Refugees Magazine Issue 107 (Refugee voices from exile) - An interrupted life

Refugees Magazine, 1 March 1997

Sixteen-year-old Milana discovers what it means to be displaced three times within a few months in Chechnya.

Interview by Larry Hollingworth

My name is Milana. I am 16 and I am an internally displaced person. I had never heard of internally displaced persons before December 1994 when I fled Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, to escape from the fighting. Within a few months I had been displaced three times. I now live in a collective centre in neighbouring Daghestan.

I have never understood the war. Before it began, I had moved to a flat in Grozny after my parents were divorced and most of my schoolfriends and neighbours were Russians. When the fighting started my father sent me away with a neighbour to a safe village. I took nothing with me since we all thought that it would be over in a few days. But seven months later the war came to the village and I was forced to flee again. This time I went alone. I crossed the border into Daghestan. I was 14, I knew nobody, and I had nowhere to stay. In the market, I met a young woman and I told her my story. She took me home with her.

One day I heard that someone with my mother's name was in the nearby Pokrovskoe collective centre. I raced there and searched the faces of every woman desperately. Unfortunately, our name is fairly common, and my mother was not there. The other displaced people persuaded me to stay there with them, telling me it was too dangerous for someone as young as I was to be alone.

I've lived in Pokrovskoe now for a year. First I lived with a local Chechen family in their house. They were very kind, and they wanted to adopt me, but it caused problems with their own daughter. So I went to the collective centre. Everybody here looks after me. They are all like parents to me.

The centre is maintained by UNHCR. I had never heard of them before the war. Every month they give us food and as I am "vulnerable" I think this is because of my age and because I am alone I get a special distribution. I also have new clothes and shoes. Life here is not that bad. I have lots of friends in the centre and in the village. There is an old babushka called Lala that I always go and see. She is like a mother to me.

I never really talk about the future, I can't see that far ahead. I would like to be a doctor. I really admire them, but I've been out of school for so long that now I'd be embarrassed to go back and sit with the younger ones and be the biggest in the class. The war is over but not a lot has changed for me. I sometimes wonder if my father really loved me. If he did, why did he send me away alone? I would like to go back and look at all my old places, but I don't know anyone there anymore, and what happens if I don't find my mother. But I think that I might be all right; I went to a fortune teller once, and she told me that I would find my mother again.

Source: Refugees Magazine Issue 107 (1997)