Russian troops are continuing their military campaign in the breakaway republic of Chechnya. The exact number of both military and civilian casualties is not known. Human rights groups accuse the Russian forces of targeting hospitals and clinics, especially in the Chechen capital Grozny. But little is known about the situation in the villages. RFE/RL correspondent Irina Lagunina reports about the story of a doctor who has witnessed a great deal of bloodshed.
Washington, 22 May 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Last fall, the Chechen government of Aslan Maskhadov ordered medical personnel to provide assistance to the villages affected by the war in Chechnya. One of the doctors who followed the directive was Khasan Baiyev, a dentist by profession who became a surgeon during the first Chechen war of 1994-1996.
Baiyev took his medical equipment, moved to the small village of Alkhan-Kala in the outskirts of Grozny and, with the help of the local population, started the hospital that had been abandoned at the beginning of the war.
Baiyev says that last October, 17 wounded were brought to the hospital. The hospital lacked basic medical supplies. Baiyev says he was forced to use an ordinary saw to conduct amputations.
The Russian troops also delivered their own wounded to the hospital. Baiyev says he was negotiating a ceasefire, trying to convince them that there were no Chechen fighters in the village. But the village remained under fire and there were from 30 to 50 wounded every day needing treatment.
Baiyev said at a recent briefing conducted at the Washington headquarters of RFE/RL that his commitment to treating victims on all sides during the war had infuriated both Russian officers and some Chechen gunmen who captured Alkhan-Kala this January. Says Baiyev:
"They seized me, dragged me into the hospital and started to shoot with machine-guns at my feet and above my head, saying that I opened the hospital for the Russian soldiers. I said that I opened the hospital for those who need medical help."
In a few days, the Chechen group left the village and the Russian federal forces came in. They also wanted to shoot the doctor. Baiyev continues his story:
"They seized me and put me to the wall saying that I was treating the Wahhabis (members of a strict Muslim sect). Then one of them said 'we'll have enough time to execute him, let's use him as a shield in the street fighting. They will not shoot at doctor.' When they finally put me to the wall to execute me the old men, women, and children -- all in all about 30 people -- stood in front of me and said 'If you want to shoot our doctor shoot him together with us.'"
The Russian federal forces left and on January 31 the village was once again crowded with wounded Chechen rebels who tried to find some medical help after having left Grozny through a Russian minefield. As Baiyev describes it, the hospital was full, even the corridor and the stairs were packed with wounded. He conducted more then a hundred surgeries in two days. Baiyev says the second patient he had these days was the well known Chechen commander Shamil Basaev. The Russian military jets bombed the hospital several days later when they found out that Basaev was there, and the Russian authorities were looking for the surgeon because he treated the famous rebel commander.
"I don't see people as terrorists or bandits or anything else. For me they are all patients. I am not a prosecutor. I simply followed the Hippocratic Oath."
But Baiyev says he was finally forced to leave the region and the country for treating the wounded of both sides of the war.