MOSCOW, Nov. 15 (JTA) — The Jewish Agency for Israel is working to help those isolated by the war between Russia and Muslim insurgents in Chechnya.
After a news report last week about the plight of orphans of different nationalities, including some Jews, who had fled Chechnya for neighboring Ingushetia because of the war, the head of the Jewish Agency’s office in Russia, Alla Levy, immediately traveled to the Caucasus Mountains region.
After flying to the city of Pyatigorsk, she and two co-workers traveled by car on a harrowing journey along the Chechen border.
More than 1,000 people are being currently held by Chechen gangsters looking for ransom money.
Jews, especially Israeli citizens, are the most desirable prey because it’s widely believed that Israel, or the international Jewish community, will pay high ransoms for them.
As a result, Alla and her colleagues had to be escorted by a second car with three people in it, one of them an ethnic Chechen.
“When we crossed” into the nearby region of Ossetia, “there was already the smell of war in the air: lots of armed people, a charged atmosphere. The escorts wouldn’t let us out of the car even for a minute for fear of kidnapping. When we crossed into Ingushetia the situation grew still more tense,” said Levy.
When Levy and her co-workers finally reached the asylum, they were struck by the children’s poor living conditions.
“The kids sleep together in their clothes to warm each other, there are no heaters and no hot water. But still more important is that the kids are living to the accompaniment of bombs and shell explosions, and nobody knows how long they have to live here. They left the city of Grozny under heavy shelling and took nothing with them. They badly need warm clothing and medicine,” she said, referring to the Chechen capital.
She said the Jewish Agency is already working to help meet the children’s most urgent needs.
“We have to help in this situation just to stay human beings,” she said.
The agency is also looking into reports of elderly and disabled Jews stranded by the war.