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AP: Residents of besieged city hungry for food -- and news

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  • Norbert Strade
    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
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 1, 1999
      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
      for news.

      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
      distribution spotty.

      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
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