It was Monday, but nobody needed an alarm clock to wake up. The first grenade shot was heard at 5:30. A wall collapsed; those sleeping on the other side of it were, as usual, not worthy of consideration. This time soldiers took over the streets of Sultanov and Bijbulatov. Everywhere there are armored vehicles, federal soldiers and the Dagestani police officers. Women ran out of their houses with bent backs and children in their arms. Crying.
At about 8 o´clock a group of people had gathered. They did not understand why it wasn´t possible to capture «them» in a non-violent way, without shooting. Many doubted there to be terrorists there at all; maybe they were just ordinary people – who are killed one day and declared «terrorists» the next.
There prevails a strong mistrust of the security forces, the men in stripes and stars. «It is the secret services who does it for the sake of statistics» – both the young and elderly are convinced of this.
The crowd grew larger. Hundreds of vehicles and people stood on the roadsides. Soldiers in white camouflage were seen bumming cigarettes; in exchange people demanded information. «Is the operation over? Can we go home?” The soldiers answered: «No. Can´t you hear?» And just then shell grenades were heard in the background. Soldiers bombarded a house where now only skulls remain. They cast several grenades before gradually advancing forward.
As for the crowd, it was as if they were being made to watch a boring film; people continued to chatter quietly until three bodies emerged – that of a woman, a man… and a three year old child. «Is that child supposed to be a rebel fighter?» But the soldiers yawned and pretended not to hear.
On the one hand, there is a «special operation» in progress. On the other hand, nobody – neither the spectators nor the soldiers – believe there to be any bandits in the area. In this way the whole episode resembles a video game.
By midday, things had calmed down. A two meter tall colonel in a fur hat approached the crowd of people who were encircled by armed soldiers. His name is Sergej Solodovnikov, the second in command of the South Federal Police District. «Three guerilla solders have been killed», announced the colonel. «Two of them are unknown. The third is Letsji Eskiev». The public remarked: «It is the soldiers themselves who now mine the area and toss about some Wahhabi-literature to prove that guerilla soldier were indeed present there.» «What kind of rebels take Wahhabi-book, as well as their children, and sit on a minefield? And if the house indeed was mined with explosives, wouldn´t the neighboring houses also been blown to smithereens when the grenades were hurled earlier in the day?»
At a distance, between the rows of soldiers, it was observed that a few of the corpses had been removed. Meanwhile an armored vehicle was seen driving away. «The car seems to have gotten stuck», commented members of the crowd. «No, it hasn´t», whispered a Dagestani soldier, «it is pressing flat one of the dead bodies so that he can never hurl grenades again».
A bloody day in Khasavyourt soon approached evening. At the office of the prosecution office it was confirmed that one of the bodies killed earlier today was crushed beyond identification; however most likely it belonged to the terrorist Eskiev.
Close by wanders a woman with three young, crying children. She is the widow of Eskiev. She carried a baby in one arm, and with the other held a plastic bag that contained a few belongings. I asked her where she is going; she did not know. Her lips are blue. «What kind of man was your husband?» She answered, «He was a normal man».
The baby is about to fall from her arms but she catches him in the nick of time. She knows that she will not be allowed to see the body of her husband; there will be no funeral, and all her acquaintances will be afraid of keeping her «compromised» company. That is, one cannot socialize with the family of a dead terrorist without the risk of being labelled a terrorist him/herself.
This article was published in Ny Tid in August 2006. Anna Politkovskaya (1958 – 2006) wrote exclusively for Ny Tid from February 2006 until her assassination in the elevator of her apartment building in October 2006.