My Story: In Chechnya, I Had To Flee Or The Soldiers Would Kill Me

Dragon sought refuge in France along with her family. Her house was destroyed, and she cannot return for fear of being killed.

© Khasan Kaziyev/AFP

My dad had a bad feeling. Normally, it's really dark at nighttime in our village, but that evening, we could hear footsteps and cars, when hardly anyone had a car back then. It was 2002, and I was two years old. In Chechnya, the war was over. The attacks had lessened, the situation was improving. Or at least that's what they were saying on the news. But behind the scenes, the Russians continued to arrest Chechen soldiers. 

We lived in a big house. I was a little girl who used to play all the time, one of those innocent kids. I didn't really understand what was happening, but I knew things weren't normal. Bombs were falling from the sky, there were holes in the roads, parents crying, abandoned children, and hushed discussions between my parents.

My father had been a soldier. All of his friends were arrested. We never saw them again. We learned later that they had been tortured. He knew that the same thing would happen to him, but he hoped they wouldn't find him. He had gone to hide in a village. The village where I was born. 

That night, my father begged my mother to leave the house, to run away immediately. At first, she didn't believe him, she told him there was no point. But in the end she accepted. We took only the bare essentials, leaving even my teddy behind, because my parents wanted the Russian soldiers to think we'd just gone to visit relatives. They mustn't think we were escaping. 

Everyone thought we were dead

My dad, my mom, my siblings and I left through the back of the house. It was made of white brick, it wasn't even finished yet! We went through the neighbors' back garden and traveled to my mother's aunt's house by bus: there were shuttles which looked like Scooby Doo's van which went from our village to the capital, Grozny, every day. They left at night so that people would arrive on time for the main market in the capital. 

My aunt was the only person who knew that we had fled. We arrived at her house in the morning, and began the procedure for obtaining a tourist visa for Greece. After several days, my father returned to the scene of the "crime" because nobody expected to see him there and it was the only way to understand what we'd just escaped from. 

That's how he found out that, two hours after we left, the soldiers had come. Come to put an end to our innocent lives. Our neighbors, who had seen everything, told him what had happened. First of all, they blew up the entrance with a tank, then the soldiers fired their guns at random throughout our house and garden to kill anyone who might have survived, because to them we weren't even human, our lives were worth nothing. 

Our house had been destroyed. Everyone thought we were dead. Not even our families knew what had become of us, but nobody dared to ask, because if you started rummaging around, they'd come for you next. My father quickly returned to that woman's house, my aunt's mother, who took us in despite the risk to her own safety. As it was summer, we obtained our tourist visas easily. And one fine morning, we left. Our big departure took place in silence. We landed in Greece, but as soon as we arrived, we left for France. 

Never to return

Since that day, we've been on the run. It was in France that we discovered what it was like to live in fear, even in a country capable of protecting us. Fear that they would find us, fear that our families who had stayed behind would be used to pressure us into returning and to force us to surrender. 

I grew up with this fear, and even today, I'm telling my story anonymously because we still can't return. We can't see our families, our friends or our neighbors. I miss my country, but I can't go back there. We left never to return again. 

As an immigrant family, nine of us now live in a 50 m² apartment. It's small, but it's a lot better than the fate which awaited me. The experience has traumatized me, but I've also learned a lot from it. My life remains hard even today, but I'm happy because I could have had nothing. 

All that remains of these stories are my scars, like the one on my forehead from when a bomb knocked my mother over when I was still in her belly, or the fear which haunts me as soon as anyone asks that mundane question: "Where are you from?". 

Dragon, 20 years old, student, Paris

This story was written during one of the workshops held by the ZEP (Expression Priority Zone) in France, a media project which allows young French people aged 15 to 25 years old to share their everyday lives and their opinions on the news which impacts them.

By La Zep, published on 06/12/2018