Vasily Yurchuk of the Ministry for Emergency Situations says there are 11,500 civilians registered in Grozny, the Chechen capital that is now a flattened rubble. Yet, reports Jamestown’s correspondent Igor Rotar, there are no signs of civilian life. Interior Ministry checkpoints–one every couple hundred meters–have no one to check, their roadblocks have no traffic to harass. But sometimes among the broken walls and twisted rebars are signs of cellar-dwellers: “People live here”; “We’ve come home.”

The civilians are Russians and Chechens alike, and they share a contempt for reporters, an exhaustion with the war, and deep apathy and pessimism about the future.

The majority of Grozny’s civilians are Russian. They are there because they have nowhere else to go, and many say they will leave as soon as possible. Russians suffered greatly in “independent” Chechnya, after the collapse of the federal war effort in 1994-1996. Many were forced out of their apartments. If they traveled in the mountains, Russians, more than Chechens, might be kidnapped and sold into slavery if they could not be ransomed. “It wasn’t even because of our nationality that we suffered,” one Russian said. “But there were always plenty of well-armed relatives ready to defend any Chechen. Who would stand up for a poor Russian?”

The Chechen civilians see things much the same way. The years of independence were years of anarchy, with armed bands staking out and struggling over territorial claims, and the central government under President Aslan Maskhadov powerless to control or even influence the situation. “Today,” Chechen civilians told Jamestown’s correspondent, “there is equal hatred for the federal troops, who kill civilians indiscriminately, and for own fighters, who couldn’t wait for another war.”