Every Wednesday, the narrow corridor of the former nursery school at Ryabinka is filled with people.
That is because International Medical Corps social workers and psychologists visit Ryabinka every week to offer support to the 25 families (163 people) living there, thanks to the support of the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM).
Ryabinka has been home to internally displaced families from North Ossetia since 1992, when many Ingush fled their homes because of ethnic violence. While most have returned to their communities, some are still unable to go back because their villages remain closed, and people are forbidden from reclaiming their homes.
Despite this, authorities are distributing eviction notes to several spontaneous settlements. At Ryabinka, the notice said they had to leave by April 15, 2011.
For those living at Ryabinka, being evicted from the school means being uprooted once more, often with nowhere to go. The International Medical Corps psychologists who visit weekly provide a much-needed outlet for Ryabinka residents to discuss their concerns when it feels like no one else is listening.
Often, concerns of today lead to stories of their tragic past, like Marem, an elderly woman who came to the mental health clinic to see Malika, an International Medical Corps psychologist.
“I have nowhere else to go, trust me” said Marem.
Malika invites her to sit and offers her some water. “How can I help you today?” she asked. “What happened?”
“You know, they are trying to kick us out again, and we have nowhere else to go,” said Marem.
She is slowly calming down. There are deep wrinkles on her face and her grey hair peeks out from underneath her headscarf. Her eyes are sad.
After a few sips of water, Marem starts to talk about daily life of the displaced living at the former nursery school. Most are unemployed, and some are disabled. Most make their money through temporary seasonal jobs and selling goods at the local market in Nazran.
Marem has lived at Ryabinka since 1992, after violent fighting in the Prigorodny district of North Ossetia between Ingush and Ossetians forced her to flee with her baby in her arms, leaving everything she owned behind.
That morning, Marem’s husband and four children went to pick up sacks of potatoes they had stored on their plot of land. Marem and her mother-in-law, oldest daughter, and baby Adam stayed at home.
They were having breakfast when they heard gunshots and explosions. Not knowing what was happening, Marem ran outside, but soon she, like many other people from her village, were taken hostage by Ossetian militants. Several days later, they were taken to Ingushetia, where she found refuge in the old nursery school, Ryabinka.
At first, Marem knew nothing about her husband and sons, and this tortured her more than anything else. Fortunately, her husband Akhmed, who used to serve in the military, managed to take the children to Dzheirakh, high up in the mountains of Ingushetia, where they were safe. But it was weeks before the family was reunited.
When they were, the family hoped to be able to return home soonafter.
Unfortunately, they were at the beginning of their ordeal. Little Adam became very ill and died in a hospital from a stomach infection. Akhmed died only a year later from a heart attack.
“I thought that all was over, and I had nothing to live for,” Marem said. “What am I going to tell my children? How will I explain everything?”
It was her daughter who told her a simple truth: “Mother, life goes on, and we must raise the children, or our dad would not forgive us.”
They lived and made do. The children went to school, some of them graduated, and Marem started working on a construction site. Her husband’s family tried to help, offering their pension to feed the children. Years went by and they got used to living in Ryabinka. They knew all their neighbours and life was ok.
But Marem and her family still dreamed that they would eventually return home. After 19 years at Ryabinka, they found out that their village in Prigorodny was closed for returnees from Ingushetia with no clear explanation.
“Now it turns out we cannot live here either – the government has the new task of closing all these settlements,” said Marem.
For Marem, and others like her, having some support, even if it’s not to return them home, helps them cope and heal. That is why International Medical Corps prioritizes mental health throughout the North Caucusus, where it has worked since 2000.