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The Road to Nowhere: Russia’s 10 years of war in Chechnya
1st March, 2005
They’ve a big new sign by the road announcing GROZNY, each man-sized Cyrillic letter fresh and neat. Only the city itself is no longer there.Grozny has been destroyed. From the outskirts, it is the untouched buildings, rather than the ruins, that stand out. Some buildings are lacerated, others neatly punctured, others torn from the inside. The destruction has many signatures: cannon shells have gouged big, rough-edged holes out of brick and stone; aerial bombs have swallowed enormous, messy chunks; the sharp, flower-petal scars left by mortar shells are almost pretty.
This is not quite a dead city. People still live here, but they are damaged, too, and the quiet, steady existence they knew 15 years ago, before the start of the independence movement and two wars with Russia, is probably gone forever.
At every block, you are reminded only of what was. Our guide, Aslan, points through the car window: there you could buy delicious bread; there lived a rich uncle; there were the university residencies… Present tense is not used much in Grozny – future not at all.
In the centre, at a big loop in the River Sunzha, even the past is gone. This was the epicentre of the two Russian campaigns to storm Grozny – the first 10 years ago under President Boris Yeltsin in the winter of 1994-95, the second under President Vladimir Putin in...
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