GROZNY, Chechnya, December 1995 — One can imagine the surprise of the shell-shocked residents of Grozny, in March 1995, when they saw a handful of shaven headed Hare Krishna monks climbing out of armored cars carrying sacks of rice, flour and beans. Sixteen months later, the Krishna’s Food for Life service had established itself as the premier relief agency in Grozny, having served well over 1,000,000 meals.
Ten Food for Life volunteers from St. Petersburg lived in an abandoned canteen in the Zavodskoy district of the city. Former Chechen Prime Minister, Mr. Salambek Khajiev, helped to renovate the bombed-out canteen, equipping it to serve both as a shelter and kitchen. Every night was marked with several flurries of violence in the close neighborhood and most other parts of the city. ”
Three months back there was a battle in our backyard,” said Stanlislav Lesovoy, 32, who directs the program. “The Russians were shooting from the ground, just ten meters away from our kitchen, while the Chechens were up high, atop a burnt-out three story building, right in our courtyard!” “The bullets were crisscrossing over our roof for one and a half hours,” explained his colleague, Shula Vasiny, 28, a former banker from St. Petersburg, who has been in Grozny since the beginning of the war. “Both sides were careful to avoid shooting our compound though,” she added. “We were lying on the floor praying, but lucky for us, only a few bullets flew inside.”
“I pray that your Food for Life program will expand to bring about a peaceful world.”
– Salambek Hadjiev
(Former – Prime Minister of Chechnya)
Every morning the Krishnas prepare ninety gallons of porridge and kichri (a vegetable stew made of rice, lentils, and vegetables) in huge gas fueled boilers. An equal amount of a vitamin-rich tea made from “dog-rose bush” berries, along with tens of trays of freshly baked bread, that has a reputation for being the “best in the city.” All the food is first sanctified before being stored in sealed containers and loaded into their trusty old Russian ambulance van. The hot porridge, stew, bread and tea are then driven to seven different locations in the city, where recipients gather to receive their only meal of the day. As the van pulls in, the hungry, mostly elderly Russian men and women, jostle to get the best spot in the long line, earnestly holding out their pots, pans, glass jars and plastic bags for their only meal of the day.
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