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Anti-personnel landmines : Interview with a Chechen mine victim

20-07-2001 Feature

My name is Piatmat. I was born in 1970 and I come from the village of Tangi-Chu, in Urusmartanovsky Region, Chechnya.

Well, me and my sister, my elder sister, decided to go and collect Cornelian cherries, not far from the village. We wanted to make jam.

Before we set out, my sister warned me to be very careful. " There are tripwires, mines and unexploded shells there, " she told me, " you should be very careful, always keep looking on the ground, you may step on a mine. "

As we reached the place, everything which she told me ... I, I forgot it.

I went one way, she went the other, and she found a Cornelian cherry tree. So we started to gather the cherries. We had two buckets with us to put the cherries in. From time to time I called my sister. We were working apart, so we couldn’t see each other. I would call, " Asiat! " And she would reply, " What? " I just wanted to know if she was near. We went on kidding and it was nice there. When I went over to her she said that she would climb the tree to bend down the branches so I could reach for the cherries. She told me not to go away any more. But I didn’t obey her. I was excited ... I just wanted to walk around and I couldn’t ignore the temptations of nature. I forgot about all the warnings, they left my mind. I went towards a hill ... there was a hill there. Then I went to another place ... there was a beautiful field there. I went up another hill ... there was a road there. I went further along the road ... I wanted to see what was over there. People used the road when they went for firewood. There were gardens there, where people used to plant potatoes, maze, cut the grass and so on. But the grass was quite high there and nobody cut it, because there were soldiers there and people were afraid to go there. I was on the hill and she was at the foot of the hill somewhere. I stopped walking and was thinking which way to go further, this way or that and suddenly I remembered that I had forgotten my bucket. So I went back to my sister to take the bucket. I took the bucket and went to the same place. I stood on the road just wondering which way to go. " Well! " , I said to myself, " I would rather go this way.” Hardly did I go off the road when ... something threw me off to one side. I fell on the ground with my hand and legs like this. I closed my eyes so I wouldn’t have to look at the injuries ... I thought I had caught on something. I heard a noise in my head like I was trapped in an empty tank and somebody was hammering on the outside. I opened my eyes and tried to stand up and I saw there was no flesh in this part, and the flesh from here was thrown up to here. This arm was injured. I tried to move this leg ... it was shattered ... I saw it was fractured. And the foot of this leg had been blown off, the toes of this foot were screwed upside down ...

I realized I had stepped on a mine. Then I tried to crawl to the road somehow. I felt naked, a feeling like I had nothing on my body. The dress was all torn off up to my shoulders. I remember there was just a short part of the dress left around my neck and my shoulders. I kept trying to crawl to the road. I put my legs like this and with the help of one hand I went on crawling.

And another thought came to my mind ... how can I explain it ... Well, I’d heard of artificial legs so I thought that the injured arm would recover but my leg ..... the fact that ... that ... I stepped on a mine. Then I thought about calling my sister. If I called her ... I remembered she’d told me not to go away. And that thought made me wait for a while. And then I decided I had to call her. Looking around I saw some tracks, a horse's tracks, and nearby I saw a pit. It was half full of muddy water. I wondered what I would do if she fainted; there was no clean water around, just what was in this muddy pit. I did not think about myself ... I was afraid something might happen to her. Anyway, I had to call her, so I shouted " Asiat! "

" What? " she answered. Her voice was strange in a way.  And there was the noise again in my head. I waited for some time and when the noise released me I called her again, " Asiat, come here! " And she replied, " I’m coming! " I knew she was getting closer and I was wondering what I should do in order not to terrify her. And when she approached me she cried, " Oh Allah! Why? ... Why!!! "

She got on her knees. " How am I going to help you!? " She said she would run to the village to tell the family about the accident.

I said, " Please don't go, don't leave me alone here in the forest. "

She replied, " I can't carry you! " " But please! " I begged, " This is the last day of my life. "

Then she got down again and asked me to hold onto her back. So I got on her back. I arranged my legs somehow and with one hand I tried to hold on. We moved for some distance, but then I knew it was futile. I felt weakness and my arm, I felt a pain like it was burning, and anyway she couldn’t carry me. She was afraid that I would get more injures. We stopped and she carefully laid me on the ground. We were thinking how we could go further, I felt weak.

Then we found a piece of plywood. She said, " I shall lay you on the plywood and carry you, but you must help me. I can’t keep you on the wood and carry you at the same time. "

Her sister Asiat takes up the story:

At tha t time she was too fat. I asked her to help me, and her body was slippery because of the sweat which was pouring off her. At the same time I tried not to think about what had happened, because I knew I would feel bad myself. And then I started to wonder how I would get her over the trench. There was a trench there and I was wondering how to cross it. I thought of laying two sticks across it. But would that help? ... And what else could I do? “Oh Allah, help me!” And suddenly I saw a car coming towards us. It was the boys, the so-called “fighters” from our village. They quickly got out of the car and laid her on a blanket. I didn't know her hand was injured. It was very difficult to cross the trench but they managed. I kept crying and jumping around in hysterics. The boys tried to calm me. " Don't panic please, no tears. If you don't stop it you’re going to step on a mine. You should go home. We’ll look after your sister and take her to hospital. Go home, but don't say anything about the accident to the females. Do you have a brother at home?” I replied " I have a brother. I'll tell him. " As we entered the village I went home and they went to the hospital.

When I got home I saw my brother and I told him: " Danny! Piatmat has been blown up by a mine. " I didn't know that my mother was near. She heard the terrible news and burst into tears. " My daughter. Oh Allah! She's been killed, she’s been killed. " " No, Mum,” I replied, “she’s alive. She’s been taken to hospital. Don't panic. You’ll see, the artificial appliance will replace her leg. " And then mother was surrounded by females. They tried to calm her, and my brother and me went to the hospital. When we arrived she was just being operated on. My brother said to the surgeons, " Please save her life. I’ll give you anything in the world. "

I thought she had only lost one leg and that the other was just injured. I hoped that the surgeons would save the other leg but my hopes were in vain. A nurse came out and gave me a bag full of flesh, it was my sister's leg. The doctors told us she would survive.

We went home to bury the leg. [ Starts to cry . ] She had to stay in hospital from 24 August until the beginning of October. During the treatment I had to endure her suffering with her. I couldn't bear to see her suffer. She often told me " I still feel my legs as though they were not amputated at all. I feel them itching and I can't do anything about it " . Thanks be to Allah, there was a neurosurgeon in the hospital and he blocked some nerves in her spine and she felt better.  Then the doctor told us that she needed to be treated in Leningrad. We had to register her in Ingushetia first and then she was to be sent to Leningrad for further treatment. Our elder brother said he would take her there for the artificial limbs. He managed the money somehow. It was in May of 1997.  He said, " I have talked to the doctors in Leningrad and I'll let you know the date you must set out. " There was no wheelchair for her so we had to carry her.

Well, he told me about all that, that he had arranged everything for her. But a few days later, on 16 May, he was killed. We got his body back and buried him. And we could only go forty days later, at the end of June. I had to take her to Leningrad myself. There she got the artificial limbs.

After that she was taken to Baku twice before the second war in August, you know, the war in Dagestan. It was at midnight I remember ...

I asked Piatmat " How many times did you have the limbs replaced? "

" Three times.”

" Do you need to have them replaced now? "

" Yes I do, I need new ones. I got these in Baku. The bush sleeves must be changed every six months.”

“Piatmat, how do you manage now? How does the family help you? "

Her sister Asiat answered for her. “Mainly from our mother's pension and her disability pension, and other people's charity. At first it was very difficult for us, especially when our brother was killed. We had to spend most of the money on the funeral and so forth. And when we went to Leningrad, the money we had was only enough for one-way tickets. We had to go to Moscow first and then from Moscow to Leningrad. There were three of us, and the money was barely enough. When we arrived in Moscow, they told us we should write a guarantee letter so that the State would cover our trip to Leningrad. We did so, but I didn't manage to send the letter to the right organization and we didn't get the money. I left my sister in Leningrad. I couldn't stay with her and there was no need. But I must say that when I went back to take her home, it was a very difficult journey for me.

" And where did you get the wheelchair?”

Again, it was Asiat who replied. " Some people gave it to her. At that time in Chechnya there were no pensions. We managed with the money people gave us. And it was a family who gave us the wheelchair ... their son had been injured once. In City Hospital No. 9 in Grozny there was a woman with a boy who was wounded during the March events. He was shot by a sniper. The bullet hit him in the spine. At that time he was eleven years old, I suppose. And when we asked them for the wheelchair, his mother said, " Of course I'll give it you. Two years ago, when my son was injured, we were looking for a wheelchair for him and people gave him this one. So why shouldn’t I give it to you? " And she did. Piatmat went to Baku with that wheelchair, and got a new one there. So then she had two wheelchairs. When she got home we heard that there was a woman in Ashhoi-Martan who had been wounded by a pistol bullet. She could not move the lower part of her body. Some of her relatives asked us whether we knew where they could buy such a wheelchair, or whether we would sell that one. So I told Piatmat someone wanted us to sell the wheelchair and asked her if we could give it to them. In any case, we had two. She said: " Of course I'll give it to them. And I shall ask no money for it. I shall give it like people gave it to me.” [ She starts to cry ] .

Piatmat: “I can wear the limbs for a whole day –  that's about twelve hours – but the skin sweats and it gets uncomfortable and irritated. Before I came here, when I was at home, I often had to hobble up and down the stairs because of the military planes. And it was very damp in the cellar. It was very difficult for me to take off the limbs to remove the sweat. And the planes reminded me the day of my mine explosion and brought back the shock. It was very hard to get over the feelings. My mother was worried about my health. I couldn’t live there anymore. It was impossible.

Asiat: “Our mother told me to take her away to Ingushetia, because she was afraid. Mum worried about her health, she kept saying that she wouldn’t be able to treat her if she got ill. So I took her to Ingushetia. And since October of 1999 we have been here as refugees.

" Piatmat, how would you describe the cost of impatience? "

" Oh, Allah ... you can see it, you can see how I am now. "

Asiat added, " I did tell her not to go far, but maybe she was fated to get blown up there. Though I told her the mines might be anywhere ... I tried to keep her near as I was afraid she might step on a mine. And when I heard the explosion I thought that a cow had been blown up by a mine, but it turned out that it was her.

“Piatmat, is the place far from your village?”

" No, it's not far. I used to play there in my childhood but now there are soldiers there and they have mined everywhere. Though my sister warned me, I was not afraid. Maybe because as I was walking there I remembered my childhood, thinking how beautiful it was back then.”

Asiat told us “There are still soldiers there, like there were during the previous war. And there are still mines there. You can see the hill from our village. Behind the hill there are gardens, then the forest and a field and near the field there are soldiers and their post. I saw them in June this year last time I went home.”

I expressed my sympathy, wished Piatmat joy and all good things, and told her not to give up.