Chapter-9: Bhakta Andrei Leaves His Body

August 7, 1996

Grozny, Chechnya 

By Indradyumna Swami

6:00 a.m. Upon awaking I took a bath, applied tilaka, and washed my clothes. It rained heavily all night. One couldn’t distinguish the sounds of thunder and lightning from the artillery and missile attacks all around us.

After maìgala-arati we prepared to leave the school. Before going we tried to hide all our temple belongings, books, utensils, and other valuables from unwanted guests. We sent two bhaktas, Sergey and Garik, to scout the area for a way to escape. They came back and reported that there were not many Chechen fighters around.

Neither were there any civilians. It appeared they were still hiding in the basements of buildings because Russian helicopters were bombing everything in sight. The sad thing is that, although the helicopters are trying to kill Chechen rebels, they are mostly killing civilians.

We left, but Garik decided to stay back to look after the kitchen equipment and go on feeding the few old people who still regularly come for prasadam. None of us thought it was a good idea, but he joined our mission voluntarily from Suhumi and is not under the jurisdiction of Moscow Food for Life. Besides, he is much older than us, and we can’t force him to act otherwise.

7:00 a.m. O Krsna! Some really bad news came just as we were leaving. Someone came running into the school and said that the boy from Hare Krsna who was wounded had just died. I sat down on the ground and cried. Yesterday I had wanted to go looking for Andrei, but due to the constant fighting outside, I couldn’t go. We are completely helpless: rakhe Krsna mare ke mare Krsna rakhe ke. (‘If Lord Krsna protects a person, who can kill him? And if Krsna desires to kill someone, who can protect him?’)

11:00 a.m. We left the school with our personal belongings and a white flag on a stick. We decided to try to make it to the van. As we quickly ran through the city, we couldn’t recognize anything. Everything was in ruins. Somehow Krsna guided us, and by the end of the morning we safely reached the farm.

The owner of the farm warmly welcomed us and offered us a small brick house to stay in. All the windows in the house were broken from explosions of missiles, but still it was some kind of shelter. We settled in.

12:00 p.m. Completed sixteen rounds. From the hill where the farm is situated we can see the whole of Grozny. The city is covered by smoke from the fighting.

1:00 p.m. Listened to bhajans by Srila Prabhupada. His transcendental voice makes me peaceful as soon as I hear him. We offered prasadam cooked by Amita. It is amazing that he was able to cook in such unfavorable circumstances. As soon as we sat down to honor the prasadam, a group of Russian soldiers attacked some Chechen rebels who were hiding in the bushes just 200 meters away from us. The shrapnel from the explosions flew into the house, and a few pieces even dropped into my plate of porridge.

5:15 p.m. I read The Nectar of Book Distribution and occasionally looked up to see Russian helicopters attacking Chechen rebels.

Sometimes they came straight for the house and then turned away without firing. It was quite scary. It’s like playing Russian roulette: you never know whether you’ll be alive the next moment or not. Krsna, please protect us.

7:00 p.m. I looked through different photo albums the devotees have and talked about topics not connected to our present situation. It is a way to be distracted from this horrible reality.

There is a shortage of water here, so we decided to go back to the school to get some. The battle is going on in some other part of the city now, so we thought it wouldn’t be very risky to go. We decided to go there accompanied by a few local residents for safety. In the morning the radio said that the Russians were entering the city, but as we proceeded along the road we could see the Chechen rebels were still occupying their positions. We made it to the school and brought back a big can of water from the city. But it is enough for only half a day.

8:20 p.m. I read Prayers by Queen Kunti until it got dark.

9:00 p.m. We ate fresh baked corn. Luckily we had enough water to wash our hands. But there is not enough water for brushing our teeth, what to speak of taking a bath.

9:30 p.m. It is very dark, and the only lights I can see are the fires raging through the city below. The fighting near the house is increasing as the Russians try to flush out the Chechen rebels in the forest around us. Shells are flying by us with sharp whistling sounds. But by now we are accustomed to it, and strangely enough we don’t seem to take much notice. We had a short kirtan in the darkness and then went to sleep. I’m lamenting because we didn’t have a real spiritual program the whole day.