MOSCOW, Dec. 27 (JTA) — As Russian troops assault the Chechen capital of Grozny, the fate of several hundred hostages, including some Jews, being held by Chechen gangs is becoming increasingly grim.
Retired Maj. Vyacheslav Izmailov, who has managed to arrange the release of dozens of hostages, puts it very simply, “They are going to kill the hostages. It is going on already.”
It is believed that the gangs, part of a rebel movement desperately fighting against Russian troops for control of Chechnya, are starting to kill their captives because they no longer believe that they will receive the ransoms they once expected.
Lev Melikhov, a 52-years-old Jew from the city of Nalchik, has evidently been killed by his captors, even though the Chechens are still telling his family he is alive in order to get a ransom, said Izmailov.
Izmailov is concerned about the fate of Oleg Yemelyantsev, an Israeli citizen who has been held hostage for more than 20 months.
Recently Yemelyantsev’s relatives received video footage of his finger being chopped off.
“They are transferring him all the time from one place to another,” said Izmailov. “I can’t locate his whereabouts now.”
But the squads working to free hostages have managed during the last weeks to free several dozen hostages, including some foreigners and some children
Laura Lichtman, 18, an Israeli citizen who was kidnapped in July in the city of Nalchik, was released and expected to return home this week. Lichtman was abducted during a visit to her grandmother, who lives on the border between Russia and Georgia.
She had been held in the Chechen capital of Grozny, but after Russian troops started massive air raids of the city, her captors took her out of the city, and she spent the last part of her captivity in a mountain village of Chechnya.
Another teen-ager, Alla Geifman, 13, was freed earlier this month in the south of Chechnya.
Geifman, the daughter of banker Grigory Geifman, one of the wealthiest businessmen and an active member of the Jewish community in the city of Saratov in southern Russia, was abducted in May near her house by a gang that specializes in kidnappings of children from upper-class families.
The kidnappers demanded a ransom of $5 million. Grigory Geifman collected a part of the sum and sent a man with the money. The man was killed and the money disappeared.
When he failed to produce the next payment, the mobsters cut off two of the girl’s fingers and sent them to her father with video footage of the act.
This gang, which is made up both of Chechens and individuals from southern Russia, is still holding several other children.
Jews in Saratov who are selling their apartments before they leave for Israel are particular targets.
Mikhail Zeigman, 71, a retired soldier, was murdered earlier this month in his apartment. Zeigman, who was planning to leave for Israel in several days, had sold his apartment for $10,000. He was found with his head crushed with a sharp instrument, and the money was stolen.
This was the second such case of murder in a short period, and the local staff of the Jewish Agency for Israel has even started to work with potential emigres to teach them a system of “security precautions.”