Desperate to find their soldier sons who are missing in the Chechen war, the women of Khankala wait, and search, and hope, and Cry
THE BASE LIES ABOUT 10 DUSTY from the shattered city of Grozny, down a choppy dirt road at a place called Khankala in the benighted Russian region of Cheehnya. It is, as military facilities go, entirely unremarkable, except that it is the last place Nadezhda Nesterenko ever wanted to find herself, as well as the only place she thought of going, once the news arrived last March.
She was home in her village of Brodki in Lipetsk province that day, 550 miles from Moscow, where she works as a hired hand on a dairy farm. When a message for her arrived from Russian military authorities, she says, she nearly died. Her 20-year-old son, a senior sergeant named Vladimir, had been in Chechnya since November 1995, and she knew all too well what a charnel house for Russian soldiers the war there had become. She read the message, fearing the worst.
It wasn't; not quite. It said that on March 8, 1996, Vladimir had been taken prisoner in Chechnya by rebel soldiers. The military believed he was alive, but did not know where. Within two weeks Vladimir's mother had packed her bags and left for Chechnya, moving into barracks No. 10 at the Russian military base at Khankala, alongside the young soldiers of the third platoon, determined to find her son.
She is not alone. There are more than 60 …