“She took her bathing suit, perfume and epilator. When they got to Turkey, though, he told her they would be resettling in Syria.”
“In Islam, women have to follow their men,” Malika explained to me. “Soon after their resettlement, Seda tried to escape but her husband demanded that she left their daughter behind. ‘The girl will remain in the Caliphate,’ he said. So Seda also stayed.”
Now, that IS has been all but defeated, hundreds of Russian men and women have surrendered or been captured by paramilitary groups or government forces in Syria and Iraq.
Their small children, having already lived through the horrors of war, are incarcerated with their mothers in miserable conditions of overcrowded jails where they are sick, freezing, malnourished and subject to hatred and revenge from their captors – many of whom suffered savage violence at the hands of IS.
The precise whereabouts of many of these women and children are unknown. Information often leaks by chance, when women manage to bribe or charm their captors into letting them use their cell phones.
Last August the Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov returned the first Chechen child from Iraq. His Middle East aide, a Russian senator of Syrian descent, Ziyad Sabsabi, with support of the Foreign Ministry began to search for Russian women and children in detention facilities across Syria and Iraq. Since then 24 women and 74 children have been returned to Russia, according to the ministry.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has backed Kadyrov in his efforts to repatriate the children. Desperate relatives have flocked to Chechnya, where a pro-government NGO is tasked with collecting names and managing communications with the families. As of May 2018, its list contains the names of 1,521 women and children who still remain in Syria and Iraq.