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Russian Federation: Red Cross home visits programme in the North Caucasus

23-05-2012 Feature

The ICRC-supported Russian Red Cross home visits programme operates in Daghestan, Ingushetia, and Chechnya. In 2011 alone, nurses visited over 1,100 sick and lonely old people. Leila Satueva from the ICRC office in Grozny tells about the programme and its beneficiaries.

Almost every day, I go home from work through the market. Sellers, buyers, the hustle and bustle of the market place – all those ordinary, unsurprising things. Stalls with Chinese toys and knickknacks sell funny little battery-powered dogs, which start moving and yapping when you turn them on. The seller puts a low box on the ground, switches on one of the dogs to advertise his goods. Just a toy, nothing more.

But yesterday when I heard that sound my heart ached with sorrow, I was overwhelmed with sadness and helplessness. An image from five days before appeared in my mind's eye. “Come to me, sweetie, come,” mutters Mariya Ivanovna. She stands near the table on which a little toy dog is hopping about, holding out her hands to it, talking to it as if it were a living thing. And I suddenly become aware of this woman's unutterable loneliness.

Mariya Ivanovna is 87 and she lives alone. I joined Masar, a home visits nurse from the Chechen branch of the Russian Red Cross, on one of her regular visits. We were actually visiting her neighbour Dina, and Mariya Ivanovna just dropped in. Both women are beneficiaries of the home visits programme, and Masar visits them twice a week. During her two-hour visits, Masar brings in water, helps with the household chores and does the shopping. She also measures their blood pressure and buys medicines. And – equally important – these elderly women get a chance to talk to someone.

Masar met these two women back in 1996. “It was during the first Chechen war,” Dina says. “Red Cross staff were going around looking into the basements where people were sheltering from the bombs. They found us, registered us, and started helping.” Masar laughs as she remembers: “They were all black with soot!” “Well of course we were,” exclaims Dina, “we hadn’t washed for six months!” Almost 16 years have passed, but the nurse is still with them. She looks after eight other women, each of them with her own character, her own life history. The only thing they have in common is loneliness and a certain touching helplessness. Dina is very sociable and dynamic, while Mariya Ivanovna stands alone, silently, waiting for someone to ask her a question. They are glad to have guests, to see people.

We simply could not leave without looking into Mariya Ivanovna's flat, which is on the same landing as Dina's. She shows us her modest furnishings, the medicines she takes. She says that she often calls for Masar outside her working hours, as her blood pressure is very unstable. Then she goes over to her table, silently. She switches on her toy dog and starts talking to it. That's when you get this uncanny feeling. Before that we were talking and laughing, but this is stark reality, and there is no need for words. Proof once again of how right Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was when he said that “there is no hope of joy except in human relations.”

Later, we go to see Petimat with another nurse. This grandmother has been looking forward to our visit, and she fusses about, offering us the best seats and the best food she can. Her Russian is perfect, and she tells us that she used to work as a Russian-Chechen interpreter in Kazakhstan, to which many Chechens were deported. Petimat's three sons are dead. One died of an illness, but the other two were killed during fighting in Chechnya. She brought up the children of one of her sons, and now she lives with them. At the age of 83, Petimat is still independent and energetic, and she seems to have inexhaustible reserves of kindness. During the conversation she smiles, but she keeps saying: "Don’t abandon me, please."

The Russian Red Cross nurses are visiting 826 of these women, in various parts of Chechnya. Some are very old. Others, though younger, suffer physical and psychological loneliness. Still others are ill, or have relatives missing in connection with conflict or violence.

The home visits programme shows these people that someone cares, that someone sees them as people. And that someone is willing to help.


Photos

Grozny, Chechnya. Mariya Ivanovna talks to her toy dog. Russian Red Cross nurse Masar of the home visits service sits next to her. 

Grozny, Chechnya. Mariya Ivanovna talks to her toy dog. Russian Red Cross nurse Masar of the home visits service sits next to her.
© ICRC

Chechnya. Petimat, a beneficiary of the Russian Red Cross home visits programme. 

Chechnya. Petimat, a beneficiary of the Russian Red Cross home visits programme.
© ICRC