Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 42

Chechen girls suffering mystery illness

Last December 7, Taisa Minkailova, a 13-year-old Chechen girl from the village of Starogladkovskaya in the Shelkovskoy District of Northern Chechnya, complained of health problems. She was gasping for air, experiencing convulsions and headaches, and her limbs became numb. Her parents brought her to a hospital in neighboring Dagestan, but local doctors could not help the girl (Novaya gazeta, January 12).

On December 9 two more Chechen girls from the same village were taken to a hospital in Grozny, the Chechen capital, with the same symptoms. A week later 19 more children and three adults were admitted to the Central Hospital of Shelkovskoy District. All of these patients were females from three settlements: Kobi, Shelkozavodskaya, and Shelkovskaya (Newsru.com, February 21). “All victims had the temporary diagnosis of poisoning by an unknown toxin,” Sultan Alimkhadzhiev, chief of the Chechen Republican Children’s Hospital, told the Strana.ru news agency (kavkaz.strana.ru, December 20, 2005). Alimkhadzhiev said that doctors did not know how the poison had entered the children’s bodies. They needed expert examination in Makhachkala, the capital of Dagestan.

Despite Alimkhadzhiev’s cautious statements, almost everyone in Chechnya was convinced that the Russian military could be responsible for the poisoning. Just two months earlier, several students from Staroshedrinskaya, a village in Shelkovskoy District, had reported the same symptoms. However, the authorities had managed to hush up the incident (Novaya gazeta, January 16). According to the Kavkazcenter rebel website, a group of unidentified Russians had come to the school in Staroshedrinskaya after the first attacks and taken away a strange item, forbidding school personnel from discussing their visit (Kavkazcenter.com, December 19).

But the number of poisoned children in Shelkovskoy District was so huge (at least 100 victims by the end of December, according to different sources) that it was impossible to conceal. Popular anger became so loud that Ramzan Kadyrov, acting prime minister and the leader of the pro-Russian forces in Chechnya, had to appeal to General Alexander Baranov, commander of the North Caucasus Military District, to send a special delegation from the Russian Chemical Corporation to investigate (lenta.ru, December 21, 2005). Captain S.N. Efimov, a senior specialist doctor at a mobile military laboratory, headed the Commission of the North Caucasus Military District that was incorporated into the Chechen government’s investigation.

On December 17, the Commission went to Shelkovskoy. Novaya gazeta published Efimov’s report from the trip, which said, “The examination of the victims revealed the following pattern of the poisoning progression. The source of the poisoning is located in the main building of the school (because being in [the school] is the only thing that this group of victims has in common) presumably on the second floor. The poisoning may have been through breathing, but body contact is also possible. The toxic substance was either liquid or solid releasing toxic vapors.” Efimov’s report said that it was impossible to determine the nature of the poisonous gas without special equipment and chemicals (Novaya gazeta, January 12).

The first reports of mass poisoning had swept through Chechnya until almost no one doubted that the victims had been really poisoned. The only question was by whom. While the Chechens suspected Russian troops, official propaganda pointed to international terrorism. On January 20, the kavkaz.strana.ru website, known for its close ties with the Federal Security Service (FSB) and the military, published an article that said, “Between 1997 and 1999 there was a secret ‘Al-Risal’ camp in Chechnya where instructors of Arabic origin used to work with poisons and means of mass destruction. The camp was located in the center of Grozny and it was sponsored with Islamist extremist funds linked to Al-Qaeda” (kavkaz.strana.ru, December 20, 2005).

Blood samples from the poisoned girls were sent to the republican Forensic Investigation Bureau in Makhachkala. On December 22, Bureau experts told the press that “radioactive elements were found in the blood of some children” (Agenstvo natsionalnikh novostei, December 22, 2005). One day later, the Bureau declared that the children had been poisoned by ethylene glycol, the main ingredient in anti-freeze (Kavkazsky uzel, December 23). The North Caucasus Military District chemical laboratory made no comment.

Then, suddenly, all talk of poisoning disappeared. Elbrus Porsukov, director of the Forensic Investigation Bureau, retracted his colleagues’ statement that radioactive elements had been found in the children’s blood. Musa Delsaev, head doctor of the Drug Control Service in Chechnya, said that there had been no poisoning; the children had a disease called “nervous exhaustion” (Kavkazky Uzel, December 23, 2005). Zurab Kikalidze, deputy director of the notorious Serbsky Forensic Psychiatry Institute, said that the cause of the disease was “psycho-emotional tension” typical of residents of the Chechen Republic (Kavkazky Uzel, December 23, 2005).

Although nobody in Chechnya actually believed this nonsense, the parents of some sick children agreed to send them to a medical institute in Stavropol for further treatment for this “nervous disease.” However, this “treatment” only worsened the attacks; now the children’s noses would bleed in addition to convulsions and choking four or five times a day (newsru.com, February 21).

Today parents in Shelkovskoy do not let their children go to school and insist that the buildings be decontaminated, but the officials, who insist now that there was no poisoning, refuse. Chechen hospitals are full of sick children and nobody knows how to treat them. Almost all victims are female, either students or teachers, and Novaya gazeta assumes that the source of the poisoning could be hidden in the girls’ lavatories (Novaya gazeta, January 16). The source of the poisoning could be the item that the Russians took away from the school in the village of Staroshedrinskaya last fall, as Kavkazcenter reported.

Clearly the Russian authorities are hiding the truth about the poisoning. Their explanations that the children’s convulsions were the result of nervous exhaustion are patently absurd. “If the problem is nerves then the whole population in Grozny and Vedeno district, areas of the most intensive hostilities in Chechnya, should lie in convulsions,” says Khusein Nataev, head of the Shelkovskoy district administration (Novye izvestiya, December 25).

The question is what the officials are hiding and the answer is the deliberate poisoning of the Chechen young women by security officials. The reason is also clear, but at the same time it is too shocking to believe – the genocide of the Chechen nation.