My name is Vitaly. I’m a commando officer from Smolensk. I’ve been on a mission here for three months. It’s coming to an end in November. Today I went to church to celebrate the feast of the Intercession of the Mother of God.   

What is it for you to believe in God? Why do you go to church?   

It is the meaning of my life, the only help in life. I was here in 1994 during my compulsory military service. I was a paratrooper. I go to church as much as possible. I receive Communion any time I can.   

How did you come to God?  

I think it was after the first Chechen war, when I returned home. However, at that time I would drink alcohol rather than go to church. It’s a long story. The older I get, the more I realize that belief in God is the only thing worth living for. The rest of life is not so important.   

Has Grozny changed since 1994?   

Yes, very much – even compared to 2003. There was rubble all around. I thought it would be easier to build a new city than to restore the old one. I was nicely surprised to see such a vibrant city after six years. I don’t like to say it, but I think it’s getting better than Smolensk.   

Is Smolensk growing now?  

Yes it is, but not so rapidly as Grozny. It’s a beautiful city. It was so before the war.   

Had you been here before the war?   

No I hadn’t. I saw photographs, films. I came here first in 1994.   

You don’t have to answer my next question if you don’t want to, but anyway I’ll ask it: After all that has happened, do you think friendship between the Russians and Chechens is still possible?   

Of course it’s possible. I have a lot of Chechen friends who also believe in God. I think friendship between the Russians and Chechens is not only possible, it is vital. There is an old Russian woman. She has lived in Grozny for almost all of her life. Her son lives in Smolensk. It was him who told us about this old woman. We help her with food. She stayed here during the two wars. She says that she’s never wanted to leave here. Her neighbour, a Chechen woman, harboured her from terrorists many times, risking her own life. That’s why I think Russian/Chechen friendship is possible. There are good and bad people in all religions and ethnicities.   

How did you manage to recover after the war? Did you suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder?   

After the war I worked in law enforcement agencies. Three years later I started to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. I visited psychologists, with no result. It was nothing but a waste of money. Then I decided, as they say, to fight fire with fire. So I rejoined the commandos and returned here. At that time, missions lasted for six months. After the second mission my post-traumatic stress disorder had gone. Believing in God is also very helpful in our work. Most of our colleagues believe in God. Those who are atheists end up either in a madhouse or as alcoholics. There are actually three ways out of this – a madhouse, alcohol or belief in God. As I’ve said, most of us believe in God, which is encouraging.
My name is Anna Bogatyryova. I’m a half-breed, and mixed-blood people always have a hard life. Russians are Russian, Chechens are Chechen, and people like me are neither. My mother is Russian and my father is Chechen.   

It used to be not so striking before, but then this perestroika came along. It’s simply impossible to tell you what it was like: a nation rose against another nation. I’ll never be able to understand that.   

I was born in 1956. Back then we worked and studied, we worked hard and there was no chaos. And then chaos started spreading all over the former Soviet Union. It all came to such a head… The only thing one could do was just take one’s kids and leave…   

December 22, 1994… the bombing had just started and I was helpless like a two-year-old: we’d lost our documents… my daughter Alinochka had just turned six on December 16. A depth-charge attack started … and you didn’t know if you should take the child, or the stockings or the winter coat… and I did the usual thing when we go out: I took all the child’s stuff, her running shoes and her writing-books… well, at least she would have something… who needs a sick relative? We went to my brother’s place in a Moscow suburb, he received us with grace. But even though I’m his kin, my kids were still a burden. I got a job at the market and was working wherever I could. I had no husband; I was left alone with my children.   

I came back afterwards to get papers. The passport girl looked at my last name: “Bo-ga-ty-ryo-va” and said that I’m not in need because I live in Moscow and my family must be well off. But not everybody has rich relatives! Me personally – I’m not rich! I could have been better off if I had sold the land I had back then – about nine hundred square meters, even more… but later everything decreased in values, you see?   

Now I can’t understand how I managed to survive all that… I wasn’t a firm believer and couldn’t say if I was a Muslim or a Christian. But in November 1996 I consciously came to my faith, not just because of my father or mother or any particular kind of blood. There’re all kinds of blood: Muslim and Christian and whatnot. My subconscious brought me to the truth.   

Of course, it will be hard for me to convert my son: he’s a Muslim. But then again, God is One. I have no right to tell him: “You must be a Christian!” I came to my faith at the age of forty.   

Thank God, we are alive and well even though it left scars, for sure. A relative of mine came to visit. She said: “I got a disability status and all that.” And I asked how it was possible. I have a fear of God. She said: “Didn’t you wake up at night because of the bombings?” I said: “Yes, I did. I would have nightmares and wake up all wet, so that the only thing to do was to take everything off and run to the shower.” She said: “And yet you think you are not disabled?” I said: “Thank God, I’m not disabled! I don’t even want to hear this word. Thank God, I’m alive and well, I walk on my own legs; we run around like that, so thank God!”   

I don’t work: my son and my daughter support me somehow. She works in Moscow.   I have Catholic blood in me and Muslim blood, too. So what am I to do now? I mean, how can I prove that I’m God’s person? I don’t wish for death, I don’t wish for blood, I don’t wish for anything to happen to anybody. I am 54 years old and I only want peace and quiet, you see? I don’t have enemies, because my faith is like that, but their faith is different, it’s all really ridiculous, you see? I even know languages: Chechen and Ingush, I’m fluent in them.   There used to be many ethnicities here: Armenians, Jews… there was an important oil institute here. You could find any type of person among the students! 

There were even people coming from the North. The city of Sernovodsk – it’s a spa for people with joint problems. Every year they would come over. They would come with crutches and leave without crutches. They would come once, then the next year, then the next, and then they would become like relatives and they would become friends and people would stay in touch. I wish it could be like that again.   

Why were there depth-charge bombings targeting us? There were specific people there. Sidorov is guilty? Or Ivanov? Or Makhmudov? Then punish them! But why throw bombs at us? You see, it’s wrong, but who’s been called to account for all that? Nobody has. And who’s been called to account for those Russian boys who were standing there, starving and lice-ridden, “Mommy, I want to go home”? Who took responsibility for those kids? And who threw our kids, Russian kids, into that slaughterhouse? We saw all that with our own eyes. It’s scary. We are the living dead.   

Well, today is a holy day, a pure day. May our prayers and our tears… may the Blessed Virgin help us! I don’t have enemies, either Chechen or Russian. Maybe it’s a mafia. Who benefited from all that? May God be their judge! That’s all. All the best to you.


The city of Ordinary People
The city of Religion
The city of Men
The city of Oil
The city of Women
The city of Strangers
The city that Ceased to Exist
The city of War
The city of Servants

An interactive documentary by
Olga Kravets, Maria Morina and Oksana Yoshenko. 

An interactive production by
Chewbahat Storytelling Lab 

Photographs and video production
Verso Images

Picture Editor & Curator
Anna Shpakova

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Music and Sound design by
José Bautista - Kanseisound

Narrative Structure and Design
Gerald Holubowicz

English and Russian voice over
Maria Morina





About the project

Grozny, the capital of war-torn Chechnya, is a melting pot for changing Сaucasus society that is trying to overcome a post-trauma shock of two recent wars and find its own way of life in between traditional Сhechen values, Muslim traditions, and globalization, to cope with rapidly changing role of women, increasing contrast between rich and poor and political games. 

Our project Grozny: Nine Cities is inspired by a Thornton Wilder book, Theophilus North, and centers on the idea of nine cities being hidden in one, which gives us a concept to explore specific aspects of the aftermath of two Chechen wars considering them as ”cities” hidden within Grozny.