Eight-year-old Taisa Abakarova lay in the trauma ward of a hospital in Nazran, Ingushetia, just across the border from Chechnya, where rebels have been engaged in brutal warfare against Russia. All of Taisa's immediate family died on February 4, along with 363 other civilians, when the Russian army bombed their caravan as they tried to evacuate Katyr Yurt, Chechnya.Russian military started bombing the city earlier that morning. In the afternoon the military paused, brought in buses, and told the people to leave immediately. Despite the promise of a two-hour safe corridor to evacuate, the military launched a bombing attack on the caravan.Taisa's upper body and face were burned beyond recognition and both her legs were badly broken. The Salvation Army, one of the few Christian ministries working in the region, is providing her medical care and rehabilitation."Even her parents couldn't have cared about her like Salvation Army people did," says Taisa's aunt. The Salvation Army formally set up work in December to Chechen internally displaced persons (IDPS) settled in Nazran.The town took in most of the more than 200,000 Chechens who fled when war broke out in their country. Nearly all of the refugees (99 percent) profess Islam.Kharon Deniev, field coordinator for the Dutch Refugee Council (DRC), says he knows of no other Christian group working visibly among the Chechen IDPS in Nazran. DRC systematically registered all 186,000 refugees living in Nazran and helped coordinate the work of agencies that came later.Other Christian agencies such as Mercy Corps, Peter Deyneka's Russian Ministries, World Concern, and World Vision are sending relief aid to the region.Only days after the bombings stopped, the Russian army escorted a Salvation Army truck convoy into Chechnya. The trucks carried needed food and medicines for young children—victims of Russia's aggressive campaign to wipe out Chechen guerrilla forces.The Salvation Army was the first humanitarian agency to begin on-the-ground aid distribution inside the predominantly Muslim region.Its open testimony as a Christian organization proved to be no hindrance."They know they need all the help they can get," says Salvationist Captain Geoff Ryan, who organized the Salvation Army's work among Chechen IDPS.A second convoy headed back into Chechnya two days after the first. The second food distribution included 26,000 copies of The Book of Life, provided by a local Pentecostal group in Rostov.Almost all of the IDPS lost not only their homes and personal possessions, but also their family members. The cruelties of war have left them traumatized. "We are all psychological invalids," says one Chechen woman.Deniev says the overwhelming situation in Nazran stretched aid workers to the limit. "We don't have time to listen to people," he says. "But Geoff has a different philosophy. He wants to rescue souls."The Salvation Army plans to set up two "help stations," one in Nazran and one within Chechnya, to provide physical assistance and psychological counseling, especially to children.The agency also hopes to offer education for children, because many have been unschooled since the previous Chechen war in 1994-96. Some mothers claim that school has not been available to their children for 10 years. "Our children know machine guns, but they don't know how to read and write," laments one mother.
sThe Salvation Army's Web site includes information about its work in Chechnya, including a RealVideo presentation of its refugee work.See our earlier coverage of the Chechnya bombing, "As Moscow Continues Attacks, Churches Speak Out for Chechen Civilians" (Nov. 22, 1999).
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