Grozny: Nine Cities

Olga Kravets

2009 - Ongoing

Chechnya, Russia

The project is an extensive study into the changes in post-war Chechnya, which spanned over more than six years in fieldwork. The story of the aftermath of two Chechen wars is the story of the institutionalised oppression, with injustice generating new cycles of violence. Having survived 20 years of bloody conflicts with Russia’s military, Chechens now live under a ruthless dictator while pretending that life has gotten back to normal. Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, is a melting pot for changing Caucasus society that is trying to overcome war traumas and find its own way in between traditional Chechen values, Islamisation, and globalization. The body of work itself is inspired by a Thornton Wilder’s book Theophilus North, and centers on the idea of nine cities being hidden in one, which give us a concept to explore specific aspects of the aftermath of two Chechen wars, considering them as ”levels” hidden within the capital of Grozny.

Chechnya has been largely ignored by the mainstream media, since Kremlin declared the war was over in 2009 and made reporting there next to impossible for international journalists. As Russian citizens not limited by the accreditation rules, we thought it was our turn to seize this chance to travel there. We did not see it coming at the time, but right now any kind of reporting without doing harm to your sources has become impossible in Chechnya and essentially the material, gathered by us between 2009 and 2016 will stay as unique source of information for researchers, journalists and general public for at least the years while Ramzan Kadyrov will be in power. Chechnya might be a very small place, but understanding Chechnya is the key to understand the power vertical in Russia, the birth of Islamic radicalism in Europe, the modern dictatorship.

Our project has already been a successful cross-media experience, it has been released as a web documentary in three languages, travelled to five (and counting) countries as an exhibition and installation and has been published by media worldwide. At the moment we are working on making the book, which will be the final stage of the project.

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  • Members of the Iman club at their office. Iman is the women’s branch of the fun club of the Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov, which is effectively a substitute for the youth movement in Chechnya.

  • Men watch football game match in a cafe in downtown Grozny. Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov invested millions to revive the local team, Terek, which even used to have foreign coaches.

  • Women wait to go through a metal detector at one of the entrances to downtown Grozny just before the World War II Victory Day parade. The parade, a smaller version of the Moscow Red Square event, has become the annual happening in Grozny when Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov demonstrates his military power.

  • Cleaners wash away blood from the stairs of the parliament building in Grozny after four suicide bombers acting in support of Chechnya’s independence from Russia detonated their explosives, killing three other people on October 19, 2010.

  • Men perform dhikr, a Sufi spiritual ceremony, after a funeral. Chechnya’s Islamization after two wars has taken two different directions: the radical Islam preached by rebels and the “state-sponsored” Islam promoted by president Ramzan Kadyrov. In 2015 the rebels pledged allegiance to ISIS.

  • A blood feud peace agreement ceremony between two teips (tribes) outside of Grozny. According to the testimonies of participants, most of these ceremonies are staged at the Chechen government order.

  • A woman cleans the memorial stone of the late Chechen president Akhmad Kadyrov just before opening of the museum in his honour. Ramzan Kadyrov proclaimed May 10 as The Day of Remembrance and Mourning in Chechnya, ordering the people to mourn the deportation of Chechens and Ingush people by Joseph Stalin in 1944 on the same day as mourning the death of his father.

  • Grozny City skyscrapers in the centre of the Chechen capital are seen through a construction fence. In 2008 Moscow has promised to invest $5 billion into the post-war reconstruction of the republic, but the exact expenses have been never disclosed. Credits, private investments and money gathered by the charitable foundation headed by Aimani Kadyrova, the mother of the Chechen president, add on to the republic’s budget. "Allah gives us some. We don't always know exactly where the money comes from," Ramzan Kadyrov notoriously stated.

  • The cadets' guard of honour during a speech of Chechnya's leader Ramzan Kadyrov during the World War II Victory Day parade. The parade, a smaller version of the Moscow Red Square event, has become the annual happening in Grozny when Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov demonstrates his military power.

  • Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov is hugging a boxer at a tournament, held on August 28, the birthday of his late father, Akhmad Kadyrov. Besides football, all types of fighting sports are favourite pastime of Kadyrov and he attends each of the numerous events held in Grozny.

  • A school girl faints while singing in a choir during the rehearsal of the Slavic Alphabet Day. Hundreds of children are obliged to participate in frequent mass celebrations in Chechnya, both secular and religious.

  • Petimat Baidueva, 60, is undergoing treatment for stomach cancer in Grozny’s Oncology Center. While there is no studies that can prove the real reasons behind it, many doctors in Grozny say that the cancer rate has skyrocketed after the two wars in Chechnya and they explained it by the pollution caused by the burning of the oil refineries that were bombed down by Russian planes, as well as PTSD.

  • An armoured personnel carrier with Russian troops driving through a Grozny street.
    In 2009 Kremlin announced that the so-called “regime of the counter-terrorism operation” in Chechnya, active since the start of the second war in 1999, is over, putting an official end to the second war.

  • An ethnic Russian woman who stayed in Grozny during both wars under heavy Russian bombardment is holding one of her few surviving family photographs. Chechnya, a multinational republic during the USSR, has effectively become monoethnic after the two wars, with 95 per cent of its population being Chechen at the moment.

  • The portrait of Natalia Estermirova in a Memorial office in Grozny. Chechnya's most prominent human rights activist, Natalia Estemirova, of the Memorial organisation, was found dead on July 15, 2009. Memorial, the last human rights NGO to work in Chechnya on a permanent basis, has minimised its activities in the republic since, replaced by a Joint Mobile Group of human rights activist visiting the republic on a rolling basis.

  • Cows surround oil wells belonging to the national oil company of Russia, Rosneft, in the outskirts of Grozny. In 2016, Russian government initiated the process of transferring shares of Chechenneftekhimprom [state-owned company that controls the republic’s oil-refining and petrochemical industry infrastructure on behalf of Rosneft] to the Chechen Republic, which effectively means under the control of the Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov as he repeatedly requested.

  • Students at Grozny's Islamic University. Chechnya’s Islamization after two wars has taken two different directions: the radical Islam preached by rebels and the “state-sponsored” Islam promoted by president Ramzan Kadyrov. In 2015 the rebels pledged allegiance to ISIS

  • A young mother embraces her small daughter. The two Chechen wars facilitated the emancipation of the Chechen women in the absence of men. However, with the revival of Islam, their roles in the society have been reduced again in the recent years.

  • Adlan and Anu, parents of Zubeir Idrisov, who was accused of an assassination attempt on Ramzan Kadyrov’s close comrade and sentenced to nine years in prison. Zubeir’s parents claim he is innocent. Lawyers form the Joint Mobile Group who took on Idrisov’s case, explain that security forces need to demonstrate the success in fighting rebels and often frame innocent men. JMG helped Idrisov’s family to appeal to the ECHR - European Court of Human Rights.

  • A car is parked on the edge of the forest in the village of Assinovskaya, where a lot of young men have been kidnapped by security forces. A significant part of them is later found dead and often their bodies are discovered in the places like this one. According to “Memorial” NGO, at 6500 people went missing in Chechnya between 1994 and 2013.

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