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Border conflict in Batken: Stories of eyewitness evacuated from conflict zone

One of the most remote districts of Kyrgyzstan, Leilek, became the focus of interest of the whole world in April 2021. The road between Batken and the villages in the district turned out to be in the gun sights of the Tajik military.

In the late afternoon on April 29, 2021, the troops of the neighboring country attacked several settlements at once. Not only local residents, but also the military and law enforcement officers were not ready for such a situation. The Tajik side used military equipment; settlements were fired at from mortars, military helicopters were seen over the territory of the Kyrgyz Republic.

Civilians — residents of Razakov, Kulundu, Oochu, Eski Oochu, Beshkent, Maksat, Arka villages urgently left their homes and were forced to flee the conflict zone. Many of them temporarily moved to their relatives and friends; some of the evacuees were accommodated in schools and boarding schools in the district.

Journalist of 24.kg news agency talked with the residents of Leilek, who stayed in a temporary shelter.

Seven brave women

Tamara Momunova works as a senior nurse at the local hospital in Zhany-Zher rural district. During shelling of the village, she fled together with other residents, taking with her all the necessary medicines in case it would be necessary to provide first aid to security and law enforcement forces.

«We spent the whole night near the village, all the women and children were evacuated to a safe place. Two nurses, two paramedics, two junior nurses and me stayed. In the morning, we returned to our workplaces ready to provide medical assistance, if necessary. When the shooting started again, we fled towards the mountains,» Tamara Momunova told.

During the conversation with the journalist via the phone, Tamara Momunova was in the hospital. Shots were heard.

«The shooting doesn’t stop. Something exploded in the morning and the bomb was thrown. I returned to get water and came to the hospital to get more bandages and surgical sutures. We are ready to help our military at any time,» Tamara Momunova said with confidence, although her voice was trembling and the woman could hardly hold back her tears.

Maksat is on fire again

A resident of Maksat village Burul Kudaiberdieva with her children and husband fled to the mountains as soon as the shooting began. About 15 people stayed in the shelter together with them. The people had been hiding in the gorge and were afraid to return home. The villagers spent a night in the open air.

She herself called 24.kg news agency and in tears begged to convey to the authorities of Kyrgyzstan the information about what was happening in Maksat village.

«We’re scared. Very scared. We could not leave with the rest of the evacuees at night. We went to the mountains, took the essentials from our house and took the cattle with us. We don’t have a truck. We have nothing left except for the cattle,» Burul Kudaiberdieva told in tears.

The villagers watched the atrocities of neighbors — residents of Tajikistan from hiding all night long. «They robbed and set fire to houses. More than 20 houses were on fire,» the woman said.

In the morning, the hiding villagers ran out of food.

«My husband went to the village when the noise died away and the Tajiks left. He wanted to take groceries. But he did not get there, on the way he saw wounded soldiers and took them to the neighboring village. According to the military, bodies of the dead were not taken from Maksat village,» Burul Kudaiberdieva told.

We ran away with one blanket

52-year-old Satkan Zhalilova is a resident of one of the destroyed villages in Leilek district. She, along with her 90-year-old mother-in-law and little grandchildren, were at home when the shelling of the village began.

«We heard a loud sound. Shouts and calls to urgently run towards the mountains began. Everything around was burning. The children were crying with fear. I have a disabled husband and a 90-year-old mother-in-law. So we found a car. But the gasoline ran out on the way, we left the car and, having put the grandmother in another car, went on foot. We were picked up by a van and brought to the place of evacuation,» Satkan Zhalilova told.

According to the woman, the family took only one blanket for their grandchildren in panic. They did not take documents, food or extra clothing.

 «Residents of four villages have left their homes. We lived in a house of completely unknown to us, but kind people. They gave shelter to four families. It was a nightmare,» she said.

We hid in barns and froze

A pensioner Aliya Kainazarova ran out of the house in a summer dress on April 29 at 17.00 and could not return to her native village.

«When they started shooting in the neighboring villages, we ran towards the mountains. We hid there until 2.00 in the morning. I was in a summer dress; it was very cold. Then they picked us up at night and brought to Isfana. We were accommodated in the school building. We were fed and cared for,» the woman told.

Another resident of the village, 28-year-old Ainura Alieva, together with her 18-month-old son, had also been hiding.

«I was cooking dinner, and suddenly heard a shot. The husband said to run away. I only had time to turn off the stove. We were taken to a barn somewhere in the mountains. Then my husband came at night and took me to another place. We spent the night at our friends’ house. We did not know what happened to our house and neighbors. My husband was not allowed into the village in the morning,» Ainura Alieva told.

In total, more than 10,000 people were evacuated from Batken and Leilek districts. At least 13 units of special equipment and 156 employees of the Ministry of Emergency Situations were involved in it.

Another incident at the border began on April 28, 2021 in the area of ​​Golovnoy water distribution point in Kok-Tash village, Batken district. A verbal skirmish developed into a brawl: the sides began to throw stones at each other. Then the shooting began.

At least 189 Kyrgyzstanis sought medical help, 36 people died, including children. The Tajik side unofficially reported more than 150 wounded and 16 dead.