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Islam meets his challenge head-on

10-07-2003 Feature

This young Chechen was barely 15 years old when he stepped on a boobytrap, losing an arm and a foot. Photo essay by Roland Sidler

See also: video clip  

“Why Islam ? He doesn’t smoke; he doesn’t drink; he works hard at his computer courses and helps me as much as he can with the housework. " Lipa pauses. " I don’t understand. I really don’t understand.”

Lipa is the grandmother you always wish you had: gentle, tender, slim but sturdy, hands always in motion, and a pair of clear, expressive eyes set in a wrinkled face. In all her 68 years, she has never left the city of Grozny; the furthest from home she has ever been was when she took refuge in another neighbourhood as fighting raged in her street.

Lipa’s husband died many years ago. Shortly before the war started, she lost her son and daughter-in-law in a car accident. Since then, Lipa has been taking care of her grandson Islam.

She is proud of the values that she has instilled in him. And it is true to say that Islam, a young man of 17, possesses astonishing maturity and decency for someone who lives in an environment ruled by the principle that Might is Right.

 A shattering blow  


Islam, aged 17, has lost his left arm and leg 


Islam was barely 15 years old when he lost an arm and a foot. It all happened very fast: a few seconds during which the teenager’s existence was shaken to the core and he was disabled forever. Islam was out in the street that day. Alarmed by the approach of a military patrol, he ran to hide in the nearest building. Pushing open the door of a shell-damaged and empty apartment, he stepped forward and his left foot trod on an antipersonnel mine. Now he is learning to live with his handicap, knowing that he will never again run after a football.

Islam was nevertheless lucky in his misfortune. He was taken to a nearby hospital before he bled to death. The facility – Grozny’s Hospital No. 9, which is supplied with surgical materials and medicines by the ICRC – has carried on working throughout the hostilities. When he was finally released, Islam went to an ICRC-equipped and -trained limb-fitting and rehabilitation centre.



 A glimmer of hope  


Islam brings bread to his grandmother 

A few days ago, Islam returned to the centre to have his limbs replaced (they wear out over time). However, technological progress will enable him to accomplish more with the new limbs than the old and he will grow more independent. It’s already working: Islam goes shopping for his grandmother, returning with, among other things, bread for which the ICRC supplies ingredients and bakers'pay cheques and containers of drinking water drawn from public tap-stands that returned to service when the organization repaired the pumping system.  

Islam knows very well how different he is from other boys his age. Sometimes his face clouds over and you feel that he is struggling against despair.


A puppet show teaches children about the danger of mines 

But his spirit is indomitable and he has joined a group of youngsters campaigning to clear playing fields of mines and other unexploded ordnance. Humanitarian organizations such as the ICRC are backing this group.

Meanwhile, a theatre troupe is putting on a marionette show these days at Chechen schools to make pupils more aware of the danger posed by mines. At the end of each performance, the group distributes comics and posters aimed at ensuring that the young audience understand the very real peril that lurks if they wander beyond the zones marked safe.

Volley ball is all the rage in Grozny. It helps Islam to think about something else.