Mothers' March to Grozny

A peace march of mothers of Russian soldiers began at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Moscow, Russia, on March 8. The participants offered flowers in front of the memorial to all the victims of the Chechen war. Mothers who had been to Chechnya in attempts to save the lives of their sons read poetry about their experiences. Each marcher then expressed her or his commitment to not use violence, even in self-defense. The Mother's March for Life and Compassion is demanding the immediate end of the war in Chechnya. Initiated by the Committee of Soldiers' Mothers, the entire march will take about five weeks.

Marchers arrived at Mineralnyie Vodi on March 18, where authorities from the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) checked participants identity documents and threatened to stop the march indefinitely. After a delay, all the participants were allowed to proceed by train to the city of Nalchik. Before reaching this city however, the march was stopped once again. The marchers were asked to leave the train by local authorities, and told that a bus would drive them to Nazran, Ingushetia, where the Ingush president had expressed full support for the march. The bus did not take the marchers to Nazran however, but to a Russian army base. The marchers insisted on being taken to Nazran, and were eventually transported there.

This is not the first time the march route has been changed because of the authorities, and the marchers' activities restricted. The national press continues to cover this anti-war action, however, and marchers hope to begin walking from Nalchik to Grozny on March 23. Over 300 people are expected to join the marchers in Nalchik. Humanitarian aid is being sent with the marchers, and Chair of the Committee of Soldier's Mothers, Maria Kirbassova, has planned meetings with Chechen and Russian representatives to negotiate the release of prisoners. Women from Grozny work with march organizers to try to escort orphans out of the city.

The Mothers have tried to help survivors of a massacre of Samashki. At least 300 villagers were killed by Russian troops there in early April. Representatives of social and human rights organizations managed to enter the village only 8 days after the attack began. From 10 to 15 April only Chechen women were allowed in and out of the village. By this time all corpses had been cleared away or buried. Members of the Mother's March for Life and Compassion stood at the check point where inhabitants left the village to neighbouring village Sernovodsk.

On 12 April, a Russian parliamentarian, Anatoli Shabad, well-known for his courageous attempts to reveal the truth of the Chechen war, entered Samashki with a bus full of women, dressed in women's clothes. He reported what he saw at a press conference in Moscow, in an attempt to counter media propaganda about the war.

Many of the wounded in Samashki received no medical treatment for 3 days. Russian Forces first attacked with bombs from the air, starting at 7pm in the evening 7 April, continuing throughout the night. Snipers were also used. Eyewitnesses reported that Russian soldiers would enter the courtyard of each house. According to most reports, they would demand that the men came out of the houses. Many were shot on the spot. Others were ordered to undress to the waist, beaten and rounded up. Several hundred Chechen men were transported to camps at Assinovskaya in Chechnya and Mozdok in North Ossetia, where they received severe beatings.

Mercenaries, minimum age of around 30 years, were employed to carry out the attack on Samashki. Villagers of Samashki reported seeing Russian mercenaries shoot into houses with machine guns, burning cars and stores of grain and hay. Many people sought refuge in their cellars. In many houses the soldiers threw grenades into cellars packed with women and children who were hiding from the attack. One woman told a Quaker Peace and Service representative how soldiers had thrown her seven-year old son before a moving armoured personnel carrier. After it had run over him, the woman was forced to pick up her son's body. They poured petrol into her house and ordered her to light it. She couldn't do it, and so the soldiers fired into the house, which burst into flames.

Reports from various sources, including assistants to Deputies of the Russian State Duma and elders of Samashki, state that up to 300 inhabitants of the village were killed during the attack. Many women and children are among the dead. Stanislav Gavorukhin, head of the Russian State Duma Investigation Committee on Chechenya, visited the village 14 April. He was shown around by inhabitants of the village. They talked of their ordeal and showed him evidence, including the remains of people who were burnt alive. On returning to Sernovodsk, he told inhabitants and members of the Mother's March for Life and Compassion that what he had seen was awful and must be communicated urgently to Moscow.

16 April, on national Russian national television news, a statement written by three organizing groups of the Mother's March For Life and Compassion was read. The text described some of the atrocities which Russian Forces committed in Samashki, including the burning of people and killing of women and children. The presenter announced that there was another view on what happened in the village, and proceeded to interview Stanislav Govorukhin. He stated that what was written in the text was lies and 'propoganda of Dudayev' distributed by the Russian Committee of Soldier's Mothers, the Chechen Women's Organization. He stated that nobody had been burned, victims of the attack amounted to a few women killed, and that he had seen only a few destroyed houses.

"One thing is certain," a Chechen mother said, "we don't want to live under those Russians anymore. How can we trust them ever again?"

On 14 April the first Congress of Chechen women was held in Sernovodsk. The women and other groups of the Mother's March for Life and Compassion discussed ways to continue the nonviolent movement to demand peace in Chechnya. Over 300 people were present. On 21 April the Mother's March for Life and Compassion continued when mothers and other marchers walked through the centre of the Chechen capital Grozny. Chechen women, Buddhist monks, Russian soldier's mothers and Quakers demanded peace in Chechnya and the withdrawal of Russian Forces from the area.

Fifteen representatives of the Chechen Women's movement from all over Chechnya arrived in Moscow on 29 April. Three representatives from the Committee of Ingush women arrived a few days earlier. They tried to speak to journalists, representatives of Russian and international NGOs and embassies about the mass destruction of lives and violations of human rights in Chechnya. Many of the women have lost family, relatives and friends. Two of the Chechen women witnessed the massacre in Chechnya.

Donations for the Mothers' March, marked "Caucasus", can be sent to: account name Quakerhilfe, Bad Pyrmont, number 568603, Postbank Frankfurt, Germany (bank code 50010060); checks payable to 'East-West Relations Committee' (marked 'march') can also be sent to EWRC/PaYM, c/o Jule Harlow, 1163 Auburn Dr., Davis, CA 95616, US; in the Netherlands contact Maria Koojman of the Help Chechnya Committee, tel. +31 (0)2902 61877. Contact: Quaker Peace and Service, ul. Akademika Koroleva 9-2-243, 129515 Moscow, Russia. Tel/fax +7095 2543496; email: qps@glas.apc.org