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780 Days in Chechen Captivity

: Artyom Vernidoub  

Russian human rights activist Svetlana Kuzmina arrived in Moscow on Wednesday, nine hours after being liberated from Chechen captivity where she spent more than two years. Her rebel captors agreed to free her after lengthy talks in which the rebel field commander Ruslan Gelayev played a crucial role. Gelayev acted upon the request of Loiusa Islamova, the wife of his fellow rebel commander Lechi Islamov, who is being held in Moscows Lefortovo prison pending trial.

Novaya Gazetas journalist Vyacheslav Izmailov is also a well-known human rights activist and has done a lot to help free many Russians from Chechen captivity. He promised Louisa Islamova and Ruslan Gelayev that he would do all he could to try and get field commander Izmailov released from Moscows Lefortovo prison.

Svetlana Kuzmina is the head of the Samara branch of the Congress of Soviet Women. In March 1999 she received a phone call from Ingushetia. A female voice told Svetlana that she had information about Alexei Bezlipkin, a soldier from Samara being held hostage in Chechnya. Svetlana Kuzminia and Alexeis mother then went to Chechnya.

Samara TV cameraman Viktor Petrov joined them on their journey. Later Petrov said that the prime purpose of his making the trip was to accompany the two ladies and, secondly, he was eager to make a film about the liberation of a captive in Chechnya.

But the invitation proved to be a trap. Soon Svetlana and Viktor found themselves in the hands of slave-traders, member of rebel commander Kyuris unit. Initially, the kidnappers demanded a ransom of $3 million for Svetlana and Viktors release. With time the kidnappers lowered their demand but it was still too high for the captives relatives to collect.

Viktor attempted to escape twice. He made the first attempt in September 1999. The journalist was returned to his abductors by locals from a nearby Chechen village, to whom he had turned to for help.

His second attempt was successful. In June this year Viktor managed to get to a Russian army base.

On the June day when I managed to escape, three guards had gone somewhere to the camps, three others were busy with something and their attention was distracted, the cameraman from Samara told Novaya Gazeta upon returning from Chechnya.

I managed to take two grenades and run. It took me six days to get to the base. On my way I ate some seeds, wild berries, drank from some puddles But I tried to avoid all settlements and not to ask local residents for help And also in my hungry mind a dream emerged that when I get to our (Russian) base, as soon as the opportunity offers itself, I would eat chocolate waffles, dipping them in thick sour cream and wash them down with Fanta. On the sixth day I came to a Russian checkpoint

Russian special services were tried to reach an agreement with the rebels to free Svetlana Kuzmina, but failed.

Progress was made only after Novaya Gazeta correspondent Major Vyacheslav Izmailov, ex-representative of Aslan Maskhadov, Said-Selim Batsiyev from the Russian Interior Ministry and Louisa Islamova, the wife of Lechi Islamov, joined in the talks.

Major Vyacheslav Izmailov has for many years been involved in negotiations to exchange Russian soldiers held captive by Chechen rebels.

Louisa Islamova tracked down Izmailov in Moscow and offered to try and persuade the rebels to free hostages if Izamailov would help her try and secure her husbands release in court. That means that when he (Lechi Islamov) appears before the court I will speak as a witness and will ask the court to amnesty Lechi Islamov, for otherwise we would have never seen Svetlana Kuzmina again, Major Izmailov explained.

Then Louisa Islamova and Vyacheslav Izmailov contacted Said-Selim Batsiyev who got in touch with Gelayev. And Gelayev ordered Svetlanas captors to free her. Ruslan Gelayev and Lechi Islamov come from the same Chechen town Komsomolskoye.

Ruslan Gelayev wrote a note warning Kuzminas captors that if they did not free the woman, they would become his deadly enemies.

Svetlana Kuzmina was liberated on Wednesday morning. At around 6:00 pm the same day her plane landed at Moscows Vnukovo airport. And on Thursday Svetlana is leaving the capital for her hometown of Samara.

09 15:23


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