There are many prisons that are created for those that want to escape reality and live within their own minds in order to survive. Living a nightmare sometimes the person does not want to survive or wake up thinking if they did what they would learn would horrify them causing that person to want to sleep forever. How do you share a story about your abduction, war and your will to overcome everyday that you are held captive, live every second hoping to be rescued only to learn that the only person that you can count on is the one held within a small room, drugged and kidnapped at the age of 21, the year 1994 by a group of Chechen gangsters thinking that they would get a huge ransom for this young girl. Hoping her mother would pay it was their goal.
Elena is telling the story in the first person along with her mother who the author flashes back to in order to hear the fear, strive and frustration she had to overcome not knowing where Elena was or if she would ever see her again. Going to the police did not help they discounted it as a young girl staying out and thought she would return the next day. A fight with her boyfriend, led her to what happened as she was angry, left the party and the next thing she knew she was at the mercy of these unknown people in a vehicle so locked up with no way to escape.
From the first time you hear Elena’s voice you can tell she is afraid, the fear is not hidden and even the task of having to go to the bathroom became a huge obstacle for her to overcome hoping she would be granted this one freedom or privilege when so many were denied.
Walking on the street she was taken and drugged to Grozny, the capital of Chechnya. Her captors did not speak a language she understood making it hard for her to communicate. Not even given food and feeling dirty, tired, rung out and at times you could tell hard to process and function this tiny room filled with darkness was her entire world. Sunlight was blocked as the window in the room, the only was painted black. Unable to tell day from night or even see where she was or able to identify her surroundings, her room was not much bigger than jail or prison cell and locked inside just like a common criminal.
Denied the right for days to understand why she was taken the startling revelation one kidnapper claimed was that her mother stole money from them and they wanted 300 million rubles within 2 weeks or she would be sent back in pieces. Even trying to see outside looking through the black glass window was impossible so sunlight or nighttime she had no idea.
While she suffered at the hands of these strangers ignoring her physical needs her spirit did not wane and her will to survive became stronger in between the feelings of helplessness, despair and tears. Her one comfort was the robe she hugged tightly her own security blanket.
The story is told in the author’s voice and one of a narrator that expresses the fear, anger and frustration that her mother endured not knowing if her daughter was alive or dead yet never giving up hope. Each militant or captor had a different demeanor and attitude yet one named Aslan seemed to be at least for a while her champion or her lifeline hoping to keep her sanity.
Things changed rapidly as the war escaladed and she was moved numerous times and warned not to dare say anything or alert the police or authorities.
One person, Elena, living against all odds with only herself to count on with a group of killers, villains and dangerous people looking for any excuse to take her out yet for some reason the original two weeks lingered on for eight months.
Moving to different locations and settling in one where she was placed in a dungeon like setting or cellar praying they would allow her to use the bathroom and possibly get some air. Laila was the person that would prove to be her only asset or ally as the one person she counted on was gone.
You can hear her voice as she rationalizes her plight, what she needed to do and that was find a way to escape and freedom. Two militants were always there if and when she was allowed out of the pit her home for now. They were hiding in the mountains conducting their vicious and brutal guerilla war into the night. This was their hideout. But, what happens when Laila befriends her and allows her to eat in her kitchen? Yet, in the back of her mind she thought that her boyfriend and her mother would never give up looking for her and her thoughts lingered deep into the dark and lonely nights as her captors were not concerned with her well-being, her existence or her health.
When she hears the word that might set her free RUN! RUN NOW! Take the final flight to possible freedom with Elena and learn whether she is reunited with anyone. Fear, remembrance, sudden flash and explosion from somewhere in the forest nearby and then back in her dungeon and hoping for a miracle. How does she escape?
A tape cassette player with songs she repeatedly listened to in order to hear another voice and keep her sanity. No way to communicate with the outside world. No heat, or electricity, no light to see the world outside and yet her spirit soared and she never gave up.
In her own words:
The mighty Russian military invaded tiny Chechnya while I was there. More than 100,000 people were killed. I saw and experienced horrible things – wrecked war machines on the blood-stained streets of Grozny, the decapitated heads of young Russian soldiers decorating the trees like grotesque Christmas bulbs. I wish that were all of it.
In a world filled with hate, fear, violence and a group that took her for something they claim her mother did, would she ever find the light of day again and hold on to her mother’s arms to protect her?
When you read pages 129-132 you will learn just how much courage she had as the sky became lighter and the sun spread its rays to the group and she was able to discern or distinguish the sounds of the earth.
Elena Nikitina’s courage to share this story is a lesson of hope, survival for everyone. Some endings are true beginnings when the person that endured all that she did decides between despair, loneliness or LIFE!
Fran Lewis: Just reviews/MJ magazine