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III. March 1996. Human Shield in Samashki

       Samashki is a large village located in the Western flatlands of Chechnya. At the beginning of the war, there were 2100 plots of land1 populated by about 14,600 people. Chechens made up the majority of the population although a small part was composed of Russians.
       Since the very beginning of the war, the village has been the victim of numerous artillery and mortar shootings and air attacks.
       On April 7-8, 1995, the village was occupied by a combined force of soldiers from the IA and from a special division of the MIA RF. The entrance of these federal forces was met with resistance by a small group of self-armed villagers. The larger detachment of fighters had left Samashki one month earlier, following an ultimatum from the Russian forces.
       Following the Russian forces occupation, a cleansing of the village was conducted.2 In the course of the operation, civilians were murdered, detainees were harassed and houses were burned down. During the cleansing alone, more villagers were killed than in the course of the fighting, and more severe destruction to the village also occurred at this time.3
       During Summer and Fall 1995, when the large-scale fighting had come to a standstill due to the peace talks being held in Grozny, the majority of villagers returned to Samashki. Destroyed houses began to be repaired and rebuilt. During that same period, 100 fighters from the village also returned.
       All this time, the Russian forces were stationed in the outskirts of Samashki.
       From February 1996, in various Chechen regions, Russian troops once again began conducting special operations that resembled the cleansings. In mid-March, Samashki was chosen as the object of just such an operation. At this time, a Chechen military detachment of 120 soldiers under the command of Khizir Khachkaeva moved into the village. (In general, the number of soldiers in Samashki during the fighting reached 260-300 people, which, with respect to the war in Chechnya, is a considerable amount.)
       On the night of March 14, Samashki was surrounded by Russian forces. The government of the village was given an ultimatum  to give up fighters and weapons. The quantity of the demand, however, was not indicated.
       Beginning at 4 P.M. on March 14th, inhabitants of the village began to leave the village through a special corridor that was created for that purpose. In the evening, the head of the local administration told the villagers that he had managed to agree with the soldiers that there would be neither an assault nor a cleansing of the village and that the soldiers would leave. However, at 6 A.M. on March 15th, representatives of the Russian forces announced to officials of the local administration that from 8 A.M. to 10 A.M. that morning, a corridor in the direction of Ingushetia would be opened for the inhabitants to leave; after that, the storming of the village would begin. A panic seized the village, not all the inhabitants were able to leave, many were unable to decide in such a short time what they would do with their property and cattle, and some of the villagers began to leave the village by a route different from the corridor route. At the Russian posts, men aged 15 to 55 were selectively (based on certain available lists and also arbitrarily) detained for filtration. This lead to a delay in the villagers ability to leave the city and to the return of some of them to the village. According to the most modest estimates, some 5000 villagers remained. They were impeded from leaving until March 19.
       The Chechen rebels prepared to defend Samashki which was subjected to massive shooting attacks from tanks, howitzers and from helicopters. The village was bombed from the air and ammunition of tremendous power was used. The intensity is evident from the fact that dozens of charred Russian army vehicles remained on the streets of the village after the fighting had ended.4
       The division of the Russian forces slowly entered the village from the east. When they met resistance, they retreated and then attacked those points with artillery and mortar shells and air raids. On the streets, which ran from east to west, soldiers in armored vehicles moved forward. Areas the soldiers passed were thoroughly combed.
       In these conditions, the soldiers of the Russian forces5 resorted to using human shields.6 Civilians of Samashki were used by Russian soldiers as human shields to protect their armored cars. This was connected to the fact that during the course of the war in Chechnya armored equipment turned out to be defenseless against grenades which were frequently used in street fighting.


       The following is from the account of Salauddin Saliev who lives in Samashki on 9 Vygonnaya Street.7

On March 15th, I was visiting my neighbor, Abdulselim Movdaev, who lived at 6 Vygonnaya Street. There were six of us altogether; he and I, his mother and father, my wife and my daughter. A little after two oclock, a few soldiers came in...
"Whos here?"
"An old man and woman, my wife and my daughter," I said.
"Is there anybody else?"
"No, theres nobody."
"The old man and woman can stay, you two, get out here now!"
We went outside. On the street there were APCs, tanks, soldiers...
We were told: "You two, climb up on that...tank."
They made us sit on the tank. They made us sit on top of the tank from where they were shooting. They were shooting and the two of us were just sitting on top of the tank...
I said to the commander: "You are all hiding behind your equipment, and the two of us are sitting up here, this is dangerous! Bullets are whistling by, one of them could hit us!"
"We need you up there, so just sit and be quiet, responded the commander as another soldier began to insult us with rude swear words. So we just sat there... Occasionally shots would be fired from somewhere, a soldier was even injured right near us. For about 6-7 hours they drove us around like that."

       In that time period, the Russian division was able to move forward about 300-400 meters to the intersection with Ambulatornaya Street.
       According to Salauddin Saliev:

Two soldiers were in their APC, and they stuck their heads out of the hatch. I said to one of them: "Are you a natsman?10 I can see that you are natsman. What nationality are you?"
He said to me, "Im a Kazakh."
"How did you wind up in the Russian army?" I asked, "Kazakhs have their own government, dont they?"
"No, we lived in Volgagrad, I was drafted from there."
I asked him: "Do you speak Kazakh?"
"I do," he responded.
So I said to him in Kazakh: Tell the commander that we are freezing up here. We are dressed lightly; its already getting dark. Tell him to let us down from here.11
It was already about 9 oclock in the evening. He went over to the commander and said: "Let those two guys down..."
"No, let them stay up there for a while. We need them... up there!" And he didnt let us down.
After a little while, the same guy reported to the commander: "I have just gotten orders to occupy our former position." I thought to myself, "What are their former positions? Where are they taking us?" As it turned out, they headed back and stopped right near my house.
After some more time, I again addressed the commander, saying: "Let us down!" And he did.


       This incident is not unique. On March 17th at about 6 oclock in the morning, Russian soldiers entered the house at 2 Rabochaya Street (parallel to Vygonnaya Street). There, in a concrete basement, the residents of several houses in the area were hiding from the shooting. According to Shepa Izmailov, the owner of the house, there were about 30 women, 8-10 children, 8-9 elderly people and a few young men.

On March 15th, I was visiting my neighbor, Abdulselim Movdaev, who lived at 6 Vygonnaya Street. There were six of us altogether; he and I, his mother and father, my wife and my daughter. A little after two oclock, a few soldiers came in...
"Whos here?"
"An old man and woman, my wife and my daughter," I said.
"Is there anybody else?"
"No, theres nobody."
"The old man and woman can stay, you two, get out here now!"
We went outside. On the street there were APCs, tanks, soldiers...
We were told: "You two, climb up on that...tank."
They made us sit on the tank. They made us sit on top of the tank from where they were shooting. They were shooting and the two of us were just sitting on top of the tank...
I said to the commander: "You are all hiding behind your equipment, and the two of us are sitting up here, this is dangerous! Bullets are whistling by, one of them could hit us!"
"We need you up there, so just sit and be quiet," responded the commander as another soldier began to insult us with rude swear words. So we just sat there... Occasionally shots would be fired from somewhere, a soldier was even injured right near us. For about 6-7 hours they drove us around like that.

       In that time period, the Russian division was able to move forward about 300-400 meters to the intersection with Ambulatornaya Street.
       According to Salauddin Saliev:

Two soldiers were in their APC, and they stuck their heads out of the hatch. I said to one of them: "Are you a natsman?10 I can see that you are natsman. What nationality are you?"
He said to me, "Im a Kazakh."
"How did you wind up in the Russian army?" I asked, "Kazakhs have their own government, dont they?"
"No, we lived in Volgagrad, I was drafted from there."
I asked him: "Do you speak Kazakh?"
"I do," he responded.
So I said to him in Kazakh: "Tell the commander that we are freezing up here. We are dressed lightly; its already getting dark. Tell him to let us down from here."11
It was already about 9 oclock in the evening. He went over to the commander and said: "Let those two guys down..."
"No, let them stay up there for a while. We need them... up there!" And he didnt let us down.
After a little while, the same guy reported to the commander: "I have just gotten orders to occupy our former position." I thought to myself, "What are their former positions? Where are they taking us?" As it turned out, they headed back and stopped right near my house.
After some more time, I again addressed the commander, saying: "Let us down!" And he did.


       This incident is not unique. On March 17th at about 6 oclock in the morning, Russian soldiers entered the house at 2 Rabochaya Street (parallel to Vygonnaya Street). There, in a concrete basement, the residents of several houses in the area were hiding from the shooting. According to Shepa Izmailov, the owner of the house, there were about 30 women, 8-10 children, 8-9 elderly people and a few young men. Orlow.JPG
       The following is from the account of one of the women, Sovdat Murtazalieva, who lives in Samashki at 25 Vostochnaya Street.12

They said: "Everybody out." They made us all come out of the basement. They swore at us and yelled, "Get on! Get on!" They were trying to keep themselves hidden and were shooting. They put three of us up on a tank which was there. And one child, Timran13 was also placed on top of it. He was not even six years old, yet he was made to get up onto the tank. There were also two other young boys, just a little older.14
I fell unconscious here, near the gate... I thought they were going to start shooting and kill us all. That is what I was thinking when I lost consciousness.
Rabo4aja.JPG

       What follows is the description of these events from the viewpoint of the owner of the house from where people were taken and used as a human shield.15

At 5 oclock in the morning, we heard thundering noises from the tanks and other machinery. I looked out the window and saw that an APC was approaching. Armed soldiers ran into our courtyard. I said to the older men and women, Lets begin to slowly go outside so that we dont take them by surprise. We didnt know what mood they were in. I slowly moved one of the old men along. I stayed right beside him but I felt scared nonetheless. Four soldiers were standing outside with sub-machine guns, four with machine guns. Near the gate was a soldier with an army radio. We walked out of the basement toward the house and stood against the side...
The commander was a major. He wasnt wearing a shoulder strap. When he walked away, I asked a young guy, a Muscovite, what the commanders title was. He said that he was a major. And then I asked that same young guy, What happened? Why are you doing this? Whats the problem? He said that the day before one of the commanders had been killed and that now they were combing the village.
The were all sitting there, shots were being fired all around. And then, the commander said: "All the women, stand up! You, you and you!" He pointed at three women, among them Lala and Koka, my neighbors.
"Lets go, get up on the tank."16 They walked around, but they couldnt get up... theyre women... And Lala is very weak. Then the children were brought over. Three of Kokas children. "Get on!"
Then we were permitted to bring Sovdat back to the basement. When we came back, the commander ordered everyone off the tanks...

       The following account was related by Lala Gaerbekova:17

I am still in shock. With guns to our heads we were told to get up onto a tank on Rabochaya Street. Three children, their mother, Koka, my sister, Anya Gaerbekova, and myself. I asked Can I walk in front of the tank  I have a weak heart? I was not allowed. Twenty minutes later, I fell unconscious. My sister jumped down. I heard someone say: You bitch, Im going to shoot you. That was the only time that they spoke to us like that. My sister grabbed me from under the shoulder. After that, they placed us in the front of the tank. They made us walk in front of the tank and said: If one bullet is shot at us, we will kill you. But no shots were fired. Not one.

According to Shepa Izmailov:

When the women and the children climbed down, they told us: Go stand up in front. We all went and stood in front of the tank or the APC. Beside us was Koka and her sons. There was shooting going on all around us...
As we were walking, I noticed that Shamsutdinas house was on fire, and he was walking with us.


       Nearly everybody who was in the basement walked along in front of the armored car. In such a way, those people being used as human shields walked along in front of the armored cars for about 300 meters over the course of several hours. When they got tired of standing, they were allowed to sit on the ground.
       When they reached the canal which runs through Samashki from north to south, Russian soldiers stopped. The armored car that was being covered by the human shield was hidden behind a house. Between noon and 2 oclock in the afternoon the commander ordered the civilians to leave. The people began to carefully make their way back. Timirbai Elisanov, who was also a part of the human shield, was killed on his way back to his home on Rabochaya Street.
       Khizir Khachukaev, the commander of a special force division of the armed forces of the CRI and the soldiers from his unit who were defending Samashki, told representatives of the Memorial HRC18 that in Samashki, soldiers from the Russian forces made civilians get up on the armored vehicle and drove around with them in front. Fighters from Chechen units claimed that they refrained from opening fire on armored vehicles when they were covered by human shields. They tried to encircle the Russian troops, but were forced to retreat or remain in small groups behind them. They offered resistance mostly in the center of the village when the Russian soldiers released the residents who had made up the human shield.
       Human shields were not again used in Samashki since, on the following morning, residents living near the area that had become the new arena for armed fighting gathered near the Russian troops in the region of the canning factory in the southern outskirts of the village. These people had to demand for more than 24 hours to be let out of the city, despite the fact that gunfire from helicopters had already lead to several casualties. At 12 oclock in the afternoon on March 19th, they were released by Russian border guards.19
       The Memorial HRC does not have any information as to whether or not the use of human shields was sanctioned by the commanders of the mission in Samashki or if it was the initiative of individual officers leading troops in the village.
       A part of the Northern Caucasus division of the Internal Army20 and the 58th Army of the MD RF21 were involved in the taking of Samashki.



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