“Angel of Grozny” arrested in Lithuania

Khadizhat Gataeva, the “Angel of Grozny” in Åsne Seierstad’s book of the same name, and her husband, Malik Gataev, were arrested on 16 October 2008 by Lithuanian security police in Kaunas, lrytas.lt reports. The couple runs an orphanage for Chechen refugee children in Kaunas and another orphanage in the Chechen capital, Grozny.

The authorities accuse the Gataevs of material deprivation of the orphans and their physical and psychological abuse. The couple was accused of “subjecting the orphans to physical and psychological violence”, “staging executions”, and “imposing medieval traditions”. No evidence was provided to support these charges.

On the same day, Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov’s special forces kidnapped 24-year-old Muslim Utsaev from the orphanage in Grozny, Novaya Gazeta reported. Twelve armed members of Kadyrov’s security forces arrived at the orphanage with a young captive. Utsaev was taken away after he failed to recognise the young man.

Utsaev’s parents were both killed in the war in Chechnya, and he was raised in the orphanage. Working at construction sites in Grozny, he stayed on at the orphanage, helping the children there.

Khadizhat Gataeva and Malik Gataev have been taking care of Chechen orphans since the first Chechen War (1994-1996). They first established an orphanage in a refugee camp in the neighbouring Republic of Ingushetia. After the second Chechen War, which began in 1999, they transferred the orphanage to Grozny and established another orphanage in Kaunas.

Khadizhat Gataeva and her orphans were featured in the documentary film by the Finnish film director, Pirjo Honkasalo, The 3 Rooms of Melancholia.

Representatives of a German organisation, Kaukasuskinder, which has been a long-time sponsor of the orphanage, visited Kaunas in the beginning of October 2008, and noted no abuse or mistreatment of orphans. The representatives of Kaukasuskinder, Sandra and Dieter Schumann, left Lithuania just one day before the detention of the Gataevs.

Even if there is currently no evidence that there was coordination between Kadyrov’s regime, Russian, and Lithuanian secret services in the arrest of the Gataevs and the kidnapping of Muslim Utsaev, it can be assumed that that there are direct and indirect links between the Lithuanian and Russian authorities with regard to this and other cases.

According to some Russian sources, the authorities in Grozny kidnapped Utsaev to exert pressure on Khadizhat Gataeva, who has faced constant pressure from Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov. The authorities in Chechnya have tried to evict the orphanage from Gataeva’s house several times.

Sources say Lithuanian secret service agents recently approached Malik Gataev, questioning him on his opinions about events in Chechnya and inclination toward terrorism. The agents indirectly offered him to work for the Lithuanian secret services. He refused, saying that he would keep on managing the orphanage and his car dealership in Lithuania.

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