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Russian Federation

Against the odds, Chechen landmine survivors score goals on the football pitch

UNICEF Image: Russian amputee footballers
© UNICEF Russia/2008/Muchnik
Members of the Laman Az (‘Voice of the Mountains’) football team, a unique squad of amputees supported by UNICEF as part of its mine action programme in the Chechen Republic.

By Andrei Muchnik

GROZNY, Chechnya, Russian Federation, 16 June 2008 – The legacy of conflict is all over this indoor football field, where 11 young men, all missing a limb, regularly gather to score a goal for beating the odds.

A local non-governmental organization know as Laman Az (Chechen for ‘Voice of the Mountains’) created the football team with help from UNICEF in 2002 as part of the Mine Action Survivor Assistance programme. UNICEF provided the team with basic equipment and restored the premises for training in the only surviving gym in war-torn Grozny.

UNICEF’s Regional Director for Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States, Maria Calivis, recently visited the team and commended its young members for their courage, calling them “an example for all of us.”

During a meeting with Ms. Calivis, Chechen Republic President Ramzan Kadyrov vowed to build a large new sports complex in which disabled athletes will “certainly have their place.”

UNICEF Image: UNICEF Representatives and the Laman Az football team
© UNICEF Russia/2008/Muchnik
UNICEF’s Regional Director for Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States, Maria Calivis (centre), and UNICEF Representative in Russia Carel de Rooy stand with the Laman Az football team in Grozny, Chechnya.

The social cost of landmines
Landmines and explosive remnants of war continue to pose a serious threat to civilians in Chechnya, especially children.

More than 3,000 mine accidents, at least 700 of them fatal, have occurred in Chechnya since 1994, according to UNICEF Russia. No corner of society is untouched by the tragedy of landmines and unexploded ordnance – from the ranks of their victims will come the country’s future economists, governors, teachers and, of course, parents.

The Laman Az project has provided a successful healing experience for many adolescents wounded physically and psychologically by mines and unexploded ordnance.

With support from UNICEF, the Laman Az footballers have participated in a number of national and international tournaments, with excellent results. The team has become well known in Russia, and two of the players were included into the national football team for the disabled. In a national tournament organized by the Federal Ministry of Interior, one of the Chechen players, Muslim Tsunstaev, received an award as best striker.




UNICEF correspondent Elizabeth Kiem reports on a unique football team composed of amputee landmine survivors in Grozny, Chechnya.
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