Soldiers’ Mothers Movement Begins March to Grozny
NAZRAN, Russia (AP) _ About 100 women on an anti-war march to the capital of the breakaway republic of Chechnya struggled Saturday against snow, strong winds and a roadblock set up by Russian troops on the Chechen border.
The women from the Soldiers’ Mothers Committee marched first through Nazran, capital of the Ingushetia region bordering on Chechnya.
They carried placards that read ``War in Chechnya is a shame″ and ``Bring our sons home,″ along with white sheets with signatures collected throughout Russia to protest Moscow’s 3 1/2-month-old campaign to crush Chechen separatists.
They were accompanied by a group of Buddhist monks in ceremonial robes. Before the march began, clergymen of various religions, including a mufti and a rabbi, prayed for the success of the mothers’ mission.
The women then boarded buses to Sleptsovsk on the Chechen border. Russian troops at a checkpoint on the main road prevented them from crossing, saying they were under orders not to let anyone through.
The buses took a side road into Sernovodsk, another border village, where the mothers were warmly greeted by Ingush and Chechen women who offered them bread and salt, a traditional Russian welcome.
But the weather took a turn for the worse, and the women looked exhausted as they battled snow and strong wind.
The march to the destroyed Chechen capital of Grozny was to continue Sunday and will eventually cover the 56 miles between Nazran and Grozny.
Called the ``March of Mothers’ Compassion,″ it is the most significant protest action to date by the committee, a private group formed several years ago to protect young Russian conscripts from hazing and other army brutality.
Since the fighting in Chechnya began Dec. 11, committee members have taken an anti-war stance, holding rallies across Russia and traveling to the war zone to negotiate freedom for Russian prisoners of war.
Some among the marchers know their sons are with front-line units or are listed as missing. Many have no information at all.
Olga Bova, 56, of the Ural Mountains city of Yekaterinburg, said she has not heard from her three sons _ Anton, Dmitry and Alexei _ since Jan. 3. She said all three were serving in a tank unit.
``If I fail to find either them or their bodies, I’ll die,″ she said. ``I don’t have anything to live for.″
In a statement faxed to The Associated Press in Moscow, a spokeswoman for the protesters, Irina Natalevich, said the Russian military commander in Chechnya has refused the mothers’ request for an army guard.
``We have all the reasons to believe that Gen. Kulikov is not interested in securing the march’s safety, but in stopping it,″ the spokeswoman said.
According to Natalevich, Gen. Anatoly Kulikov said the Chechen rebels might open fire on the march, but the Chechens have guaranteed the mothers’ safety.
The military command, meanwhile, reported no major battlefield changes since it took strategic Argun last week.
It said the Chechen rebels were fortifying their positions around Shali and Gudermes, two key towns southeast and east of Grozny that remain in rebel hands.