The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

[Via Neeka, yet another moving tale from the Russian journal Bolshoi Gorod. I have loosely translated it.]

Polina Zherebtsova was born in 1985 at Grozny. Her mother had arrived in Chechnya from Rostov-on-Don, and prior to the war had worked at a local factory called Red Hammer.

In 1994, the first Chechen war began. During the bombardment of a hospital on Pervomaisky street, Polina's grandfather, Anatoly Zherebtsov, a journalist and cameraman well-known in Chechnya was killed. Scant months later, School №55 where Polina studied, was bombed. In the ensuing ten years, she transferred from school to school as each one fell victim to the crossfire. At the time of the assault on Grozny, the district Polina dwelt in was fired upon by tanks. Her house was partially wrecked.

At the age of nine, Polina began to keep a diary where she wrote down everything that she saw and heard. Throughout the first Chechen war, she and her mother remained in Grozny, several times escaping death only by a miracle. In her diary of the time, she described regular explosions on the streets, and how people were being buried in pits and by the entrances to their houses.

When the second Chechen war commenced, Polina and her mother were traders in the central market. Polina continued to mantain her diary. On October 21, a missile fell on the market. Polina's mother was wounded in the thigh, while her own right leg was peppered with shrapnel, both small and large.

It was dangerous to travel out of the city. There were hardly any free shuttlebuses; those carrying refugees were periodically hit by artillery. In January 2000, members of the Russian forces led Polina, her mother and some neighbours out of their houses, arranged them by a trench and fired into the air, and said later that they were only joking.

Having finished school in 2002, Polina was admitted to a Teaching institute. She published poetry and tales of the war in various newspapers. She was accosted by various people who did not introduce themselves, but bore hints of association with the government. They told her they were unhappy with her publications, threatened her with unpleasantness if she continued. She and her mother were forced to move from place to place; their own apartment was in a dilapidated condition, with the floor having collapsed into the basement.

At the end of 2004, an explosion occurred near the 9th Grozny Hospital. Polina and her mother decided to leave Grozny, and began to look for shelter in Stavropol. In a year, they changed apartments nine times. Her mother fell seriously ill.

By chance having seen a book published by the Solzhenitsyn Fund, Polina wrote to the author about her life and asked for help finding a job. Several months later, she received a reply, and on Solzhenitsyn's request, his contacts helped her move to Moscow.

Below are extracts from Polina's diary from the autumn of 1999. Daud and several others remembered here perished several months after the events described. Kusum and Maryam survived. Vandam and family managed to escape to a refugee camp. The man who is addressed in the diary as Aladdin also survived, having escaped to Ingushetia.

Polina Zherebtsova is planning to publish a book based on her diaries, and produce an anti-war film.

(Names of people in the diary have been changed. The text of the diary entries has been abridged.)

Part I appears here.


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