MOSCOW (Reuters) - The firebrand leader of Russia’s Muslim Chechnya has said an extended stay in the volatile region is to thank for curing a Siberian girl of a rare sleeping disorder.
Ramzan Kadyrov was touched by the plight of Sasha Pisarenko, a nine-year-old who doctors said suffered from the only case of narcolepsy in Russia, according to Chechen government site chechnya.gov.ru.
At Kadyrov’s insistence, Pisarenko was dispatched to the Chechen capital Grozny where she lived for six months with her mother and sister in a luxury flat.
“Grozny was charming, not menacing at all,” read a statement on the government site, adding that the strongman had telephoned the girl directly after his own mother learned about Pisarenko from a TV program, instructing him to help out.
Kadyrov is credited by the Kremlin for maintaining a shaky peace in Chechnya, site of two separatist wars since 1994, and it relies on him to keep a growing Islamist insurgency across the mainly Muslim North Caucasus in check.
Helping Pisarenko is the latest gesture from the 34-year-old, who started a new five-year term in April, to prove that normalcy has returned to Chechnya, a small republic widely feared by ordinary Russians who do not venture there.
In recent months, he has taken to playing soccer matches against world greats in friendlies in Chechnya, which also unveiled a multi-million dollar stadium in May.
His portrait, bearded and often smiling, graces buildings across the region, leading rights workers to accuse him of fostering a cult of personality.
Critics and rights groups also warn that Kadyrov, who fought against the Russians in the first war, rules Chechnya as a personal fiefdom and accuse him of torture, claims he has repeatedly denied as attempts to blacken his name.
“One of the important reasons behind her recovery has been the surrounding atmosphere — sun, smiles, music and hospitality,” read the statement, saying she was also sent to Switzerland for medical checks.
Kadyrov will now visit Pisarenko in her hometown of Chita, some 5,000 km (3,000 miles) east of Chechnya, the site reported on Monday, showing a picture of the barrel-chested leader hugging Pisarenko in a headscarf.
“During her stay, Sasha suffered only one sleeping attack and her migraines stopped,” it added, referring to treatment received in Chechnya.