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Disabled Veterans of the Chechen Wars - Conversations (3)

Interview with Alexandr, 28 years-old, - voluntary conscript injured by a defective weapon during the second Chechen war -, conducted at the Cheshire Home in Moscow, 14 July, 2010

Elisabeth Sieca-Kozlowski

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Russia, Chechnya
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Dedication is grateful to Matt Ellett who translated this interview from Russian into English. A French version of this interview was formely published on the blog

Full text

1Alexandr: I was born in the city of Kovrov, Vladimirskaia Oblast.

2PIPSS.ORG - Please tell us how and when you found yourself in Chechnya.

3Alexandr: It was during my mandatory enlistment.

4PIPSS.ORG - When was this?

5Alexandr: I was deployed to Chechnya in 2001, but I began my service in 2000.

6PIPSS.ORG - Did you choose to go?

7Alexandr: Yes. I said I wanted to go. So, it wasn’t mandatory, but voluntary.

8PIPSS.ORG - So, you didn’t serve in any regular units, but went straight to Chechnya?

9Alexandr: No, I started out in the regular units; I started my service in 2000, and in 2001 I got deployed to Chechnya.

10PIPSS.ORG - How long were you in Chechnya?

11Alexandr: Almost a year. Eleven months.

12PIPSS.ORG - What branch did you serve in?

13Alexandr: The Rocket and Artillery Forces, or RViA.

14PIPSS.ORG - Were you just a soldier?

15Alexandr: A Sergeant.

16PIPSS.ORG - What kind of training did you have for that?

17Alexandr: I was promoted after a year and a half. I was given different duties and held the responsibilities of a gun crew chief.

18PIPSS.ORG - What did you do there? What kind of tasks were you given?

19Alexandr: Well, the short version is that we provided artillery support to various reconnaissance groups. They identified and observed enemy groups and caches, passed the coordinates to us, and we would fire on those targets.

The use of defective weapons

20PIPSS.ORG - What happened?

21Alexandr: As I was getting ready to redeploy home, to demobilize, we were given a target which we needed to engage. At that moment, several of our battery’s guns were undergoing maintenance. After a night fire mission, during which had we fired a lot, the guns needed maintenance. My gun was one of the ones that was more or less capable of firing. My entire crew – made up of five people – had almost been completely changed out; that is the guys I’d served with had already demobilized and redeployed home. A full complement of replacements had arrived, all young guys who were inexperienced. We were given a fire mission. We dialed in the target…

22PIPSS.ORG - Were you firing at something specific? This wasn’t a training mission?

23Alexandr: No, these were actual enemy targets. They gave us the targets; they were pretty far, maybe 10 or 12 kilometers away. We had to fire. During firing, the cartridge… see, there’s the shell itself, and there’s the cartridge with the charge in it – so, the cartridge was jammed. Apparently it was a little deformed, the casing was dented. We had to cease firing. The guys were young and inexperienced. As the crew chief I was busy dialing in the target, checking the coordinates and orienting the gun. The guys started to try and pound the cartridge into the breech with some wrenches. They hit the primer. Under the primer is a mechanism, which causes an explosion when impacted. The guys were careless and hit it, and it exploded. Almost the whole crew was killed instantly; it was a big explosion. Of the four of us, two were killed instantly and the third died en route to the hospital. I was the only one left.

24PIPSS.ORG - Were you injured?

25Alexandr: Yes, seriously, with compound wounds. In Moscow, when they brought me to the hospital…

26PIPSS.ORG - Did they evacuate you immediately to Moscow? How did that work?

27A: No. A week went by before they evacuated me to Moscow. They took me by helicopter from one field hospital to the next: Khankala, Mozdok, Vladikavkaz… I went through these hospitals. They bandaged and dressed me, but I don’t really remember any of it, I was unconscious for most of it. Then, later, when I read the medical reports and discharges, I saw that my path to Moscow had taken almost a week. It was only in Moscow that I fully came to.

28PIPSS.ORG - In Moscow, were you in a military hospital?

29Alexandr: Yes, at the Burdenko main military hospital. I was treated there. They performed several operations on me.

30PIPSS.ORG - How many operations?

31Alexandr: If you don’t count the first, which they did in the intensive-care unit, I really don’t remember… I was in intensive care for two months and couldn’t move or see anything.

32PIPSS.ORG - Over what percentage of your body were you burned?

  • 1 The Ilizarov apparatus is used by an orthopedic surgeon to lengthen or reshape limb bones.

33Alexandr: I don’t remember, that was eight years ago. But, I was burned all over: my face, limbs – arms and legs, so, everywhere that wasn’t covered with clothes. It’s hot in Chechnya, and we usually went around without a lot of clothes. Rolled-up pants, like shorts, house slippers and naked from the waist up. How many operations? I don’t exactly remember, but around six. Two operations on my eyes, a series of three or four on my pelvis, on my arm – it didn’t fuse right, it had been badly broken with the bone just shattered – I went for almost six months in an Ilizarov apparatus1 and they had to do a bone graft. My pelvis fused quickly, and I went around in a brace, half of me was encased in metal.

34PIPSS.ORG - How much time total did you spend in the hospital?

35Alexandr: From October to August, about nine months. In 2002. It happened in October 2002, and in August 2003 I was finally discharged. I immediately started into school. I was already preparing for the exam while in the hospital. When I was getting ready for discharge, in June, I was still waiting on one eye operation – for a lens transplant – they brought me some textbooks and I went straight from the hospital to take the exam. I was accepted on the spot. They helped me, of course. Then I spent a month at home resting, and then came back to Moscow to start school.

36PIPSS.ORG - Did you decide to go to school, or did someone recommend it?

37Alexandr: I wanted to. But I really didn’t know anything about it. First-off, in high school I was only a C student, not really that great. I wanted to get an education, but how to go about it…

38PIPSS.ORG - Who helped you?

39Alexandr: My future wife helped me. At the time she wasn’t my wife. She brought me the textbooks I needed to help me prepare.

The role of charitable assistance

40PIPSS.ORG - How did you meet her?

41Alexandr: In the hospital, but she wasn’t working there. She’s an Orthodox Christian. She met another girl in her congregation who worked at the hospital. She decided to come in and help us; not me specifically, but all the guys who were in the hospital. They’d bring us things, food, and overall lend a helping hand. So that’s how we met. Then we got to know each other, and she started to advise and help me.

  • 2 The Cheshire House is a rehabilitation house for soldiers of local wars. It was first financed by t (...)

42PIPSS.ORG - How did you become acquainted with the Cheshire Home2? Did you have contacts there? Have you stayed there?

43Alexandr: Before all of this I hadn’t heard of them. When Putin was still president, they came to Burdenko on an official visit and talked with the guys. If I remember correctly it was the night before February 23rd, and on the 8th they had done an operation on my pelvis – a bone graft. It was a difficult operation, and before the President’s visit, they moved me to a different hospital for rehabilitation, so I could get a little rest. It so happened that when the President came, so did Iuri Ivanovich Nauman from the Cheshire House, and he promised the guys that he’d help out, help us get into school, and get us admitted to the house. We could live there and get ready for school. The guys, who were and still are friends, and who were in the hospital when I came back, told me about it. So I called Iuri Ivanovich, he invited me, and I went to see him. We talked it over and he gave me the go ahead to be admitted.

44PIPSS.ORG - Did you live there?

45Alexandr: I did. For three years, until my third year, when I got married.

46PIPSS.ORG - You said that they sent you to a different hospital for rehabilitation. Where was that?

47Alexandr: There is a military specialty hospital, located on the Left Bank, in the Khimki area. Number six, I think, or maybe number three – I don’t remember exactly. They take you there after difficult operations, set up different recovery procedures and physical therapy. They don’t actually treat you there, but you can get back to being yourself after the difficult operations. You spend one month there, and then it’s back to treatment. After that rehab I went to a different hospital, Vishnevskii, also a military hospital. They operated on my ears there.

48PIPSS.ORG - How many times were you at hospital number six, or three?

49Alexandr: I went there twice. The first time was for about a month. The second was also for about a month, maybe a bit longer.

50PIPSS.ORG - How many times did they operate on your ears?

51Alexandr: Just once. The explosion was very powerful, and there was a lot of burn damage. My right eardrum was ruptured, and perforated. They tried to fix it, to graft in foreign tissue to close up the hole, but it wasn’t successful and the hole is still there.

52PIPSS.ORG - So you can’t hear out of one ear?

53Alexandr: No, I can still hear normally, just not totally normal. There are a few small problems. There’s a small hole in my left ear, too. I think that after Vishnevskii they put me back in Khimki, and I was there for about another month. After leaving Khimki I went back to Burdenko, where I had two more operations. They removed the apparatus from my arms and replaced the lens in my right eye. Before the operation I prepared for and passed the entrance exam. That was in June, so before the operation I was already considered an entrant. When they did the operation, I stayed in the hospital for about another month, and then I was discharged. That was the end of July, beginning of August.

“No one even told [my parents]”

54PIPSS.ORG - Did your parents visit you?

55Alexandr: Yes, they did.

56PIPSS.ORG - Immediately?

57Alexandr: Well, how could they? No one even told them. In principle, I was supposed to have come home in November. They were getting ready for me to return. When I’d come to a bit, and they took me out of intensive care, a nurse there who I knew gave me her mobile phone so I could call and at least tell my parents that something had happened. I called, and they came to Moscow in the middle of November.

58PIPSS.ORG - She gave you her own phone?

59Alexandr: Yes. It didn’t occur to anyone in the hospital to have to tell someone to give me a phone for an out of area call. No one talked or cared about whether my parents knew or not. When they brought me in, you could say, I was reborn. That is, I came with nothing. They brought me on a plane, no clothes, no papers, no things… I had nothing.

60PIPSS.ORG - Did they know who you were?

61Alexandr: They knew who I was.

62PIPSS.ORG - Did you carry military dog tags?

63Alexandr: […] We made them ourselves, even though it wasn’t allowed. So, what we did is we wrote down our military ID number and our personal information on a piece of paper, and then stuffed that into an empty bullet casing, smashed it flat and put it in our pockets. Officially this wasn’t allowed. Of course, in Chechnya no one really paid any attention to this, so you were free to make one for yourself. But since we were actually located on the fire base and never went anywhere outside the wire, all of my personal information was known. My documents went with me, and from hospital to hospital my medical records detailed my medical history. But I didn’t have anything of my own with me. When I was moved out of intensive care and into the normal eye care ward, I didn’t even have anything to wear to get there. They brought me in on a gurney, moved me onto a bed, and that was it… If it hadn’t been for the women and girls who helped out – they brought us clothes, extra food, radios. When you can’t see anything, and after spending more than a month like that, you start to feel vulnerable. They came in and helped out pretty often.

64PIPSS.ORG - How did your parents react? First off, how did they react when you were sent to Chechnya? Did they know?

65Alexandr: Of course they didn’t know. I wrote and said that I was on some field exercises and other stuff like that…

66PIPSS.ORG - And then?

67Alexandr: Well, then when I called them, I told them, but in a round about way. I really didn’t have time to think something up, so on the spot I came up with the story that we were washing in the bath house, that it caught on fire and collapsed, and that I’d broken my arm and gotten badly burned. Of course, they had a lot of questions – why was I in Moscow? They thought I was in Vladikavkaz... When they got to the hospital, my mom came into the ward and at first didn’t see me, or didn’t recognize me. If you can picture it, she couldn’t have recognized me because my face was torn up. She just walked out of the room, then later looked in again and saw me. She couldn’t have recognized me, I was encased in a metal framework and covered in burns. After that they stayed with me. It’s a good thing that my parents were provided the chance to stay and help me out.

68PIPSS.ORG - So they stayed with you?

69Alexandr: Yes, my dad stayed for a while.

70PIPSS.ORG - Where? Did the army help out with anything?

71A: For the first while they gave him a hotel room, the Ministry of Defense did.

72PIPSS.ORG - How long were they able to stay with you?

73A: There were with me for about two weeks.

74PIPSS.ORG - And the Ministry of Defense paid for it?

75Alexandr: Yeah, they gave a small amount, like per diem. For Moscow, though, it was only enough to get back and forth. That is, they paid enough so that they could, in theory, stay with me, but it was unrealistic to live off of that amount in Moscow. After a month and a half, when I could already walk on my own a little bit, and do a few things myself, it wasn’t so important for them to take care of me, and I started to take care of myself.

76PIPSS.ORG - Your dad returned home?

77Alexandr: Yes. You know, they really are my heroes. I have a sister, and she had just had a little boy. […].

78PIPSS.ORG - While you were in the hospital?

79Alexandr: Yeah. She brought him, came here with him because she couldn’t leave him there. He was born on August 29th, and they came to visit me in November, so he was about four months old. And it was winter. That’s a heroic feat. Being a father myself, I understand what that’s like – taking a bus 350 kilometers with an infant. But she came and supported me.

80PIPSS.ORG - Do you have a prosthesis?

81Alexandr: No. Both my arm and hip healed. The only thing is that I lost a lot of teeth, and they could only make…

82PIPSS.ORG - Did you have to get your teeth done yourself?

83Alexandr: When I went to the hospital staff to ask them if they could fix my teeth, they told me they could only make metal ones. Anything else I’d have to pay for. At the time I simply couldn’t afford the cost, I just didn’t have that kind of money. I was only able to get my teeth re-done two or three years ago, when I’d started making money. I forgot to say that when they discharged me from the hospital, they paid me a disability allowance. Since I’d lost my health, and was now on disability.

“Combat pay”

84PIPSS.ORG - Which disability category did they give you?

  • 3 The Russian classification system of the disabled is divided in 3 categories: 1st category : total (...)

85Alexandr: Category three3, so still working and normal. And when they’d paid me everything I was entitled… So, my parents live in a small rural town, and they don’t have any money to speak of, so they really can’t afford to do anything for themselves. I ended up giving them almost half my allowance, to buy some furniture for home… At first, when I agreed to be deployed, I knew that I’d be able to make some decent money there.

86PIPSS.ORG - If I may ask, how much money?

87Alexandr: You’d be shocked, for a year there…

88PIPSS.ORG - Is that the so-called “combat pay”?

89Alexandr: Yeah, combat pay. But the system is both confusing and laughable. In all, for the 10 months I spent there, they paid me around thirty thousand rubles. So, that’s about a thousand dollars. But, if you can imagine, for all those ten months in combat, they only allotted me somewhere in the range of 14 or 15 combat days. So, in other words, of those ten months they said I was only fighting a total of 14 days. The rest of the combat days were taken by our commanders. There were thirty people in our battery. Each month we’d get a paper saying you can assign so many combat days. They’d assign us each one day, and then assign the rest to themselves. That’s why I was only able to get that much.

90PIPSS.ORG - What were you able to do with that much? What did you purchase with the money?

91Alexandr: Well, I spent part of it. I bought my parents some furniture and a TV, because they still had an old tube TV. I helped my sister out, bought her furniture for her home, since she and her husband had only just gotten married and didn’t have their own apartment, they were still just renting. The rest I took with me when I went to Moscow to start college. I needed to have some money. First off, I was computer-illiterate, I was completely unfamiliar with computers. I knew that in Moscow’s colleges it went without saying that you had to be able to use a computer. So I had to buy a computer and figure out how to use it at home. I also bought some clothes.

92PIPSS.ORG - They didn’t give you any leave time for rehabilitation?

93Alexandr: No, they put me straight out.

94PIPSS.ORG - Did you get a veteran’s pension?

95Alexandr: Yes, I had a pension, but I had to qualify for it.

96PIPSS.ORG - Monthly?

97Alexandr: No, annually. For eight years in a row I had to undergo a complete review. The procedure is extremely unpleasant and cumbersome – you have to go through a medical exam so they can verify your disability category and then pay your pension. They finally gave me a permanent pension only last year, so now I don’t have to go through that each year.

98PIPSS.ORG - So that means that after eight years they finally gave you a permanent pension?

99Alexandr: Yeah, what a joke. Almost all the other guys who were with me at the hospital were given a permanent pension immediately. They didn’t have to spend a month and a half each year in those hospitals, standing around in horrendous lines just so they can write a diagnosis on your paper without checking anything. The general rule is that after five years, if they verify your disability, then they give it to you. But me, for some reason…

100PIPSS.ORG - So with permanent status, that means that you are entitled to some money?

101Alexandr: Yeah, a monthly pension.

102PIPSS.ORG - How much is it?

103Alexandr: The pension itself is around five thousand.

104PIPSS.ORG - That doesn’t seem too bad.

105Alexandr: Well, it depends on how you look at it. It’s not a lot, but it’s not a little. If they were to pay me that much where I used to live with my parents, then it’d be great. In Moscow, five thousand only covers a single trip to the grocery store […] to buy a week’s worth of food for my family.

106PIPSS.ORG - Do you get any benefits?

107Alexandr: They don’t have any of those kinds of benefits anymore. Now they just give out payments, so they stopped the benefits and just pay you money instead. It’s about two or three thousand rubles to cover everything.

108PIPSS.ORG - While you were in rehab did you meet with, or did you have to meet with a psychologist? Did a psychologist come to see you?

109Alexandr: Some people came from the military prosecutor’s office and we talked about how everything happened. It was all just a big joke on their part, because I’d just gotten out of a month of intensive care. I was barely walking and had only just started to open my eyes, and the military lawyers come to talk with me. Even the head nurse in the eye ward couldn’t stand it, she said, “What are you thinking? They just let this guy out of intensive care, he’s barely coherent, and you’re here to interrogate him!” But they didn’t care. They just took me in an office, and we talked through it. That is, I told them how it all happened. It was from them that I learned that the third guy, who had been with me… I had thought that he’d survived, because even though I never saw him, they put us on the same helicopter and I could occasionally hear him screaming loudly, he just kept screaming. Then I was in and out of consciousness, and I stopped hearing him. I thought that maybe they moved him to a different hospital. Then, when the lawyers came, they told me that he didn’t make it.

110PIPSS.ORG - Were there any consequences for you?

111Alexandr: I figured that that there would be for our commanders. It’s my personal belief that they’re eighty percent responsible for all of this. First, because our guns weren’t working properly, and there are certain measures you have to take for them to function normally. None of this would have happened if the automated systems had been working. The system is supposed to do everything automatically: target, load and fire. Since so much of our system wasn’t working, we had to do it all by hand, both loading and dialing it in. So that’s partly why everything happened. Secondly, the crew was young and they were afraid of our commanders – I won’t even begin to say what would have been if we hadn’t fired what we’d been ordered.

112PIPSS.ORG - So, the soldiers weren’t trained?

113Alexandr: They were trained, but when the officers are yelling and swearing at you, demanding that you fire – they couldn’t care less whether the round was jammed or not – you fire your rounds. So, the guys got overwhelmed and scared, and started pounding away. But for them, everything turned out for the better. But, it’s not my place to judge…

114PIPSS.ORG - So you didn’t want to press charges against your commander?

115Alexandr: The lawyers asked me, you know, how did everything happen, what happened, because of what and why? I told them everything that I’ve told you, that I believe that we shouldn’t have been firing, and that they shouldn’t have ordered us to fire. Our gun wasn’t working. Everything happened because we broke all the rules – not by our own initiative, but on order. Later on I stopped caring, because I knew that nothing would get resolved. I didn’t need it, anyway. It’s not my job to try anybody, or to judge them. I don’t know that stuff, and I never will. Those kind of things are above my pay grade.

Perception of the Chechen conflict – before and after

116PIPSS.ORG - What were your feelings on the war in Chechnya, both when you went there and after your injury?

117Alexandr: When I first went there, my opinion of the war was negative, but I understood that the groups fighting there were committing terrorist acts, and that those acts were causing not only Russia, but the whole world to suffer. When you come to know this, and understand how you can help to prevent all of that, then you’re able to take part in all of it. But that wasn’t the main thing, and at that moment I’m not sure I understood all of that. At that moment, I think that I probably just wanted to do something productive. Because in the army – and what I mean is the regular units, which aren’t involved in combat, but are based in one specific place – the soldiers don’t do anything worthwhile. They just keep busy with random nonsense. After a year like that, you can’t have an appropriate conversation, because everything you say is built on crude and vulgar expressions. You stop behaving like a normal person, because you understand that what you do from day to day – there’s nothing good about it, and no one benefits from it. Getting deployed to Chechnya was a way for me to do something useful. I knew that there you could actually do something real, something concrete and needed. So, the guys who served in Chechnya, they actually did normal military work. Not like in the regular units, just doing random crap. All the guys I knew who were normal, and could more or less behave themselves appropriately, they all went there, too. So, I had no interest in staying in the regular units.

118PIPSS.ORG - After everything, how do you regard the conflict? After everything you saw there.

119Alexandr: That’s a very broad question. I’m not sure if I know how to give a concrete answer. To give an overall answer, I think that everything we’ve done there hasn’t been in vain. I think that some good has come as a result of what we’ve done. Maybe a lot of what we did wasn’t very beneficial, but I don’t have any hard feelings for the people who live there. They’re just normal people. Of course, just like here in Moscow and anywhere in Russia, there are both good and bad people. You can’t just talk about an entire people like that, “oh, they’re bad”, or “oh, they’re good”. There are normal, sane people, and not-so sane people. But there is one thing – at night they would shoot at us from the villages. When it was dark, they’d shoot, and in the morning, people went about doing whatever it is they do.

Recurring dreams about the war

120PIPSS.ORG - Do dreams about the war bother you?

121Alexandr: I wouldn’t say they bother me, but they are interesting. They come a lot less often now, but at first I would dream… The point of the dream was always the same, but the dreams themselves were always different. They were always about the army, and the basic plot was that I could not for the life of me get out of the army. The scenarios were always different, like this: I dreamed that I was already home, going about my normal business that I do in real life, and for some reason they call me back into the army, saying I hadn’t fulfilled my obligation and I still had one month left to serve. They called me up and sent notices, “You need to complete your time, you still have one month left.” And I – this is in the dream – I end up going back there. Or the dream starts and I’m in the army again, all the same people as before, and again I get deployed, everything happens just the same again in the dream, and though I’m limited in what I can do, I keep on serving. My obligation passes, but no one lets me out, a redeployment order doesn’t come. I go and complain to all my commanders, saying, “I’ve served my time, I’m supposed to get out.” They all say, “No, we can’t let you go yet, you have to stay in.” For about three or four years I would occasionally have this dream. But I never had nightmares or frightful dreams at all. Nothing terrible would ever happen.

122PIPSS.ORG - Did you ever think to go to a psychologist?

123Alexandr: I can’t even remember if anyone recommended it. I really didn’t see a need to. Although, maybe…

124PIPSS.ORG - Did they do any tests on you?

125Alexandr: While there were some tests… well, no. About three or four months after I got in the hospital, they invited me to come to their office, but we didn’t have a consultation, it was a test. They were testing my mind. I answered all the questions, and that was it, as far as I could tell.

126PIPSS.ORG - What came of it?

127Alexandr: I don’t know. I figure that if they didn’t put me away somewhere, that means that I’m a normal, sane person.

Pursuing law studies – to defend oneself

128PIPSS.ORG - Let’s get back to your schooling. What specialty did you choose?

129Alexandr: Law school.

130PIPSS.ORG - How come?

131Alexandr: At that moment it was probably the cool thing to do, to some degree. That’s first. Second, when I applied, I figured that was a profession I could actually get. Because I was interested in natural sciences… or, social sciences: the science of conversation, interacting with people and actually carrying on conversations. At that moment that was interesting to me. Before I was pretty shy, I didn’t usually approach anyone, and unless someone started talking to me first, I would just keep quiet. I was an introvert. And then it occurred to me that I could do that. So, that’s one side, and from the other side, when you come across various situations in life, there are a lot of things you don’t know: what rights you have, what obligations. Not only do you not know these things, but no one is going to tell you, either. The way things are, no one can tell you or explain anyway. So, I felt I needed to find out, what rights do I have, and what can I count on.

132PIPSS.ORG - So you wanted to be able to defend yourself?

133Alexandr: I think so, probably. I presumed that events could turn out such, that after I’d gotten into a normal life, a typical civilian life, that some kinds of problems could come up with work or with school… I didn’t know where or if you could even get that kind of information, so that you could realize your potential and become a part of society. Of course I needed an education. In addition to an understanding of the realm of rights, law school also gave me some habits I could use to integrate myself socially into my surroundings.

134PIPSS.ORG - Did you already receive a diploma? When?

  • 4 With honors [translator’s note].

135Alexandr: In 2008, a Red Diploma4.

136PIPSS.ORG - Did you start working immediately?

137Alexandr: I had already started working during my third year. Since I’d gotten married that year, I needed a job. I was only going to school full time, so of course there were problems at first and I had to deconflict between school and work. Since I’d already established myself in the eyes of my professors and the staff, we had a good relationship and they saw that I was interested in a lot of different subjects. I didn’t have any problems working out an arrangement – that is, sometimes I’d turn things in early, sometimes late. The dean approved, and they made it so I didn’t have to attend classes. At work they came to me and let me specify which half of the day I’d be at work, depending on the schedules. I had to attend my seminars, but they were usually during or after lunch, so some days I’d be at school before lunch, and after lunch I’d go to work, or the other way around.

138PIPSS.ORG - What work did you do, and how did you get the job?

139Alexandr: In a trade union. The Assistant Dean for Student Work, a girl they said was only a year older than me, recommended me. She’d finished school a lot earlier. I was there with a bunch of guys who were a lot younger than me, who’d gotten in just after high school, but I’d been in the army and the hospital. She and I had a good relationship, and she recommended me for the job. I went to try it out and I liked it.

140PIPSS.ORG - Do you work there now? What do you do?

141Alexandr: I do legal consulting.

Housing conditions

142PIPSS.ORG - Did you live in the Cheshire Home for three years? Then what? You got married? Where do you live now?

143Alexandr: In my wife’s apartment.

144PIPSS.ORG - With your in-laws?

145Alexandr: No, my wife’s parents live in Crimea, in Ukraine. We’re by ourselves here.

146PIPSS.ORG - Does she own the apartment?

147Alexandr: Yes, she was lucky enough to buy it before prices in Moscow skyrocketed. She got a loan through her work and was able to buy it.

148PIPSS.ORG - What does she do?

149Alexandr: She used to work as a director, production manager in an organization that makes different meat products like sausages and hot dogs. She started working as a general director when the company had only just started out. Now it’s gotten to where it’s a large holding with its own meat packing plant and a large network. She doesn’t really work anymore.

150PIPSS.ORG - Do you have a right to an apartment, since you’re a veteran?

151Alexandr: They replaced my right to an apartment with a subsidy, that is, a sum of money which was supposed to meet my living space requirements. They gave it to me while I was still registered in Kovrov, in Vladimirskaya District, since I wasn’t registered here yet. The social security office paid me, gave me a deposit, with which I was supposed to get a place to live. They gave me enough to buy eight square meters – that’s a room in a communal apartment, which I can sell now and get the money back.

152PIPSS.ORG - How much was it.

153Alexandr: Three hundred thousand rubles.

154PIPSS.ORG - What year was this?

155Alexandr: I think it was 2007 or 2008. I didn’t even have a right to living space. Only those people who were able to get listed as poor before a certain date were able to get that right. I wasn’t able to. They did retroactively, as though I had been listed, and gave me the opportunity to buy at least eight square meters. […]

156PIPSS.ORG - Where did you buy them?

157Alexandr: In Kovrov. I couldn’t have even bought a spot in a hallway here [in Moscow].

158PIPSS.ORG - It was a room, not an apartment?

159Alexandr: Eight square meters – a room in a communal apartment.

160PIPSS.ORG - Are you renting it out?

161Alexandr: No, there’s no need in Kovrov, so it’s sitting empty. There’s not even anyone registered there. I couldn’t even sell it if I wanted to, since no one would want it. Who would want such a small room in a communal apartment with two neighbors…? It’s just a burden that I’m paying rent on. This is how the guarantees the government supposedly provides us are structured – they’re a complete joke. How am I, on that much money, supposed to stop being poor? There’s a certain standard of square meters that would allow me to be either poor, or not poor. I mean, in giving me that money, did they really think that I could use it to actually buy an apartment and live in it? I used to be registered in my parents’ home, and their apartment – it’s a hut type apartment, has five people registered there. That apartment was about twenty five square meters with two small rooms. My sister and I both grew up in that apartment. Then, my sister registered her daughter there, for a total of five people. And so, they gave me three hundred thousand so I could improve my circumstances. Somehow I wasn’t able to improve them.

“[I expect] nothing [from the state]”

162PIPSS.ORG - What do you expect from the state today?

163Alexandr: Nothing. Here in Moscow I tried to think about it, should I expect anything… My wife has a one-room apartment here in Moscow, and in this one room apartment it’s me, my wife and our daughter. My wife’s sister is registered there, too, so that’s four people. There’s twenty square meters of living space there. I had been curious, do I have the right to expand it or anything? It turns out that I don’t. If I wanted to alter something, she showed me there’s a ton of red tape and authorizations I’d have to get, so I decided to not even try. Even then, it’s not guaranteed that they’d let me expand. It just means that, perhaps, they would acknowledge me as being poor, and in that case they’d just put me on their list and maybe in twenty or twenty five years something would actually happen. Isn’t that funny? I decided that I don’t want anything to do with that.

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1 The Ilizarov apparatus is used by an orthopedic surgeon to lengthen or reshape limb bones.

2 The Cheshire House is a rehabilitation house for soldiers of local wars. It was first financed by the foundation Lord Cheshire (Hero of the British RAF during WWII). Today it survives exclusively thanks to gifts and philanthropic support.

3 The Russian classification system of the disabled is divided in 3 categories: 1st category : total incapacity to work and the need of permanent care; 2nd category : total incapacity to work but no permanent care; 3rd category : partial incapacity to work, able to work in a less qualified job than the one before the war, easier conditions but lesser salary.

4 With honors [translator’s note].

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Electronic reference

Elisabeth Sieca-Kozlowski, « Interview with Alexandr, 28 years-old, - voluntary conscript injured by a defective weapon during the second Chechen war -, conducted at the Cheshire Home in Moscow, 14 July, 2010 », The Journal of Power Institutions in Post-Soviet Societies [Online], Issue 14/15 | 2013, Online since 31 December 2012, connection on 30 March 2017. URL :

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Elisabeth Sieca-Kozlowski


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