‘She didn’t want to go back’ A Chechen mother suspected her son-in-law was behind her daughter’s suspicious death. Kadyrov made her apologize.
On June 12, twenty-three-year-old Madina Umayeva died in her home in Chechnya. Relatives on her husband’s side maintain that she fell down the stairs during an epileptic seizure — they buried her that same night. Then rumors began circulating on social media that Umayeva’s husband killed her. Her own mother supported this version of events, saying that her daughter had complained about physical abuse more than once and wanted to leave her husband. Local state investigators later decided to exhume Umayeva’s body for an autopsy. Before the results of the autopsy were revealed, however, her mother publicly apologized for speculating that her daughter had been killed. The apology took place during a meeting with the head of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov, who said of marriage: “Sometimes there are arguments and fights, and sometimes the husband uses his fists.”
A midnight burial
Madina Umayeva was married at 16 years old, and had given birth to three children by the time she was 23. She lived with her husband and his family in Gudermes, a town not far from the Chechen capital, Grozny. According to her neighbors, on June 12 — the day Umayeva died — screams could be heard coming from her house. The neighbors came out to see what was happening, and saw her lying near the stairs. But her mother-in-law, Gumset Khamidova, claimed that she was “pretending,” and kicked the neighbors out.
They buried Madina Umayeva that same night, even though it’s not customary for Muslims to bury their dead after sunset. Soon, videos of the funeral and rumors that Umayeva’s husband, Viskhadzhi Khamidov, had killed her began circulating on the messaging app WhatsApp. Khadmidov’s mother allegedly called him home from work, because she was angry that her daughter-in-law had used the family’s child benefits to buy a television.
Gumset Khamidova didn’t deny that she had argued with her daughter-in-law over buying the television. She claimed that Madina spent 9,000 rubles on the purchase (approximately $130), even though the money could have been spent on repairing their home. “I didn’t say anything else to her,” Khamidova underscored in conversation with the Chechen state television channel Grozny (as quoted by Caucasian Knot). Umayeva’s mother-in-law insisted that she died falling down the stairs during an epileptic seizure.
During a Grozny TV broadcast, Viskhadzhi Khamidov swore that he wasn’t home at the time of his wife’s death, and asked that the messages claiming that he killed her be deleted from social media. “I’m very upset, in the depths of my heart.” The paramedic who examined Umayeva’s body stated that it showed no signs of violence (according to her relatives, he only looked at her face, not her arms and legs). The woman who washed the corpse reported the same thing. A local Imam explained that he had conducted the funeral at night, since the body would decompose quickly due to the heat.
Umayeva’s mother tells a different story
Heda Saratova, a member of Chechen ruler Ramzan Kadyrov’s Human Rights Council, stated that after Umayeva’s funeral, friends and strangers began to write to Umayeva’s mother, Khutmat Dovletmirzayeva, saying that her daughter had been murdered. Clearly, Dovletmirzayeva believed them. Messages in Dovletmirzayeva’s name appeared on WhatsApp, claiming that Madina Umayeva didn’t have epilepsy (her mother later confirmed this publicly), and that the news story on Grozy TV was set up to whitewash her husband, because he’s in the military (in the news story, he was also referred to as disabled).
Umayeva’s relatives explained that she had spoken about her husband’s aggression on multiple occasions: Madina’s mother-in-law would complain about her to her husband, and he often beat her. According to her cousin, Umayeva tried to leave her husband several times, but always went back. Firstly, because of the children, who remained with her husband’s family, and secondly due to pressure from older relatives, who convinced her that a woman ought to be married. Her sister recalled that on the day of her death, Umayeva wrote in an SMS that she was “leaving.”
Umayeva’s mother stated that several days prior to her death, her daughter came to her after another fight with her husband. “She returned with black knees, they beat her with a belt. I asked my girl: ‘Will you go back?’ She said that she didn’t want to.” But after a few days Umayeva’s mother-in-law took her away. Dovletmirzayeva found out about Madina’s death the next day. She suspects that her husband’s family sought medical assistance for her daughter too late. At the same time, according to Medina’s aunt, the deceased woman’s four-year-old daughter says that she was strangled and thrown down the stairs.
An apology before Kadyrov
On June 18, the Chechen prosecutor’s office called for an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding Umayeva’s death. Within two days, the Investigative Committee reported that her body had been exhumed for an autopsy. No visible injuries were found during the inspection of the corpse. Umayeva’s mother, who was only shown her daughter’s face during the funeral (her body was wrapped in a shroud), stated that she saw her daughter’s body in the morgue after it was exhumed, and it had “scarring, or a wound and blood from this injury.”
Simultaneously, reports appeared on the messaging app Telegram that Umayeva could have been buried alive. Abubakar Yangulbayev, a lawyer from the Committee Against Torture, believes that this is possible. “Such cases do occur when a person is buried without a medical examination, and in this case there wasn’t one. There was only a visual examination by a paramedic, who is not a doctor,” he told Kavkaz Realii (a branch of RFE/RL). A source close to the investigation told Kavkaz Realii that this speculation could have arisen because there was blood on the shroud: if there is a lot of it, this could indicate that Umayeva was bleeding before she died.
On June 23, the head of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, got involved in the case. He arrived in Gudermes and met with Umayeva’s relatives, her husband, and his family. During the meeting, Kadyrov ordered that Umayeva’s children be given over to their father, and demanded that Madina’s mother, Khutmat Dovletmirzayeva, reveal the primary source of the information about her daughter’s violent death. “We will find out who called, the Investigative Committee will write up a permit, the FSB will take a transcript, it will take up to six months, we’ll read it, and find out everything,” Kadyrov said, as quoted by Kavkaz Realii.
According to the legal news outlet Media Zona, during the Grozny TV news story about the meeting between Kadyrov and Madina Umayeva’s relatives, he was outraged by the exhumation and autopsy of her body, stating that it is forbidden by Islam. In the video, Kadyrov also stated that the young woman “should have held onto her marriage.” “When you’re married, there are arguments and fights, and sometimes the husband uses his fists,” Kadyrov said.
As a result, Madina’s mother apologized to Kadyrov for her speculations about her daughter’s murder. “I ask everyone to forgive me. I was wrong, I listened to everything that people are saying. I want to ask the head [of Chechnya] and everyone else for forgiveness,” Dovletmirzayeva said. Umayeva’s brother apologized, as well. That said, the exact cause of Madina Umayeva’s death has not been established: according to the Investigative Committee, the results of the autopsy will be ready in about a week and a half.
Translation by Eilish Hart