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There is no sea in Chechnya

04-03-2005 Feature

Luiza used to be a journalist in her native Chechnya but now visits mine-affected communities to raise awareness of the dangers of landmines and other unexploded ordnance. ICRC employee Anastassia Issiouk met her and shares her story.


  Luiza (right) is involved in mine risk education with the ICRC.    

It has just rained in Nalchik and the air has a freshness that is unknown to those more accustomed to Moscow traffic fumes. The woman moves slowly through the sunshine and joins me at the table of an outdoor café. We drink tea and she tells me her story.

It is the story of a woman who came through despair to become her family's breadwinner. She is a special woman, one of many, who has managed to survive years of conflict in Chechnya.

Some years ago, Luiza graduated from Moscow State University to start a promising TV career as a journalist in Grozny.

" I was soon promoted to the post of editor only to see governments, ministers and opinions changing alarmingly fast. "

Luiza continues her story without emotion as if speaking about someone else.

" I decided to stay away from politics and left for the safety of a television arts channel. It's there that I learned the crushing news that nine members of my family, a pregnant woman and children among them, had been killed by a bomb in the middle of our village. "

" At first I couldn't believe it, checking the name of the village over and over. But no mistake had been made: it was Katyr-Yurt " .

Grief, pain and sleepless nights followed. During that period, she came to the ICRC to ask for medicines but found a job as well that allowed her to live on.

Starting with public relations, she moved on to mine risk education, a programme that Luiza believes to be crucial in a republic facing the terrible consequences of armed confrontations.

Her eyes are sparkling and her persuasive energy is irresistible as she talks about mines, unexploded ordnance and giving help and advice to those most in need. Many are in need in Chechnya – there is hardly a person whose circle of friends and relatives has not been touched by these weapons.

" I remember meeting an elderly Russian woman in Grozny, who found an unexploded weapon stuck in the foundations of her house " , says Luiza.

" The woman was crying and begging deminers not to destroy the whole building, promising not to disturb it. However, it could have detonated simply from the vibration of a passing truck. In the end, the building had to be destroyed and she was weeping in sorrow and anger. There are thousands of stories like this. We were so ignorant and unaware of the danger then. Most people would say: let the war end, and t hen we will decide what to do about the mines. "

Luiza has been involved in mine action for more than five years now, spending endless hours travelling from one mine affected community to another, talking to people, sharing her experiences, teaching them how to save themselves.

How can one measure the success of mine risk education? By the number of presentations made? There have been hundreds -- to community leaders and teachers, local authorities and journalists, children and adults… By the number of special events that have taken place? There have been dozens – puppet shows for children, football matches for mine victims, poster competitions, exhibitions and many, many more…By the number of lives saved? No one can count the losses and disabilities that never occurred…

No one has ever been able to explain to Luiza what happened to her family that day. She is still waiting for answers, grateful at least that her son is near and that she is able to support her family and make plans for the future.

Over a plate of traditional " galushki " at Luiza's house, I recalled a line of a Chechen poet that lies deep in my heart. " I told my story to the sea, and it started to boil " .

There is no sea in Chechnya, but there is a story of a courageous woman who never gave up.