Fighters speak out on COVID-19 situation in Dagestan: ‘A lot of people died in the mountains’

Several weeks ago, Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov was transported from his native Dagestan to a military hospital in Moscow after falling ill with pneumonia and flu-like…

By: Karim Zidan | 3 years ago
Fighters speak out on COVID-19 situation in Dagestan: ‘A lot of people died in the mountains’
Bloody Elbow 2.0 | Anton Tabuena

Several weeks ago, Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov was transported from his native Dagestan to a military hospital in Moscow after falling ill with pneumonia and flu-like symptoms. As his condition worsened, the renowned coach suffered a heart attack and underwent surgery before being placed in a medically induced coma. Now it appears that Abdulmanap’s illness was brought on by COVID-19.

Abdulmanap, who is the father of UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, remains in critical condition following the surgery, and was reportedly intubated and placed on a ventilator. His illness and subsequent relocation to a hospital in Moscow highlights the growing concerns in Dagestan surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, and whether the impoverished republic will become an epicentre for the potentially deadly disease.

Located on the Caspian Sea coast in the North Caucasus region, Dagestan is one of the most ethnically diverse and heterogenous republics in the Russian Federation. It holds a population of less than 3 million citizens, comprised of ethnicities such as Avar, Dargin, Laks, Azerbaijani and Chechen. And yet despite its diversity and natural beauty, Dagestan is one of the most impoverished and corrupt regions in the country.

As mountainous regions make up approximately 55 percent of Dagestan’s entire territory, it is difficult to create social infrastructure such as basic living amenities and roads. It lacks proper hospitals equipped with the necessary medical tools to handle any form of outbreak, while the majority of the republic’s funding and resources comes from subsidies from federal funds in the Kremlin. Given its economic decline and its complex topography, Dagestan has emerged as one of the most concerning regions amid the coronavirus outbreak.

According to Dagestani authorities, local citizens have worsened the situation by ignoring the federally mandated stay-at-home orders and preventative measures. Head of Dagestan, Vladimir Vasiliev, revealed last week that more than 29,000 tests COVID-19 tests were conducted in the region, which led to 4000 people being placed in self-isolation. He also added that 29 people have died of COVID-19, while another 481 people have died from pneumonia.

Fight Nights Global founder Kamil Gadzhiev, a Dagestani native himself, agreed with Vasilev’s assessment, adding that local citizens did not take the matter seriously when the outbreak first started. He also explained that certain cultural norms made it difficult for Dagestanis to adjust to the concept of self-isolation.

“This is part of our mentality; warnings and dangers are treated rather lightly. As soon as everyone’s family and friends began to feel the problems, only then did the prevention begin, some sort of isolation regime,” said Gadzhiev. “There is another important factor – family ties. In the event of deaths, condolences and funerals become a mass event, a visit to which is actually a must.

“Despite the coronavirus, people continue to attend similar events. Family ties are stronger than risks. Up to 1000 people gather for such events. If weddings and birthdays are still somehow filtered, you can not go to them, just give a gift and congratulations, then everyone goes to the funeral. I myself was at a similar event at the beginning of the epidemic, my friend died in Dagestan. The question was not even to go or not to go. If there was a wedding, I probably would not have gone.”

Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Shortly following his father’s illness in April, Khabib took to social media and published a statement imploring his fellow Dagestanis to stay home and follow the preventative measures enforced by the local government.

“Many hoped that the trouble would not land on their doorstep; many still do not believe in the seriousness of the situation. However, our negligence to the advice and requests of doctors, coupled with the panic created by the people, led to a high rate of spread of the disease, exacerbating the already difficult situation,” Nurmagomedov said to his 19.8 million followers on Instagram. “The fact is our hospitals are now overcrowded with patients. There are no specialists and not enough medication or supplies, while the number of patients is only growing.

“Believe me, the disease is deadly and we already feel it ourselves. By staying at home, we can reduce the burden on doctors and hospitals, and perhaps through our cautiousness, we will save lives. Take care of your loved ones and do not let them leave the house unnecessarily.”

And while local citizens began to heed the warnings from government officials in May, the surge of cases overloaded the already ill-equipped hospitals. Privileged citizens such as Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov were relocated to facilities in Moscow, though that was not the case for the vast majority of Dagestanis. Below is a picture taken by Khabib’s uncle of a hospital in Dagestan treating a COVID-19 patient:

While the lack of medical facilities is a significant concern, UFC fighter Muslim Salikhov believes the problem is also the lack of necessary COVID-19 testing, and the fact that not everyone is able to remain quarantined at home without working for several weeks.

“Believe me, there are a lot more infected people,” Salikhov said. All cities have closed. And Khasavyurt, and Makhachkala, and Kizilyurt, and Buinaksk. We really need to do something, a lot of sick people. Local authorities are making efforts, but there are still a lot of patients. Entire villages get sick. Not everyone has the ability to comply with quarantine. Not everyone has financial reserves; they have to go to work. Whoever has the opportunity is sitting at home.

‘Of course, people here are trying to help each other. There are many foundations that do this, but still not everyone is at home. In villages such a situation is that people die, other people go to express condolences and become infected.”

Fellow UFC fighter Ramazan Emeev spoke candidly about his experience residing in Dagestan and how the coronavirus has plagued his mountainside village. “In Dagestan, a lot of people died from bilateral pneumonia, Emeev said. “Apparently, everything comes from this coronavirus. I live in a village in the mountains. A lot died in the mountains.

“Apparently, medical facilities were not ready for this. There is no equipment, nothing, a lot of health workers have died. In fact, this is a very deplorable state. Why has the epidemic spread so much here? Not only because people did not believe in the danger of the virus, simply many could not stay at home, they had to work. Now everyone is wearing masks, almost everything is closed. Mostly older people, the elderly are ill and dying. The main reason is still the lack of equipment. Neither the medical institution, nor the medical staff were ready for such an epidemic.”

Former MMA fighter Magomedkhan Gamzathanov also shared his concerns about the coronavirus pandemic outbreak in Dagestan, which he referred to as “catastrophic.”

“Yesterday, 90 people were brought to the central hospital. A lot died,” Gamzathanov said. “Now many people are still sick, but it has become easier. Why such a big problem? The fact is that there has been political turbulence in recent years. The region fell into external control, there is not a local government, only in Moscow.”

Fight Nights Global featherweight champion Muhammad Eminov is an example of a fighter who is showing symptoms of COVID-19, including pneumonia and a fever, but has not been tested yet. The athlete said that he is being treated with strong antibiotics but that it has not brought down his temperature.

“When I had bilateral pneumonia five years ago, I was cured pretty quickly. This pneumonia has slightly different symptoms. This is something else. I will not say that this is COVID-19, but something else goes around in the republic.”


Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed the high mortality rate in Dagestan during a recent press conference with local officials, stating that the “main reasons for the development of serious complications among the residents of the region are the late treatment of patients for medical care, as well as self-medication at home.”

“In Dagestan, according to official data, 3460 cases of coronavirus infected were registered, 29 people died. According to the Minister of Health of the Republic Jamaludin Hajiyibragimov, taking into account patients with community-acquired pneumonia in the republic more than 13 thousand patients, more than 600 people died. More than 40 medical personnel died from complications associated with the COVID-19 coronavirus,” Putin added.

Given the concerning figures, Putin instructed the Ministry of Emergency Situations to begin large-scale sanitation of public places and to construct a multifunctional medical centre to handle the influx of cases. The centre would hold a minimum of 200 beds, which Putin assured would be beneficial to the republic.

“Now it depends on our joint action and the efforts of all residents so that Dagestan can overcome the threat of the epidemic as soon as possible,” the Russian president concluded.

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About the author
Karim Zidan
Karim Zidan

Karim Zidan is a investigative reporter and feature writer focusing on the intersection of sports and politics. He has written for BloodyElbow since 2014 and has served as an associate editor since 2016. He also writes for The New York Times and The Guardian. Karim has been invited to speak about his work at numerous universities, including Princeton, and was a panelist at the South by Southwest (SXSW) film festival and the Oslo Freedom Forum. He also participated in the United Nations counter-terrorism conference in 2021. His reporting on Ramzan Kadyrov’s involvement in MMA, much of which was done for Bloody Elbow, has led to numerous award nominations, and was the basis of an award-winning HBO Real Sports documentary.

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