On June 10, Dagestani police forced their way into a women’s shelter in Makhachkala in search of Khalimat Taramova, a 22-year-old woman who had fled Chechnya after suffering domestic abuse because of sexual orientation. The local police were accompanied by unidentified men dressed in civilian clothing and camouflage — who appeared to be members of the Chechen security forces. The police detained most of the women inside of the shelter, with the exception of Taramova and her partner, Anna Manylova. Rights activists later confirmed that Taramova was forcibly returned to Chechnya. At Meduza’s request, journalist Vladimir Sevrinovsky spoke to the activists who were inside the crisis shelter at the time of the police raid.
“This place was like a breath of fresh air after I ran away,” Aishat told Meduza, recalling the domestic violence shelter in Makhachkala, Dagestan. After she arrived there, Aishat — whose name has been changed out of concern for her safety — stayed away from the windows for fear that her relatives would see her from the street.
“The first two weeks I was terribly afraid that at any minute someone would burst in and take me,” Aishat says. “[Being on] the fourth floor didn’t even faze me — I was ready to jump out the window and break my legs so as not to go back.”
The women’s shelter is located in an ordinary, four-room apartment in a prefab building in southern Makhachkala. Activists from the Marem Group have rented the unit since November 2020. It’s address is kept strictly confidential and, drawing on the experience of similar crisis shelters in other regions, the women who stay there abide by a variety of measures to keep it secret. In particular, taxis are never called to the building and stop several blocks away; using cell phones brought from home is forbidden, for fear that they might be traced.
The Marem Group is named after Marem Alieva, who disappeared in Ingushetia in 2015 (she’s believed to have been killed by her husband, but the investigation into her murder never led to a conviction). This advocacy group for victims of domestic violence is made up of activists living in different parts of the Russian North Caucasus, as well as in Moscow.
Sometimes, they’re able to resolve domestic disputes peacefully — for example, with the help of an imam who is willing to grant a Muslim woman a divorce under Islamic law on the grounds that the rights guaranteed to her have been violated. However, domestic violence victims sometimes require temporary housing after fleeing their abusers, and this is often complicated by the fact that their relatives have taken away their documents. In the last six months, 10 such women — including two with children in tow — have passed through the Marem Group’s shelter in Makhachkala.
‘We weren’t going to run away, we just wanted to see each other’
On June 10, local police officers forced their way into the Marem Group’s Makhachkala crisis shelter in search of Khalimat Taramova — a 22-year-old woman from Chechnya who had been put on a wanted list.
The young woman made the sudden decision to flee Chechnya after girlfriend, Anna Manylova, came from St. Petersburg to visit her. “We weren’t going to run away, we just wanted to see each other. She complained about threats from her family and from the district police,” Manylova explained in conversation with Meduza. “They took away her passport. Her parents forced her to live with her husband, he wouldn’t divorce her. The police urged her father to punish her. They said: if your daughter doesn’t calm down, she’ll end up here [in police custody]. Khalimat had heard stories of girls being tortured there.”
Khalimat Taramova’s father is reportedly Ayub Taramov, who, according to local media reports, used to be a senior Chechen official. Marem Group volunteer Maisarat Kilyashkhanova, who assisted Taramova at the crisis shelter, said the young woman’s father had threatened to have her killed. “He told her ‘I’m a humane person. I won’t get my own hands dirty, I’ll simply order [a hit] on you’,” Kilyaskhanova told Meduza.
According to Anna Manylova, Taramova was hysterical when they met in Chechnya. In the few minutes that they managed to talk, Taramova’s relatives phoned her constantly, trying to find out where she was. At this point, Manylova contacted human rights activists and suggested that Taramova seek evacuation from the region.
“That same evening we spoke on the phone and decided to leave for Makhachkala immediately,” Manylova recalled. “We left on June 4. We changed taxis three [times] along the way. As soon as we drove away from Grozny, Lima [Khalimat] threw her phone out the window, and when we got there, I also broke my phone and threw it away. We were there for six days. We were supposed to keep going the next morning, but we didn’t make it.”
‘The Chechens just walked in and took her’
When domestic violence victims run away from home, their relatives often appeal to the police for help finding their wives or daughters who have “disappeared” for allegedly unknown reasons. As such, it’s standard practice for human rights advocates to submit a written statement from the victim to the Interior Ministry through its website, confirming that she left home voluntarily and asking the authorities not to look for her.
Khalimat Taramova filed such a statement and recorded a corresponding video on the morning of June 6, explaining that she left home voluntarily, fleeing regular beatings and threats. She also asked the authorities not to give out information about her whereabouts, saying this would pose a threat to her life.
Around 3:00 p.m. on June 10, there was a knock on the door of the Marem Group’s crisis shelter in Makhachkala. A local police officer told journalist and human rights activist Svetlana Anokhina, who was in the apartment at the time, that he was looking for Khalimat Taramova and had been informed that she was there.
After negotiating with the policeman, Svetlana Anokhina and lawyer Patimat Nuradinova let the officer, a man named Dalgat, into the apartment so Taramova could personally assure him that she left home voluntarily.
Footage from a security camera inside the domestic violence shelter (made available to Meduza) shows Taramova holding the hand of volunteer Maisarat Kilyashkhanova while speaking to the police officer. “I told her everything will be fine, I won’t let you go,” Maisarat recalled.
Dalgat took a selfie with Taramova, recorded a video, and left, promising that “the girl will be removed from the wanted list.” Svetlana Anokhina then contacted Gayana Garieva, the head of the Dagestani Interior Ministry’s public relations department, who confirmed that Taramova wasn’t in any danger.
“Then this operative, Dalgat, calls us again and says that a Chechen patrol is on its way and we need to be protected,” Kilyaskhanova told Meduza. “And that our Dagestani law enforcement agencies will provide police officers, who will stand at the entrance [to the building] and outside of the apartment for our safety. Out of sheer stupidity we believed them.”
According to Kilyaskhanova, the women were eating dinner when Svetlana Anokhina received another message from Dalgat, saying that he was on his way up, alone, to talk. “I opened the door and I saw people in plainclothes coming up from the third floor. People with machine guns and bullet proof vests were coming down from the floor above. People were also coming out of the elevators. I realized that we had been deceived,” she recalled.
Footage from the security camera shows that the women from the shelter tried to stop the newcomers from entering the apartment, but were dragged away one by one. Then a man in plainclothes can be seen coming inside and turning the camera around.
The women were dragged down the stairs, leaving them with multiple bruises and abrasions. No one offered an explanation — they weren’t allowed to gather their documents or even put on shoes. The officers pushed the women into a police van and took them to Makhachkala’s Leninsky District Police Station.
“When they dragged us out of the apartment, the girls [Taramova and Manylova] hid in the bedroom,” Kilyaskhanova explained. “I never saw them again. Our police cleared the way and the Chechens just walked in and took her.”
‘I’d rather jump than go with them’
“We immediately ran to the balcony,” Anna Manylova recalled. “Lima [Khalimat] climbed onto the narrow ledge and stood there. We even said goodbye. She said ‘It’s definitely them, I’d rather jump than go with them.’ When it grew quiet in the apartment, [Khalimat’s] father ran in. She repeated ‘if you come near me I’ll jump’ several times. Then he left. Then a young man came in. He introduced himself as a neighbor or a friend of the neighbors. He said ‘Girls, don’t be scared, get down, I’ll take you to a safe place. You can trust me.’ We didn’t have a choice: either we jump from the balcony or we go with him. He took us outside. The whole courtyard was full of people and it was silent. We walked through this crowd in silence. Only her father, standing in the entryway, shouted to her: ‘Lima, Lima!’ She kept walking without turning around.”
Manylova and Taramova got into the stranger’s car and he drove off; nobody tried to block the car’s path.
“We started to thank him: you saved our lives, thank you for being there!” Manylova said. “He replied: yes, with me you don’t have to be afraid of anything, I have connections in the Interior Ministry, everything will be alright. He brought us to the central Interior Ministry. In all likelihood he was working with them, he just lured us out.”
The two women sat in the office of “some boss” for a long time, Manylova told Meduza. None of the security officials in the room introduced themselves or drew up any protocols — instead, they lectured them.
“They explained that it’s not right for a girl not to listen to her parents and to leave the family,” Manylova continued. “It didn’t matter to them that she’s 22 years old and that she’s an adult. One female official said: ‘If my daughter had decided to run away like that, I would have broken her legs.’ We begged not to be handed over to Chechnya, saying that Lima couldn’t go to Grozny, that she would be killed there. They promised to provide us with housing, protection, and take us out with their lights flashing. They tried to force Lima to write a dictated statement saying that she had been forcibly held in the apartment [the domestic violence shelter].”
After Taramova refused to copy down the statement and used the piece of paper to write her own version of the events, the security officials told her and Anna to get ready to be taken to a safe place. When the girls went outside, they realized that the police officers had deceived them.
“There we saw that besides the Dagestani police there were a bunch of Chechens, and we were being led to a car with Chechen plates,” Anna Manylova told Meduza. “I said, ‘Lima no. Let’s go back.’ But we were already surrounded by Chechens who weren’t in uniforms. She was simply dragged along the asphalt by her arms and legs, thrown into the car, and driven away. But they left me. The boss, who said that you have to obey your parents, said: ‘That’s it, she was handed over to her father. Go on, go back to St. Petersburg’.”
‘It’s all a fog’
The other women from the shelter were held in the Leninsky District Police Station overnight. Svetlana Anokhina and Maisarat Kilyashkhanova had to take a drug test. Anokhina, who suffered a heart attack in 2020, began to feel unwell. Kilyashkhanova asked the police to phone an ambulance, which eventually arrived and provided the journalist with first aid.
The women were charged with disobeying police officers. At the trial the next day, they were acquitted in full. But now they have to pack up their things and leave the crisis shelter: after the police raid and apartment’s address being revealed, it’s no longer a safe hiding place for domestic violence victims. Activists from the Marem Group will have to find a new location and start from scratch.
In a statement on June 12, Chechnya’s minister for national politics, external ties, and information, Akhmed Dudayev, announced that the “professional actions of law enforcement officials had foiled an attempted kidnapping.” “There were no illegal actions on the part of the security forces or the relatives,” he added. Dudayev claimed that Khalimat Taramova has a “mental illness” and that “representatives of a so-called fifth column” were responsible for “stoking the scandal.”
“Yes, Khalimat Taramova’s rights were violated, and the rights of her relatives and parents were violated by those instigators who tried to kidnap her,” Dadayev said, referring to the activists who organized Taramova’s evacuation from Chechnya.
“There will be a separate case on abuse of office by police officers and unlawful home invasion,” lawyer Olga Gnezdilova from the Justice Initiative (a rights organization that’s helping the Marem Group) told Meduza. “The court confirmed that there were no legitimate demands from the police officers. And where is the legality in a demand to hand over an independent adult?”
Gnezdilova said that the security forces’ raid on the crisis shelter in Makhachkala shows that the authorities simply do not recognize the problem of domestic violence, and that they’re impeding the work of human rights activists, who are trying to deal with this issue.
“We had a story where a girl was taken from a shelter in Moscow and then ChGTRK [Chechen state TV] aired a segment [about how] she was led astray by feminists and there wasn’t any violence,” Gnezdilova recalled. “I think that now they’ll also record a video with Khalimat and then we’ll never see her again. In the early days she’s safe so long as the noise is kept up. But when it settles down, the risk increases dramatically.”
Gnezdilova’s prediction turned out to be correct. On June 14, Chechen state television aired a 35-minute special about the “attempted kidnapping” of Khalimat Taramova, which included interviews with both Taramova and her relatives. On air, the young woman said that she’s now with her family and isn’t being pressured. She also claimed that she can’t remember how she ended up at the crisis shelter in Dagestan. “A week before I left for Makhachkala, I spoke with a psychologist. In general, I don’t remember how I got there — it’s all a fog,” Taramova said. The segment also included interviews with doctors, who spoke about Taramova’s alleged mental health problems.
Earlier, the Chechen state news agency Grozny Inform published an article with comments from Chechnya’s Human Rights Commissioner, Nurdi Nukhazhiyev, who stated that Taramova was at her parent’s home in Grozny and that she didn’t have any complaints. Nukhazhiyev claimed that at the crisis shelter in Makhachkala, Taramova was “under the influence of her friends.”
On June 12, the Russian LGBT Network announced plans to file a complaint over Khalimat Taramova’s abduction with the European Court of Human Rights. The human rights group underscored that Taramova could face persecution in Chechnya, especially because of her sexual orientation.
The “news” section of the Dagestani Interior Ministry’s website contains no mention of the police raid on the domestic violence shelter. In response to Meduza’s query, regional police officials said they weren’t commenting on the incident.
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Translated and abridged by Eilish Hart