From the mid-1990s to around 2015, Chechnya was considered as one of the most dangerous places on earth. Its push for independence following the collapse of the USSR erupted into an all-out war with Russia. An uneasy peace was declared and a decimated Chechnya was given short-lived independence as the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria before a second war began due to the influx of terrorism and banditry in the country. The second Chechen Conflict soon deteriorated into a demoralizing guerilla war killing hundreds of thousands before a strong-armed government began to get the upper hand on radical Islamic elements within the country. As the violence rates began to drop, Chechnya news largely fell from the headlines leading to many asking questions about modern Chechnya, such as ‘is Chechnya safe?’ and is it safe to travel to Chechnya?
Initially, we went to the experts and contacted the Soviet Europe team at Young Pioneer Tours, a company that specializes in non-mainstream travel destinations for adventurous travelers, and asked them the question ‘is Chechnya Safe?’. Rather than providing us with a generic answer, they wanted to show us. So the Reaper Feed team was then lucky enough to be invited on a YPT expedition to Chechnya alongside Weird World Wire which is an alternative news website covering dark and bizarre stories from around the globe. Beginning in Moscow, their tour would take us deep into the heart of Russia’s wild North Caucasus region and show us what Chechnya today is like after almost two decades of warfare.
To give some background on the Republic and to show you where Chechnya is, here is a map of Chechnya. The population of Chechnya is around 1.394 million and it’s 17,300 km² large. Bear in mind that this small mountainous republic waged a war against one of the biggest armies on earth that lasted almost two decades. When you arrive in Chechnya, you soon understand why when you see that it is home to some of the most majestic and formidable mountains on earth which were an ideal base for a relentless guerilla war.
On arrival in the capital of Chechnya, Grozny (the meaning of which means ‘terrible’ in Russian) we were pleasantly surprised to find that the city once labeled by the UN as ‘the most destroyed city on earth’ was now a gleaming metropolis which resembled something out of Dubai. The main street of Grozny, named Vladimir Putin boulevard after his funding to rebuild the war-torn state, is full of coffee shops, pizzerias, and fashion stores. Interestingly, due to the stigma of the conflict, international brands such as Mcdonalds and Starbucks are not allowed to operate here as they are in the rest of Russia so Chechens often make their own, almost identical versions. There is no bar culture in this city however, as the main religion in Chechnya is almost entirely Islamic.
The streets in Grozny are heavily patrolled by armed police and Chechen Special Forces. Dressed in black and usually on the larger side, they cut an imposing figure. However, these men are here to ensure security and will not bother you unnecessarily. It is absolutely forbidden to photograph them however, which is a standard rule towards security services in any volatile state. Whilst in other North Caucasus republics traffic is inherently hectic and dangerous, Chechnya and Chechnya as a whole is a largely refreshing change due to the strict traffic enforcement and eagle-eyed law enforcement.
Ascending to the top of Grozny business center, also known as Akhmad tower, we were treated to a birds-eye view of the now thriving city including a look inside the palace of Ramzan Kadyrov, which was forbidden to photograph due to security reasons. Whilst observing the city from above, our local guide who was a veteran of the Chechen wars gave us a step by step rundown on the battle of Grozny and where significant events took place. He was more than happy to discuss what life was like during the conflicts as well as the trials and tribulations of what was one of the most horrific eras in the nation’s history. Conversations with our guide led to the Reaper Feed article on the prevalence of homemade, steampunk style weapons used in the Chechen Wars.
When it comes to the population of Chechnya, I’m pleased to report that years of brutal war hasn’t damaged their character. Every Chechen person we met was kind, honest, and hospitable. Chechen culture ensures that guests are treated as highly sacred and hospitality is one of their proudest features. Naturally, you’ll stand out as a foreigner, don’t be surprised if you’re in a restaurant or cafe and find your bill has already been paid by a friendly local.
Since the war, the president of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov had ensured a crackdown on the terror groups that once plagued the republic. Under the strong-armed reign of the leader of Chechnya, many of them have since fled to neighboring Dagestan or the Middle East to continue their fight. Meaning Chechnya is finally afforded some long-deserved form of peace and safety.
So, to answer the initial question of ‘Is Chechnya Safe?’, Like anywhere that has recently come out of a war, Chechnya is still a volatile place and despite a massive de-escalation of violence. Terror attacks do still occur. However, it should not put you off traveling there, and with a well-experienced tour company like YPT, you’ll be in safe hands and be able to enjoy everything this massively underrated, fascinating republic and the Chechen people have to offer.
To read more about Chechnya and the history of this fascinating republic, check out the military history section of Reaper Feed. If you are looking for an adventure and wish to visit Chechnya yourself, we highly recommend the flawless team at Soviet Wastelands