Petra Prochazkova on the boy who didn't want to be saved

08-04-2003

Petra Prochazkova is the most celebrated Czech war reporter. She has won numerous awards for her coverage of the wars in the former Yugoslavia and Afghanistan, but above all she is known for her work in Chechnya, where she reported on both wars in the 1990s before being expelled by the Russian authorities. But Petra has not just stood aside as a passive observer. When she witnessed the suffering of Chechen war-widows and orphaned children, she set out to help them. She established an orphans' home in Grozny and has been instrumental in setting up an organization to raise money to help the victims of the conflict. In the following account she looks back to her time in the Chechen capital.

"When the second war in Chechnya broke out in 1999, we had a friend called Khadijat and she couldn't have children, which is an absolute tragedy in Islamic society. So she gradually started taking in the children of her relatives who had died in the war. She had a little children's home called "Our Family". Khadijat lived with them in Grozny. When the heavy bombardment began we decided to get Khadijat and her 25 children out of the city. I came with a friend in a small bus, and we gathered the children together. But two were missing, one was 12, the other 13. Khadijat and the other children refused to leave without them. Panic was breaking out in the city, you could hear the bombers drawing closer, everybody was saying: "You've got to get out." But none of the children, not even the smallest of them, wanted to leave without those two boys.

So we started looking everywhere. In the house next door we found a group of guerrillas. The boys had joined them - 12 and 13 year-olds with machine-guns over their shoulders. They said: "We're not going, we're going to defend Grozny against the Russian aggressor, we're going to shoot at those planes." Khadijat's husband, their adoptive father, took them and beat them really hard, tearing the machine-guns from their shoulders, and shoved them into the bus. All the way, they cried, although they were the oldest and none of the smaller children were crying. When we got to safety, we virtually had to tie them up - they were so determined to escape back to Grozny. And I remember how we bundled all the children into a train. They were all happy, because they'd been given hamburgers and coke and had got away from the war, but these two boys looked at me with absolute contempt. That's the only time I can remember a look like that from someone I wanted to help and rescue. To this day I don't know whether I did the right thing. I forced them into safety and deprived them of their pride in defending their country alongside the older fighters. I still don't know if I did the right thing, but I do know that they survived."

08-04-2003