Excerpt from:

Andrew Meier, «Black Earth: A Journey Through Russia After the Fall,» New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2003. pp 111-113.

At No. 1 Podolskaya Street, a ten-minute walk from the center of Aldy, the terror struck mercilessly. Sixty-seven-year-old Khasmagomed Estamirov, a disabled former chauffeur, had sent his wife, two daughters, and todller grandson away to the refugee camps of Ingushetia. But the rest of his clan was home: his cousin Said-Akhmed Masarov; his son, Khozh-Akhmad, who had returned to care for his ailing father; and his daughter-in-law, Toita. At twenty-nine, Toita was eight and one-half months into her third pregnancy. Her one-year-old, Khassan, was also with them. He had taken his first steps that week.

By noon his older brother, Khusein, the toddler who had been sent off to the camps of Ingushetia, had been orphaned. The soldiers had killed everyone in the Estamirov house. The old man. The little boy. His pregnant mother. They even killed the family cow. It was trapped when the soldiers set everything they saw aflame. They torched the yard and the house. They burned the family car as well. Then, as the flames engulfed the cow alive, they left.

Khasmagomed's cousin found the bodies. As he approached the burning house, a mud-splattered APC was driving away. Father and son lay in the yard, side by side. Khasmagomed had been shot in the chest, several times. His wallet was on the ground, empty. The corpses were burned. Toita and her little boy Khassan lay under the awning in the courtyard on the concrete floor. The concrete was pockmarked with bullet holes. Toita, due to give birth in two weeks, was shot in the chest and stomach. Her ring and earrings were gone. Across the threshold to the small house lay the body of the cousin, smoldering. Blood covered the floors and walls.

In the house Khasmagomed had built a small iron stove to keep the family warm. Thirty-two bullet holes had pierced it. Khasmagomed had asked his cousin Said-Akhmed to come live with him. «It's frightening on your own,» he had said. «Here we'll be together.»

Here, too, the young conscripts had come the day before, February 4. They had warned the Estamirovs. «The kontraktniki are coming next,» they said. «You'd better leave.»

Khasmagomed, a proud grandfather who could count at least seven generations that tied him to the Chechen land, had stayed in the house he had built. He was retired, and his health was bad. But he had earned Hero of Labor medals for his decades of driving Party officials around Grozny. He did not believe the soldiers. He did not think the Russians would do anything. «They'll just come,» he told his family, «and check our passports.»

He and his wife had remained throughout the first war on Podolskaya Street. They had lost their first house but rebuilt it from the ground. He did not worry about the Russians coming. He believed they would bring order. So as soon as the conscripts left, Khasmogamed and his son went into their yard. They hung white sheets in front of the house, and on the fence, in white paint, they wrote, «Zachistka done.»

Andrew Meier, «Black Earth: A Journey Through Russia After the Fall,» New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2003. pp 111-113.