Forty-five Afghan war veterans are on a hunger strike in Makhachkala, the capital of the Russian Republic of Daghestan, demanding improved housing conditions.
According to the federal law on veterans, veterans of the 1979–1989 Soviet–Afghan War have the right to free housing from the state or cash to go towards purchasing a home. But for three decades, a group of veterans in Daghestan have been given neither housing nor any money.
The veterans began their hunger strike on 17 September and have camped out in the Park of Internationalist Warriors demanding a meeting with the head of Daghestan, Vladimir Vasilyev.
They allege that certificates to improve their housing conditions should have been allocated to them ‘30 years ago’ and that Vasilyev was not properly informed of their situation.
Selim Selimov, a veteran of the Afghan war and a participant in the hunger strike, told OC Media that 45 people from different regions of Daghestan had already gathered in the park, with participants staying in tents overnight.
On the morning of the third day of the hunger strike, one of the protesters became ill and was taken to an ambulance.
Selimov said that he lives with 11 family members in an apartment of 27 square metres. According to him, they intend to continue the hunger strike until their demands are met.
Magomed Khadulayev, Chairman of the Board of the Daghestani branch of the Russian Union of Veterans of Afghanistan, told OC Media that the authorities had not responded to their hunger strike and had not agreed to negotiations.
He said that a representative of the Government of Daghestan informed them that Vasilyev was in Moscow and would not return to Makhachkala until Friday.
‘To all our complaints, the Ministry of Labour of Daghestan replies that we should go to court’, another protester, Magomed Bagautdinov, told OC Media.
He said that they already went on a hunger strike a month ago, and after that, ‘representatives of Daghestan’s government urgently arrived at the rally and promised to resolve the issue and arrange a meeting with Vasilyev. Back then he was also in Moscow’.
‘Nothing has changed since that day’, he said.
The administration of the head and government of Daghestan and the Ministry of Labor and Social Development of Daghestan did not respond to a request for comment.
‘The situation has not changed’
Selimov said that they went on a hunger strike because not only were they not given vouchers to improve their living conditions, but also because ‘the queue for those who needed housing somehow vanished into thin air’.
Magomed Khadulayev told OC Media that 800 veterans of the Afghan war were in line for housing. According to him, a total of ₽1 billion ($16 million) is needed.
According to Selimov, last year, the Government of Daghestan failed to spend the ₽10 billion ($160 million) allocated to it for social programmes, and the funds had to be returned to the federal budget. He said that this year, the government may have to return ₽20 billion ($310 million).
‘And for us, they cannot find ₽1 billion in the budget and close this topic for good’, he said.
At a meeting in September 2018, the Prime Minister of Daghestan, Artyom Zdunov, criticised officials over their financial management.
During the meeting, it was revealed that money earmarked for improving the living conditions of Afghanistan veterans was indeed allocated from the republic’s budget, but was used by the Ministry of Labour and Social Development for other purposes.
Of the ₽54 million ($780,000) allocated from the 2017 budget for this, ₽40 million ($580,000) remained unspent. The ministry redistributed ₽14 million ($200,000) of the funds to veterans of the ‘Great Patriotic War’ (1941–1945), as the promised sum from the federal budget for this failed to materialise.
Khadulayev said that following the meeting in 2018, the government decided to create a working group to address the issue. It also planned to create a special fund to attract extra-budgetary funds from private donors.
He said that a year later, the situation had not changed.
Ten years of protests
Khadulayev said veterans of the Daghestani branch of the Russian Union of Afghanistan Veterans went on hunger strike in October 2008 for the same reason. Two of them died during the hunger strike and another committed suicide after the suspension of the action.
According to him, in 2009 the leadership of Daghestan allocated ₽30 million ($470,000) to solve the problem of housing for Afghan war veterans, ‘but the matter has not moved forward.’
Protests continued in 2010, after which another ₽77 million ($1.1 million) was allocated for housing from the budget of Daghestan.
According to Khadulayev, with this money, an apartment building was built in Makhachkala in 2013 for veterans of the Afghanistan war, but new flats were only given to veterans registered as living in Makhachkala.