Travel

Portraits of the Paradoxical Chechen Republic

Photographer Olga Kravets documents modern life in Chechyna, a federal state of Russia, where Turkish-built skyscrapers tower over citizens and the government tortures young men if they show any sign of dissent.

by Olga Kravets
Jul 28 2015, 12:00am

A kebab maker on the outskirts of Grozny, outside of the restaurant where he works, which has been decorated with a poster of Shrek

This article appears in the Photo Issue 2015

Photos by Olga Kravets, from our collaboration with Magnum Photos and Magnum Foundation

In 2009, Ramzan Kadyrov proudly announced that "peace has come to the land of Chechnya, a federal subject of Russia." The head of the Chechen Republic's rise to power started back in May 2004, when Vladimir Putin appointed him deputy prime minister of Chechnya after the death of Kadyrov's father. Since the age of 30, he has been given free rein in his country so long as he keeps the rebels at bay.

Officially, Chechnya remains part of Russia as the result of two wars, but Russia's constitution is applied selectively here. The government tortures young men if they show any sign of dissent. The houses of rebels' families are burned to ashes at the direct order of the president, and outspoken human rights activists face angry, violent mobs who torch their offices and beat them. Alcohol is sold only in five-star hotels to foreigners, and Kadyrov was able to summon about 60 percent of the republic's population to attend a "Love for the Prophet Muhammad" rally.

Once, when asked where he gets the money for his lavish lifestyle and Turkish-built skyscrapers, Kadyrov notoriously answered, "From Allah."

Students of the Russian Islamic University in Grozny (men in the front, women in the back) listen to a lecture by a guest mullah from Jordan.

A choir of schoolgirls sing a song dedicated to Akhmad Kadyrov, the father of the current Chechen leader, Ramzan Kadyrov. Ramzan has declared May 10 Remembrance Day in Chechnya, to commemorate his father's deportation and death. He couldn't make it May 9, when Kadyrov senior was actually killed, because Russia celebrates Victory Day then, marking the end of World War II.

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadykrov greets a widow of a policemen killed in clashes with rebels during the parade dedicated to the 65th anniversary of the Soviet victory in the WWII held in downtown Grozny, 2010.

The election banners of Vladimir Putin outside of the infamous Knankala military base, which is now the main facility for the Russian forces, 2012.

Young Chechen men visit the shooting gallery in the newly opened Grozny City shopping mall, 2010.

Aset Borchashvili, 43, poses in the yard from where her son was seized by security forces. Unlike many others before, she is aware of his whereabouts. Her son, Yusup Ektumayev, is accused of participating in a terror attack and is awaiting trial in a detention center. Mrs. Borchasvili claims that he was forced to confess under torture, 2013.

Mairbeck Yunusov, a healer and exorcist at the government-sponsored Islamic Medical Center in Grozny. An aide to the warlord Shamil Basayev in wartime, he changed sides after getting disillusioned with rebel ideology, 2013.

A gun that used to belong to a Chechen rebel during the wartime is on display at the republic's Ministry of Interior Museum, 2013.

Men belonging to the White Hats Sufi sect is attending Dhikr, a religious ceremony to praise Allah at the funerals.