he was wounded and he died in the night, of peritonitis they said. And they forced the two Idigov brothers into a cellar and then threw grenades in with them. One managed to remain alive somehow, the other was blown to bits." Mahomed Gaitaev was shot next to his own gate. Is it possible to mention them all?!"
Zoya Umarova (a resident of Novy Aldi; this is not her real name) speaks to the camera: "There were no boeviks among those killed on February 5th. All were peace-abiding citizens ... All died terrible deaths. Isa Akhmadov and Ramzan, one of the sons of Tsanaev - apparently they were burned alive. And the Khazbulatovs were killed and then burned in their home: Abdul (born 1940 or '42), his wife Samart and their two sons Magomed and Akhmad, 11 and 13 years old. Another person I knew who died - the old man Gupa Khaidaev, he was over 70. A man who had never offended anybody! Tuta Khaniev also died, born in 1954, he also wasn't a boevik. I don't know when and how this war will end, and how many more victims will be sacrificed on President Putin's altar. I only know that after all these horrors I cannot feel respect for Russians. I doubt that we will be able to live in peace with them within one state."
The atrocities of February 5, 2000, brought home a message not only to the villagers of Novy Aldi but to every single inhabitant of Chechnya: Russian forces are prepared to use this level of terror against any village. Against every village, if the Chechen people do not abandon their struggle for their own independent state and abandon their protests against Moscow's agenda for Chechnya's natural resources. The intent of the terror is break the will and spirit of the people, to leave Chechnya a land of traumatized, mutilated survivors.
Four days after the nightmare of February 5th, the well-known peace activist Viktor Popkov, member of the Moscow organization Pamiat' (Memorial) arrived in Novy Aldi. He had brought a film producer to Chechnya, to Novy Aldi. From their interviews and camerawork, the world has documentary evidence on film of the terrible crimes of the Russian federal troops.
On April 18, 2001, Viktor Popkov was machine-gunned by a masked assailant, 50 meters from one of the Russian checkpoints in Chechnya. He died on June 2 in a Moscow hospital. Human rights defenders are convinced that he was killed for his peace activities, particularly for this film which so vividly documents the February 2000 atrocities.
This documentary must be shown on every large screen in the world. The Hague and Strasbourg courts must hear the evidence and address the crimes of the Russian military against hundreds of thousands of Chechen civilians, against countless thousands "disappeared" into filtration camps. The war and suffering must be brought to an end. And just as we return to the lessons of the Gulag and of the Holocaust, we must return to the 21st-century wars in Chechnya: mass crimes are not determined by the number of victims. The main nightmare of atrocity is the moral degradation of that part of the human society that perpetrates the crimes, and that part of it that contributes by its level of indifference, its accomplice.