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Return to Vedeno

 

While the situation is gradually returning to normal in hechnya, an ICRC worker gives an account of his return to the Vedeno area, a place he enjoyed in his youth.

 

During the Soviet era, the remote districts of Vedeno and Nojai-Yurt, in the south of Chechnya, were known for their peace and tranquillity. The wooded slopes, crystal-clear rivers and fresh mountain air in a landscape almost totally devoid of humans proved an irresistible magnet for summer visitors who dreamed of being at one with nature. Fifteen years ago, I was lucky enough to spend a few days there with my family in the Spartan conditions provided by a tourist resort near the village of Benoi. Some people preferred to live in tents to experience the pleasures of the rustic life to the full; others opted for sparsely furnished log cabins: camp beds, sheets stamped with the name of the establishment, a table and two chairs. But that was all you needed, especially as you spent most of the day outdoors, swimming in a mountain spring or picking berries and mushrooms. At nightfall, we would gather round a wood fire. One of my lasting memories of this adventure is of the matchless flavour of tinned beef cooked over a camp fire.

I thought it unlikely I would ever return to this place. We had left Grozny after the first armed conflict and did not return after the second. I settled with my family in Ingushetia, we built a house and started our lives from scratch. Years have gone by, and now I am working for a humanitarian organization. And that is how fate brought me back to Vedeno.

The war has not spared this region. Passing through the town of Argoun, we note that rebuilding is in full swing. Along the main street, construction workers are busy fixing roofs and mending pavements. By contrast, in Serjen-yurt, you can still see quite a few entrances riddled with bullet holes and abandoned houses lying in ruins.

Our reason for going to Vedeno was to check on the progress of an ICRC water project there. The ICRC has been implementing a programme to improve the water supply and sanitation conditions in Chechnya since 1995, but until recently it was mainly confined to Grozny. It included installing a pumping station in Grozny in 1995 supplying chlorinated drinking water to both the population and the military. The ICRC’s 26 water tankers crisscrossed the city, refilling household water tanks and wells.

“It was particularly hard work between 1999 and 2002. Sometimes we would deliver more than 1,000 cubic metres of water a day and dozens of water tankers would be waiting their turn to fill up,” says Oumar Khamidov, a local ICRC staff member. “Only once did the station stop working: during the shelling in 1999, which lasted eight months. We had spent this time in Ingushetia and, on our return, were struck by the extent of the damage. Basically, we had to start all over again.”

The pumping station is still in use, and from 2008, the ICRC will hand the project over to the Grozny water board. Meanwhile, joint water supply projects have been mounted in various Chechen villages such as Aguichty and Tevzana. The ICRC provides all the necessary materials and the local authorities undertake the work.

Similar projects are under way in six other villages, one of which is Vedeno. After passing a magnificent mosque flanked by two minarets, we stop in front of the nearby school, where the village administration has rented a few small rooms. The head of the municipality, Mayrbek Younousov, shows us into his office and offers us tea. As in the past, he teaches survival techniques and Arabic in a secular school, while serving as imam in the central mosque. His first collaboration with the ICRC was for an educational programme designed to alert the population living in mine-infested areas to the risks they faced. “Near here, there is a section of the forest where cows frequently stepped on mines, mainly what are known as ‘petal’ mines. To avoid such accidents, we have fenced off the most dangerous area,” says Younousov. The ICRC has also created a playground in the village that is clear of mines, so that children can play in total safety.

In Vedeno, the problem of access to drinking water is not new. The water supply system, built in 1972, has long since fallen into disrepair, but there are plenty of other sources from which to get water for drinking or cooking. The ICRC project consists of installing storage tanks to gather spring water and of laying plastic conduits. The water is drawn from several different springs and is then fed by gravity into a large storage tank. From there it is delivered by pipe to the village and accessed from taps lining the main streets.

“We have enjoyed the active support of both the local administration and the residents,” says Constantin Mikhailov, the ICRC delegate in charge of the water programme in Chechnya. “We asked soldiers from a nearby military post to help us make the trenches for the pipe work with their special digger. I have to confess, though, that our precious narrow piece of tubing looked rather humble in their metre-wide trench.”

Our journey is almost at an end and we are pleased with what we have seen. The projects are progressing well. The local authorities and the inhabitants are cooperating actively with the ICRC. “You have no idea how the return of drinking water has changed our daily life,” says Zarema, a mother of three children.

The people in this region are hospitable and hard working: hospitable because visitors are few and far between and hard working because it is the only way for them to survive. At present, the village does not have a gas supply and firewood can be seen stacked by the houses.

I would love to go back to Vedenoa gain, this time not in my professional capacity but just as a tourist, to drink the spring water, cook over a camp fire and sleep in a tent. I am sure that sooner or later that day will come.

Ibrahim Sultygov
Ibrahim Sultygov is ICRC communication field officer in the northern Caucasus.


In order to prevent mine-related accidents, many safe playgrounds have been opened in the northern Caucasus, such as this one in Ingushetia.
©BORIS HEGER / ICRC


 

 

Water and habitat

The ICRC is working to improve living conditions for residents and internally displaced people in Chechnya, Daghestan and Ingushetia, providing clear water, sanitation and housing. In Chechnya, water supply improvement projects began in summer 2007 in the villages of Tza-Vedeno, Zamay-Yurt and Itum-Kale. According to an agreement, the ICRC provides all the materials and village administration oversees construction. The ICRC also supports community activities such as maintenance of the water system in the building that houses the Chechen branch of the All-Russian Deaf People Society and in the nursery school located in Gordali village, in the Gudermes region.

 

 

 

 


An ICRC Landover entering Vedeno, Chechnya, Russian Federation.
©ICRC

 

 

 

 

 

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