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MT: Sniper-for-hire dreams of her own home

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  • marius@sprint.ca
    Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2001. Page 1 Sniper-for-Hire Dreams of Her Own Home By Nabi Abdullaev Staff Writer Igor Tabakov / MT Galina Sinitsyna, who once competed in
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 1, 2001
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      Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2001. Page 1

      Sniper-for-Hire Dreams of Her Own Home
      By Nabi Abdullaev
      Staff Writer


      Igor Tabakov / MT

      Galina Sinitsyna, who once competed in the sport of shooting, talking
      about her hopes to become a sniper in Chechnya and earn enough money
      to buy an apartment.


      VLADIMIR, Central Russia -- Galina Sinitsyna has spent months trying
      to persuade military recruitment officers to send her to Chechnya to
      kill rebels for money.

      Inspired by the sudden wealth of contract soldiers returning from the
      war zone, she wants to use her skills as a competitive shooter to
      become a sniper.

      "Where else can I earn enough to buy a new apartment for us?" said
      Sinitsyna, 40, who has an 18-year-old son.

      She lost her job last year as a sports instructor for the trolleybus
      park in Vladimir, a city about 200 kilometers east of Moscow, when new
      management decided to cut the budget. The best job offer she's gotten
      since then was as a contract killer, but she turned it down.

      "I've heard that snipers in Chechnya are paid 1,800 rubles ($60) a
      day, plus some extra for every Chechen rebel they kill," she said last
      week while cuddling her kitten in her home, a communal apartment on a
      pig farm.

      Even though the military is eager to hire contract soldiers to fight
      in Chechnya, enlistment officers in Vladimir have repeatedly turned
      down her application, saying she is too old.

      A duty officer in the Vladimir regional military enlistment office
      said Monday that Sinitsyna is not eligible to serve in the army.

      "According to the law on military service, the first army contract can
      be offered to a person older than 18 but younger than 40," the duty
      officer said.

      But Sinitsyna refuses to give up the idea. "I will go as a cook or as
      a nurse," she said. "There, in Chechnya, I'll make up my way to the
      snipers, who receive the highest wages among the troops."

      Despite what Sinitsyna says, the so-called kontraktniki serving in
      Chechnya are paid about 6,000 rubles ($200) a month, according to
      independent military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer, who said no
      distinction in pay for snipers has ever been announced.

      "They used to make the standard pay for contract soldiers of 2,000
      rubles, plus combat pay of 850 rubles to 950 rubles a day, but the
      Defense Ministry cut their pay in May. Now, privates in Chechnya are
      paid double the standard pay, plus a 60 ruble per diem, which come out
      to about 6,000 rubles."

      "There are few volunteers today to go to Chechnya for 6,000 rubles a
      month," Felgenhauer said. "Moreover, those kontraktniki who went to
      Chechnya earlier are deserting their units because of the low pay."

      In August, when NTV television came to film a report about her,
      Sinitsyna used the opportunity to storm into the regional enlistment
      office, or voyenkomat.

      "I brought the TV crew with me to the voyenkomat and pleaded with them
      again to sign me up," she related agitatedly. "The voyenkomat officers
      did not say no then and promised to contact me soon."

      Sinitsyna said she has nothing personal against Chechens. "The
      Chechens I know are great people. In a way, they are better than our
      Russian guys, and I'd never ever think of killing any of them.

      "As for the rebels, I don't know them personally, so I wouldn't care
      about shooting at them," she said.

      Since losing her job, Sinitsyna has earned a meager living sweeping
      entry ways in her native town, Lesnoi, some 20 kilometers from
      Vladimir. The town's 3,000 residents inhabit 12 crumbling, five-story
      concrete buildings, the property of a giant pig farm that is the
      town's only employer.

      Cigarettes here are usually sold separately because few can afford to
      buy a full pack at once. And in the local cafe, town people offer
      visitors electric tools made at a plant in Vladimir for absurdly low
      prices.

      Eleven years ago, the farm, where Sinitsyna worked taking care of the
      pigs after graduating from school, gave her and her son a room of 12
      square meters in a communal apartment.

      "We share a common kitchen, bathroom and toilet with another family
      and I am sick and tired of this kind of communism," Sinitsyna said,
      flashing a smile of decaying and missing teeth.

      Her shabby furniture -- two worn sofas, a wardrobe with doors that no
      longer close and a writing table with a Soviet-made television set on
      top of it -- leave little free space in the room. But everything is
      very neat and, with her kitten Styopa roaming the room, it is quite
      cozy.

      But Sinitsyna is obsessed with getting her own place. "Serving in
      Chechnya for just six months is enough to buy a new apartment," she
      said with conviction.

      When she showed up at the military enlistment office for the first
      time, the officers looked at me wide-eyed. "They asked me whether I
      knew what the war was," she recalled. "And I asked them whether they
      knew what work in a pig sty was."

      The 10 years she worked on the pig farm, spending her days in
      unventilated barns, stuffy with the ammonia smell of pig excrement,
      took a toll on her health, Sinitsyna said. Cuts refused to heal and
      her limbs swelled so much that at times she had trouble moving.

      "Working in a pig barn and in a war are pretty similar occupations,"
      she said. "You may die here and there."

      Sinitsyna, who was once the regional champion in long-distance
      running, swimming and shooting, said she was offered a job as a
      contract killer by one of her old friends, who, as she put it, became
      "a serious businessman."

      "Once he was giving me a lift in his Alfa-Romeo and suddenly he
      offered me a job killing his rivals," Sinitsyna said. "To test me, he
      produced a Colt revolver, handed it to me and, as we were driving
      through the forest, asked me to hit the trees that he pointed to. I
      did it six times without a single miss."

      The businessman promised to buy her a new apartment, a car and to pay
      a hefty sum for each successful assignment. She declined. Asked her
      reasons, she did not offer any ethical arguments.

      "Contract killers don't last long," she said simply.

      Her son, Viktor, whom she brought up alone, is now in the army.

      "He wrote me a letter asking for my permission to volunteer for
      Chechnya," Sinitsyna said, tousling her boyish hairdo nervously. "I
      agreed, because where else can the boy earn money in this country?
      When he returns, a grown-up man, how will he live in this small room
      with me?"

      She said her acquaintances and relatives understand her desire to go
      to Chechnya, with the exception of her 76-year-old mother.

      "Mom told me that I will make it through any medical examination but
      the psychiatrist will stop me," Sinitsyna said, grinning wryly.

      The idea of fighting in Chechnya was first planted in her mind by
      reports about the so-called White Stockings, female snipers from the
      Baltic countries or Ukraine, said to have fought on the rebel side
      during the first Chechnya conflict in 1994-96.

      In the second war, the relative wealth accumulated by contract
      soldiers has turned the idea into an obsession.

      Sinitsyna said her own nephew recently signed up for a second
      six-month tour in Chechnya, after coming home from his first tour and
      buying a car and new clothes.

      "I asked Vova what he needed all this money for when he returned home
      in the summer from his first trip," she said. "And he told me that he
      cannot live with our misery any more and a week later he went back to
      Chechnya."

      Contract personnel -- split about evenly between men and women --
      account for 100,000 to 200,000 of Russia's 1.3 million servicemen this
      year, according to Felgenhauer.

      The dramatic decrease in their salaries is said to be one motive for
      the troops to loot civilian homes and extort bribes from the local
      population. Chechens and international observers say the contract
      soldiers are most to blame for the human rights abuses.

      Still believing that the military enlistment office will consider her
      appeal, Sinitsyna has not given up.

      "I'll survive through the winter, I have my fridge fully stuffed now,"
      she said with pride. "With mushrooms and berries, but no meat, of
      course."
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