The fall of 1999 was a difficult and emotionally stressful period for me. Russia invaded the territory of Chechnya and terrible events took place there. My parents were in Urus-Martan and I didn’t know anything about them, I didn’t even know if they were alive or not, there was absolutely no connection to find out. Also, horrendous scenes were shown on TV, as refugees were not allowed into the territory of the neighboring republics, where they could be safe from atrocities of war. It was painful to look at the children, the old men, the women, these hostages of the war, that stand behind the barbed wire, trying to leave the military zone. I was afraid to see familiar faces among them, hoped that my relatives stayed at home, because this was better, than standing in the open air like this.
I then worked in Moscow as a research fellow at the Central Research Institute of Skin and Venereal Diseases. I completely lost my peace of mind and didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t concentrate on my work, so in early November I took leave with the firm intention to leave everything behind and go home.
After the last working day before leaving in the evening, I came home, took a bath and drank tea, and began to ponder what to do next. My first thought was to go back to Chechnya, where my parents were, and just be with them and accept our fate together: they will starve, and I will; they will be cold, we will try to warm up each other; if bombs are dropped on us, we shall perish together. I am a pacifist, therefore I did not have thoughts that I would take up arms and fight.
After a lot of thought, I realized that it would be foolish to just go home and die like a rabbit, it is better to try to do something not only for my family, but also to all the victims of the war, because I am competent, I know how to communicate with people and make connections . I had a friend in Moscow, he worked for the international charity organization „Doctors without Borders“, he had invited me several times to lecture for groups of risk, so I knew him, I had his business card. I decided to call the office of this organization and offer my services if they would be willing to work in Chechnya or had already been working, I would be happy to join their noble mission.
My friend was not at work that day, he was away, but when I explained the purpose of my call, I was invited to an interview and got a job after two interviews.
I flew to Ingushetia on November 17, 1999, I remember this date very well, since November 15 is my birthday. On the second day, I went early in the morning to the border with Chechnya near the village of Sleptsovsk, it struck me how many people were there, many tried to find their relatives among those who were crossing the border and also to hear some news from Chechnya.
By this time, I already knew that my parents fled to Roshni-chu, where my mother’s elder brother lived; through a woman who was going to Roshni-chu, I passed a note to my parents, with my address on it, so that they would come to Ingushetia. When they arrived I was struck by their shabby and untidy appearance, my parents are very tidy. I remember I could not restrain myself and asked my mother „Couldn’t you get properly dressed?“ My mother, as if awakening from a dream, looked at herself, got surprised herself at her untidiness and answered „Ramzan, for the whole month we never changed clothes, we spent most of the time in the basement, trying to hide from bombs“.
Ingushetia struck me. It reminded me of a beehive, refugees and tent camps everywhere, even them not enough, so people adapted the former factory premises for housing, old abandoned construction sites, barns. It was frankly painful to see the amazingly beautiful Chechen children and their mothers in such disgusting conditions, against the background of the beautiful angelic faces of children the contrast of their living conditions seemed incredible . I will never forget one scene in a converted cowshed somewhere in the area of the village called Nesterovskaya, two cute siblings, both clinging to each other, one is approximately five years old, and the other is six or seven, looked at me with their clear blue naive childish eyes , no carefree joy and fun in their faces, but quite an adult question „when will it all end and when we can return to our homes?“
In Ingushetia, we quickly established work, began supplying medicines, bandaging materials to almost all medical facilities of the republic, and these supplies were mainly intended for refugees.
By the spring of 2000, we had plans to open our way to Chechnya and support hospitals and polyclinics there, because our entire mission was aimed at supporting the residents of Chechnya, who were caught in the war, providing all the victims of this conflict with medications and dressings, regardless of their political views and attitude towards Russia.
After the series of interviews, we hired a famous Chechen doctor. He was quite severe in himself and was quite unfriendly with me. I naturally didn’t like it, but pretended to ignore and remained extremely friendly with him, I guessed that it was all the stresses of war, I thought that in time he would relax and change his attitude. I knew that he, with his wife and three children, as well as numerous relatives, settled about forty minutes drive from Nazran, where our office was located.
The next day after signing all documents for work, he and I, our driver, left for one of the hospitals in Ingushetia, which we were supplying with medicines, the goal was to show him how we work, so that he would transfer this work experience to Chechnya. On this day, my colleague was especially unfriendly, I talked about our mission and the program, but he showed no interest, didn’t look at me at all and even ignored me. I got used to the fact that he treated me in this fashion, but there was something else here. Unable to bear it, I decided to ask him directly „I see you are upset about something, could I know is there any reason?“ He answered me shortly: “We ate the last stocks of food today, I don’t know what my children will eat tonight.” I imagined how his young children were hungry waiting for their father to come home with some food and how hard it must jave been for him, since he could not help them in any way, because there were two weeks left before he gets his first wages. I remembered an episode from my own life, December 1997, I was then a doctor, a researcher in Moscow, my salary was about $ 50 a month, such a humiliating amount for a scientist and a doctor for a country which considered itself to be a Great country. I remember how I got up that morning, put the last egg to boil, I had only the last two pieces of bread, one spoonful of sugar and tea for one! only brewing, no stock left and a penny on hand except a ticket so that I could go to work. Three of my supposed friends came to me that morning, I turned off the kettle and the electric stove. My friends were offended with me, because it seemed to them that I did not want to treat them, but I did not want them to know what difficult situation I was in. They left and then told some other friends how inhospitable I was.
From this previous experience from my personal life, I knew that in such a situation a person needs to be fed and reassured that he was not alone, that there were always other people who were ready to help. I asked our driver to turn the car around and go to the Central Market in Nazran, which is near to the bus station. I bought two bags of products and we went home to our new doctor. I was pleased that he accepted such a gesture of goodwill, on the way to his house I could see that his tense body relaxed, facial expression also relaxed and softened.
When we arrived, we saw an old, small house, it was cold. On the floor there were wide boards and large gaps between them. In the small living room furnished with the most primitive and old unattractive furniture there were his beautiful children, the beautiful wife who sat on the old battered sofa. His wife quickly prepared some food from our supplies, we ate a little from them, played with their children and left for our mission, after all there were three hundred thousand Chechen refugees in Ingushetia and three times more people in Chechnya itself in desperate need of our help. That evening I gave him some money and added “They will be more useful to you, than to me”, saying this I was more worried about his children, than about him.