Residents of besieged city hungry for food -- and news
December 1, 1999
GROZNY, Russia (AP) -- Khumid Tukaev has been living in a cold, damp
basement for most of the past month, eating only canned food and
drinking river water from a bucket. But more than anything, he's hungry
Tukaev wants to watch television or read a newspaper to find out what's
happening in the rest of war-battered Chechnya.
Food and fuel have been scarce for weeks in besieged Grozny, making life
miserable for civilians who have stayed behind despite Russia's
persistent pummeling. Making matters worse, news about the war has all
but dried up for those who are actually in the middle of it.
Russian bombs and rockets shake the ground and rattle windows, a
constant reminder of the proximity of Russian troops. But the lack of
information can be life threatening for people trying to make decisions
about where to flee, how to find and help relatives in distress and
where to get food.
Television and radio stations are off the air for the most part,
newspapers appear only infrequently and the phone system is down. Rumors
have become the main source of information in beleaguered Grozny.
"I am depressed not because of the lack of water, electricity and gas,"
said Tukaev, 38, a former metal worker. "I am depressed because no one
is explaining why the bombs are falling on us and who is responsible for
Tukaev is among an estimated 50,000 civilians who remain in Grozny,
despite the daily Russian raids. As he spoke, a blanket of fresh snow
fell on the shattered apartment blocks and streets pockmarked by bomb
Some people never leave their dank basements. Others sleep in their
apartments and scurry downstairs when the bombs start dropping.
Basement dwellers sometimes get information when they emerge to run
errands and meet others on the street.
"What do they say? When will the war stop?" some ask. "What happened?"
and "Did you hear about this?"
The responses are hearsay at best, but there's nothing else available.
Russian planes have been dropping leaflets on Grozny to spread word
about a safe corridor out of the city for civilians. But the message
does not appear to have reached all citizens, and besides, few trust the
Much of Grozny was reduced to ruins in a 1994-96 war with the Russian
army, and the city is now largely deserted with few reminders of the
thriving place it once was.
Russian jets destroyed a cellular phone transmitter in September. The
Russian military also switched off a cellular phone transmitter outside
Chechnya that served a small swath of rebel territory.
All ground phone lines have been severed or have ceased working due to a
lack of electricity.
Chechen television broadcasts occasionally, but few people have
electricity. Before the bombing campaign began three months ago, several
newspapers were published in Grozny. Now, the few printed scraps of news
available are passed around and scrutinized by those hiding in their
One city newspaper, Groznensky Rabochy, moved outside the republic to
escape the unrest but occasionally tries to send in copies. The huge
risk of crossing the front line makes
Newspaper deliverers must traverse one of the most dangerous roads in
the world -- a road that leads into Grozny between a narrow gap in
Russia's blockade to the city's south. It
is littered with the shells of cars burned out from the bombing from