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"Action by Churches Together" mission:  North Caucasus (1995-1998)

Aid to the victims of the armed conflict in Chechnya

When an armed conflict broke out in Chechnya, the Russian Orthodox Church, following her calling and age-old tradition of charity service, started immediately to organize aid to those who suffered in the armed conflict zone. On the eve of Christmas 1995, His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia made an appeal to the international Christian community to render urgent humanitarian aid to the victims of the armed conflict in Chechnya.

In a response to this appeal, the World Council of Churches came out with a proposal to launch together with Russian Orthodox Church a humanitarian mission in the region, called Action by Churches Together (ACT). Its task was to render the necessary aid to civilians who suffered from the armed confrontation and stood in need within Chechnya and to refugees from Chechnya in neighboring regions.

The mission was carried out under the regional programs of aid in Daghestan, Chechnya and the Stavropol region. Three offices were opened in the North Caucasus. Working together in them were representatives of the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, the Round Table on Religious Education and Diakonia in the Russian Orthodox Church and the Hungarian Interchurch Aid (HIA), which was mandated by the World Council of Churches to participate in this program representing international Christian organizations.


The first office of the program in the North Caucasus was opened on April 28, 1995, at Khasavyurt. The aid in Daghestan was directed primarily to refugee centers, since they hosted the poorest people, those who could not stay with relatives or rent a place or leave the region. The condition under which people had to stay in these camps was so critical that the milk and bread the mission brought to them literally saved hundreds of children and old people from dying by starvation. Later the needy began receiving vegetables, bread, flour, vegetable oil, hygienic aids, clothes and footwear.

Another area in which the mission worked in Daghestan was the psychological rehabilitation of asylum seekers. Among many aspects of a humanitarian tragedy caused by a war the most hard and persistent one is a shock that hits those who have lost their relatives and friends and their property and have had to flee their homes to face poverty, humiliation, despair and continuos fear for the life of their own and that of their relations. The mission launched a psychological rehabilitation service in September 1996. Its patients were predominantly children and women who suffered from various neuroses and stresses. All those who appealed to the service received the necessary treatment and assistance.


The ACT mission opened its office in Grozny on June 27, 1995. It operated for three and a half years. The Chechnya program was carried out in the following seven areas:
  • Aid to kindergartens and boarding schools in Grozny;
  • Aid in restoration of ruined houses belonging to extended families;
  • Running soup kitchens for elderly people and children;
  • Organization of regular supply of basic foodstuffs;
  • Distribution of clothes and footware;
  • Aid to temporary refugee camps;
  • Support of small socially-oriented enterprises.
Along with the concrete and effective material aid which the victims received thanks to the humanitarian mission, for many of them its work was a great psychological support as a visible testimony to human solidarity and compassion.

The mission had to work in not an easy situation as the fights continued. After they ceased, the republic was hit by another real disaster - raging crime. The work of the mission in this situation was clouded by two events. Father Philip Zhigulin, who monitored the mission, was taken hostage in January 1996, and the office was attacked in October 1997 and two HIA workers, Gabor Dunajszki and Istvan Olah, were hijacked. They all are now free.

Stavropol Region

Along with the concrete and effective material aid which the victims received thanks to the humanitarian mission, for many of them its work was a great psychological support as a visible testimony to human solidarity and compassion.

The armed conflict in Chechnya led to a mass outflow of Russian and Russian-speaking people from the republic. Very many Russian refugees fled to the Stavropol Region. Typically, asylum seekers in the Stavropol Region lost hope to come back home. In addition to regular aspects of humanitarian aid, therefore, the mission had to focus its work with these refugees on their social adaptation in a new place.

The third office was opened on January 17, 1997, in Pyatigosk, Stavropol Region. For the two years that the mission worked there it implemented the following aid programs:

  • Distribution of food packages;
  • Distribution of clothes, hyegenic, school and sewing packages and packages for newly-born babies;
  • Setting up of social and psychological rehabilitation offices;
  • Creation of jobs and small enterprises for asylum seekers including 4 sewing shops, a joiner's shop, a canteen and a movable soup-kitchen at a parish in Zheleznovodsk;
  • Aid to small agricultural projects by distributing farming equipment, sowing seeds and fertalizers among resettlers for self-sustaining production.
At present, the work of the Action by Churches Together mission in the North Caucasus is close to an end. Yet it is hoped that its results will continue to bring forth good fruit in the future. This hope is well justified because all the programs carried out had both short- and long-term dimensions. On the one hand, the aid was given to meet the basic needs of people for food and clothes, while on the other, small agricultural projects and socially oriented enterprises are forms of long-term aid, which will continue their work in the future. Their workers have not only returned to the life of productive work and begun to build their life anew in a new place, but can also help others, also victims of war in Chechnya, to do the same.

The success of the program of aid to the victims of the armed conflict in Chechnya became possible thanks to the fact that the ACT/HIA/ROC mission succeeded in effective and well-coordinated involvement of her partners both inside and outside Russia, including the Russian government and its agencies, local administrations, military leadership and thanks to the active support of her faithful and local parish priests.

The experience of the Russian Orthodox Church involvement in this interchurch program not only attested to her authority in the Christian world, but also enabled her to render designated support to our suffering people and to enlist the services of international organizations in bringing relief to people in a trouble-spot. The Newsletter and the Round Table site in the Internet will continue to inform their readers about similar programs.

In conclusion, we would like once again to express our profound gratitude to the Action by Churches Together, the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federations, the Hungarian Interchurch Aid, numerous interchurch aid agencies in other countries and all the donors for their contribution to organizing aid to victims in the North Caucasus, and all those who gave help in this work.

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