Grozny: Nine Cities
By Olga Kravets
A cross-media project on the aftermath of two Chechen wars between 2009 and 2018: a book, a web-documentary, an exhibition. This is a collaborative project with photographers and filmmakers Maria Morina, Oksana Yushko, Olga Kravets, and curator Anna Shpakova
In the Russian imagination, Chechnya, a thousand miles south of Moscow on the edge of the Caucasus mountains, is a place of violence, home to a people who are to be feared and ultimately subjugated, yet awarded the respect one gives to a valiant enemy. Two wars over the span of a decade inflicted costly and traumatic wounds on both sides—Chechen and Russian—and in the end, Vladimir Putin decided to solve the conflict by installing a local proxy to lord over the republic.
Ramzan Kadyrov, the son of an influential Chechen mufti, has fashioned Chechnya in his own image. The republic is now governed by diktats inspired by Sharia jurisprudence and Kadyrov’s personal interpretation of adat, a traditional Chechen code of behavior. His security forces operate with impunity, keeping a lid on terrorism and extremism with brutal and often indiscriminate methods. Kadyrov’s rule may be entirely illiberal, and far from purely faithful to Islamic or even Chechen tradition, but, given the sense of trauma and dislocation after twenty years of conflict, it has many elements that are welcomed by the population.
Hardly a day passes in Grozny without a dance performance by a local troupe or an athletic competition featuring Chechen sportsmen. Yet ultimately, Chechnya is most telling for what it says about Russia as a whole. After more than a decade of Kadyrov’s rule, Chechnya has become Russia in miniature, a concentrated tincture of all its habits and instincts and pathologies, with Kadyrov worshiping Putin and consistently enacting the darker urges and impulses of the system that Putin has created.