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HostageA.Stahl tells about the events
Written by   
, 26 2002

A chronicle of three nights at Nord-Ost

In order to strike fear into the hearts of ten thousand, it is enough to kill but one. Proverb of Chinese emperors

And no terrorist can ever turn him away! A.Ivashchenko & G.Vasilev, authors of Nord-Ost (from The Eternal Thinker)

Do what must be done, and let come what may. Knights motto

After the first act, when Sanya Grigorev sang his aria, my friend A thought that the show was over, and got ready to leave, but Isaid that the second part was still to come. Even in my worst nightmares, Icould not have imagined that the second act would last 57hours, during which time Iwould condemn myself for not leaving with A after the first part.

Capture The first hours

The second half of the musical started at exactly On stage, the aviators were dancing their chechotka (spinning top dance), and at a masked man in camouflage, carrying a Kalashnikov assault rifle on his shoulder, stepped from the left-hand side of the stage (from the audiences perspective). He was the classical terrorist, just how they show them in the movies. Not saying a word, he fired a burst of bullets into the ceiling above the stage, and then fired at the decorations. Several lamps broke, and pieces of glass fell below, but the musicians continued to play and the artists continued to dance. From the right, in the aisle, appeared some more terrorists. The gunman on stage grabbed the artist closest to him, pulled him to the edge of the stage, and then pushed him out into the aisle. Other bandits shouted something into the orchestra pit and several shots rang out, finally silencing the music. The performers then left the stage under the terrorists guns.

The auditorium took the first shots with squeals of laughter, like a good joke. Though the shots were loud and irritating, everyone got a big kick out of it and wondered what was next. At first no one took seriously that it could be an actual act of terror. Gradually there were more and more terrorists, and then the women in black appeared with their faces hidden behind veils. They had not yet donned their explosives belts. The first phrase that we could make out was: You dont understand whats going on. Theres a war on in Chechnya, you know about this? Later they demanded that everyone put their hands behind their heads.

The thought that this was not a joke occurred to me right after the music stopped. I felt my heart beating more rapidly, but Icalmed down right away, telling myself: It just cant be! Its a joke! A stupid one, but still a joke! When they demanded that we put our hands behind our heads, almost no one paid attention, and somebody yelled: Behind whose head? and laughter broke out. But then a bandit, who was walking down the aisle between the balcony and dress circle gallery, went up to a fellow who either said something to him or was starting to get up. The bandit kicked the fellow, and then struck him with his rifle butt. The sight of blood on the side of that fellows head convinced me that things were very bad, but the thought of being captured was did not frighten me, it was as if it were almost normal.

The whole time Iwas talking about something with A. It seemed that we were saying out loud what we imagined was going on, asking if everything was a joke. On seeing blood, Isaid: This is serious! She was surprisingly calm. The gunmen ordered everyone to toss their belongings and cell phones into the aisles. People began to pass their handbags, but almost everyone hid their phones. I handed over my umbrella, but A did not have anything with her. Several people threw their things instead of passing them, in the process painfully striking those seated by the aisle.

During those first minutes, the gunmen released all those in the audience who were from the Caucasus, saying: Youre our brothers, were not fighting you. They did this even for Orthodox Christian Georgians. They released people according to their documents, and those who had not brought IDalong were let go according to their features. About 30people were released altogether. Some people from the Caucasus remained behind, since they had come to the show with Russian friends and did not wish to leave them behind, but there were very few of these. Other foreigners were taken and seated in the front rows, though most were already up there to begin with. If they were Ukrainians and Belarussians, or even Tadjiks (who were not in the auditorium anyway), this did not affect them, however. One Ukrainian, though, tried to prove that he was a foreigner, and asked for a cell phone from one of the gunmen. He spent a long time calling his embassy, but never did get through.

A little later they moved the children up to the balcony. They were mostly performers from the musical. The first row of the gallery seating was full of schoolchildren, seventh and eighth graders, and Iremember well how their teacher argued long and hard with the gunmen, insisting that they not separate the class, and that she remain with the children. She conducted herself very bravely.

Some of the gunmen wore masks, and others were not. I told A to memorize their faces, but she replied that for her this simply would not work. I emphasize once again that she was very calm.

I remember during those first minutes how she asked me what the captors really wanted. By that time the terrorists had already made their demands, and Isaid that they wanted our forces removed from Chechnya. A replied: Thats not serious, after all, its clear that no ones going to pull the troops out and she wanted to ask once again. She even raised her hand like a schoolgirl. I stopped her and told her that the quieter she remained, the safer she would be.

All this time in the aisle above us, between the balcony and the upper gallery, there was one shahidka (suicide martyr woman) who was waving a pistol around, and two or three gunmen with rifles. After a few minutes another gunmen joined them. He was in camouflage, but without a mask. The other bandits called him Alsanbek or Aslan. He seemed to be in charge of that floor, or, at the very least, something like a press secretary, since it was he who would mostly speak with the hostages. He told us that we could call our loved ones, friends, and the television stations, so that everyone knew and came to the theatrical center. Unfortunately, Ihad left my cell phone in my jacket. A got her phone out and called one of her friends and said that we were hostages, and asked them to call her family a little later, but then she decided to call them herself. She drew it out for a long time, and did not say anything about our capture, but her loved ones, probably, understood that something bad had happened. I advised her to speak quickly, because it would be simpler and better that way. When she said we were hostages, her voice broke and Ithought that she would start to cry, and so Itook her by the hand, but she said that everything was fine. She dealt with the stress very well. I took her phone and called home, but could not get through. Then Icalled D, but he would not believe me. I next tried to call the Moscow rescue service, but no one would answer the phone there.

The gunmen demanded that we change seats. Men were to sit on the left side of the auditorium, and women on the right. A left, but fortunately she did not go very far, so Icould still see her and send her notes. While people were getting into their new seats, however, the gunmen were very nervous and started yelling if someone hesitated or leaned over.

Soon the pilot from the stage came up to us in the gallery. He was holding up very well. I do not know how others felt, but for some reason the sight of a man in a Soviet military uniform from the time of the Second World War cheered me up, even if it were only a costume. He did not have a belt, and this reminded me of our prisoners of war in 41, so for some reason Ithought that we would definitely free ourselves.

After everyone was again seated, the gunmen started yelling at us from the aisles, for about ten minutes, saying that they knew that there were generals and FSB officers among us. They demanded that these officers came out, or otherwise there would be a search and if they found a general he would be shot on the spot, but no one came out. Then they asked the men who looked to be forty or so years of age to send their documents down the rows. Some had no documents, but the gunmen did not touch them. In the course of checking documents the terrorists found an attorney and an English translator. Aslan said that these might come in handy. He asked if anyone knew any Turkish, but no one did. The bandits demanded that everyone give up their weapons, but, of course, no one had any. Later the gunmen looked for keys to lock up the door on the left side of the upper gallery, the one nearest to us, but the key had gotten lost somewhere. Then they tried to block them with chairs, and started to break the chairs away from the floor in the first row, but these turned out to be very sturdy. Aslan asked if anyone wished to help. One fellow took to breaking the seats, but then Aslan said not to bother, that they would not barricade the door. A suicide martyr sat down near the door, and by this time she had put on a belt with plastic explosives. They called her Ir or Ira, but Iam not certain if that was her real name or some kind of a nick. Unlike the other suicide martyrs, she immediately uncovered her face, and so we called her Gyulchatai (after a character from a popular movie ed.) She looked very young, like the usual girl of the Caucasus, one of the scores you see selling things in the open-air markets. She was always frowning and knitting her brow, but it seemed unnatural for her. It was obvious that she was very, very nervous.

At the door with her were other gunmen, one on the inside the auditorium, and another on the outside. Sometimes Aslan came to them while strolling around with his little radio. Every door had a similar setup. Later Aslan went away somewhere and another gunman took his place, a man named Rashid. He never took off his mask, and on the bridge of his nose was hanging a white brooch, which looked awful on the black background. It seemed to me that his hand was bleeding since the very beginning. It looked like he had broken some glass with his hand during the capture of the theater. His bandage was changed several times, but blood was always leaking through. I am surprised that he did not faint. Between times he mentioned that Aslan was no one compared to him, but he never gave any orders, and instead only observed. For ten or fifteen minutes after the capture of the theater the gunmen were shouting Allah Akbar! in friendly voices. Later they shouted it every five or six hours, but already with less affability.

Fifteen minutes after the capture, one of the gunmen on stage stated their demands: the pullout of all Russian forces from Chechnya. He said that as long as there was no assault on the theater they would not threaten anyone, but, once an assault began, the gunmen would blow up the whole theater. For every gunman killed they threatened to kill ten hostages. Somebody in the auditorium yelled that removing the troops was a long ordeal, but one of the shahidki (suicide martyr women) answered that they were in no hurry, and that they were prepared to stay in the auditorium for as long as necessary. Aslan later went out onto the stage, and he had a radio in his hands. He said: Listen how your media lies! I could not make out what they were saying on the air, however. Later Aslan climbed upstairs to us and said: They broadcast that a wounded hostage has escaped, but it was a pregnant woman who Ireleased myself. Those dogs!

On stage and in the aisle by our door, the terrorists brought over, as they put it, trophies: food from the snack bar. Where we were, the bandits carried the boxes themselves, but down on stage they used hostages for this labor. The trophies were two-liter packages of juice,.33-liter sodas, chocolates, chewing gum, candy, and melting ice cream. At first they handed it all out, but later them began to limit the amount. We had no appetite in general, so gorging on chocolate was not a problem. It was mainly the children who ate, and then only sparingly: just one or two chocolate bars a day. We were always thirsty, however. The gunmen loved to toss chocolates and water bottles down to the main auditorium, and watch how the hostages below caught them. It was hot up in the gallery, and since they had many more drinks down below than we had, we soon had a problem with water upstairs. Fortunately the girls were allowed to fill empty water bottles in the bathroom, and we mixed it with juice, but we were still always thirsty.

They put two chairs on stage, the backs of which were wrapped in tape and covered with plastic explosives, and a big iron canister was put on the seats. For a long time they worked on some kind of a cable, but they gave up on it. One flag, with some Arab ornamental script on a black background, was hung on the stage, and second flag, an identical one, was hung up in the gallery on the partition behind which were computers and sound and visual effects equipment. During the first two hours, by the way, one of gunmen got inside and broke some of the monitors with a rifle butt, and shot others it looked like he fired several times. Afterwards there were no daisies or other light effects on stage.

The older gunmen looked to be about thirty and wore camouflage, as opposed to the younger ones who were dressed any which way. The younger ones looked to be from eighteen to twenty-five, and they were clearly under the older ones. They were all armed with an AK and two or three magazines, and carried bags of ammo on their backs. All had a few grenades (tiny ones as thick as a finger), and some had what looked like homemade grenade launchers attached under the gun barrels. The suicide martyr girls looked to be sixteen to twenty years old. Besides their belts of plastic explosives, they had grenades and pistols. The shahidki clearly did not know how to use weapons, and many, especially the girls, were taught on the spot how to use the pistols.

They taped some kind of a device to the balcony, which looked like a fan or some kind of a computer system, and next to it was a big gas container. They said that it was a bomb. One of the suicide martyrs was always next to it.

Aslan asked it anyone of the men knew anything about explosives, but no one stood up. Then he laughed: Me too! We thought that he needed explosives experts to convince us that the bomb was real.

Suddenly, somewhere around two hours after our capture, everyone began clapping. A rumor went around that (Moscow mayor) Luzhkov had come. Many jumped up from their seats, trying to understand what was going on, but the gunmen yelled for everyone to sit down. A little later the radio broadcast that there were only two or three hundred of us, while there were actually more than 800. The people were happy that most likely there would not be an assault, since for an assault and death were almost synonymous. Another version of the applause occurred when they released a pregnant woman from the auditorium.

They made a toilet for the main auditorium out of the orchestra pit. The balcony and upper gallery was taken to the regular bathroom, which, thankfully, was not too far away. Men were taken to a nearby room, and they even poured some chlorine in there so that it did not smell too bad. Women went in small groups, while the men went by themselves, or, if it was quiet, in twos. At night, or during uncertain times, they would not let us go. On average one could go one or two times a day.

In the auditorium and the bathroom the light was always on, while the corridors were dark and empty. All the curtains were drawn on the windows, but one could still see the free world through the chinks. The windows in the mens room looked out on an inner courtyard, on the tops of trees and some sort of domestic construction. The thought of jumping out that window and hiding among those structures never left me, but several things prevented me. First of all, a gunman always accompanied me to the toilet, and he could shoot me before Icould jump. Secondly, Ihad no idea what would happen after a leap from the third floor into the trees, on which the bandits could fire from the third floor as well as the first. And finally, A would still remain in the auditorium, and Idid not wish to abandon her.

Two young gunmen, who never introduced themselves or removed their masks, guarded our door from the outside. One led us to the bathroom while the other stood his post. Sometimes they traded duties, and sometimes they went into the auditorium and conversed with the hostages. The first gunman wore a blue sweater and said that he was 18years old and had been fighting the Russians for 3years already, and that he had never finished school after either the third or fifth grade. He loved to pick up the cell phones lying in large numbers in the aisle, and play with them. He was always asking about their capabilities, and the differences between them, and so forth. On the first day the phones rang a lot, and he would pick them up. He loved talking with the loved ones of the hostages in an arrogant tone. He shared the cell phones with several other gunmen, by the way, and they would call each other up. For some reason it seemed to me that they were not just talking between themselves, but with somebody on the outside, but Iam not certain of this. Since he never introduced himself, one day Icalled him commander, and he pricked up his ears and said that he was not the commander here. So Iasked what Ishould call him, and he replied that it did not matter, but that it was best not to call him commander. This surprised me, since the other gunmen were not offended being called commander.

The second gunman, in a black sweater, was a bit older and less talkative. It was likely that he simply did not speak Russian very well, since he spoke with an even worse accent than the first one.

In the first hour, one of the gunmen took a big bottle of cognac away from a woman hostage on the balcony, saying: What are you doing! Youmay soon be with God, do you wanted to go to him drunk? It was obvious that he was sincerely indignant. Despite the threats of the gunman, this little scene made us all laugh and relax a little. Later they washed Rashids wound with this cognac. As Iwrote earlier, Rashids hand was bandaged from the very beginning, and bleeding the whole time.

The suicide martyr women worked over Rashids wound. They had a bag with a rather large amount of medicines, and they located a woman doctor among the hostages, one who had bandaged the fellows who got rifle butts to the head during the first minutes of the capture. Later she went to Aslan and asked for some bandage material, saying that she had to re-bandage those who were wounded by shrapnel. Aslan was surprised: What shrapnel? After all, no grenade exploded here! She replied that it was from the lamps that had been shot out, and Aslan calmed down. After this, the gunmen did not shoot at the lights anymore. In general the terrorists on the balcony were more humane than down below. Down in the stalls (the main auditorium ed.), it seemed to me that they were stricter. The gunmen on the stage were older and harder.

Some kind of a fuss started on the first floor, and Iheard a womans voice shouting something excitedly, and several bewildered Chechen voices. Later one of the gunmen on the stage yelled: Shoot her! and another voice, the woman: No, Ibeg you! In a few seconds there was a shot. The auditorium got very quiet and we understood that the first blood had been spilled. It was frightening once again, but, to my surprise, the hall calmed down after only a few minutes, if you could call it calm. They all but forgot about the first victim.

Suddenly, about three hours after the capture of the theater, the gunmen on the stage started shooting in the air and yelling loudly. The gunmen who guarded the hall from the outside ran in, working the bolts of their assault rifles, and the hostages all fell to the floor and took cover behind the backs of the chairs. After awhile everyone calmed down again, though when shooting started up again on the outside and everyone again fell to the floor, the shahidki yelled for everyone to get up, that the chairs would not save anyone anyway. We threw ourselves to the floor about seven times. We learned to get down very quickly, and had worked out beforehand who would lay where. It was hard to lie on the floor and hear shooting, because then you would start hoping that soon it would all be over, no matter how it ended. By the third day, many, including myself, quit hitting the floor. It was a surprising thing: watching the suicide martyr women squeezing their igniters was less frightening that lying on the floor and covering your head with your arms and waiting for the end.

When everyone had quieted down after the first shooting and the first diving for cover on the floor, one gunman got up on stage and said: You can take a break. Nothing is going to happen, at least until morning. Consider yourselves our guests. Someone yelled loudly: Its you who are our guests. No retort followed, however.

No one wanted to sleep on the first night. Everyone quietly talked with their neighbors, telling how they had ended up at the musical: some got the tickets as presents, while others decided to go at the last minute. We discussed our chances of survival. On the first day everyone agreed they were 70percent, while later the prognoses got gloomier. We told each other about ourselves, though trying not to talk about our plans for the future. With one exception, however: what we would do first after being released. The people mostly were going to go to church or open champagne. We prayed a lot, but mostly in our own words, since few knew all the words to even the Our Father (The Lords Prayer). Many told jokes. The jokes, perhaps, were very primitive, but they made us happy. No one laughed very loud after one gunman hollered at a chortling group of young fellows.

My body, in general, was acting strangely. I would fall asleep for fifteen minutes, but it seemed that Ihad slept for several hours. My heart beat 100to 120beats per minute, and Isweated a lot, and was tormented by thirst. I did not want to eat. Sleeping in a seated position, or even just sitting, was uncomfortable. My back hurt, and other people it seemed had problems related to sitting a long time in one position. We sat down on the floor, after taking the backs off the chairs. It helped, but only for a little while. Meanwhile, ever sharper and heavier with time, was the question: what next?

Two nights

Recalling what Iwould describe as the most difficult things during those days, Iwould select three feelings. First there was helplessness. Very soberly, it seemed, Iconsidered what Icould do. I had no cell phone and could send no message. Any attempt to resist was doomed to defeat. Certainly, IIcould have, without much trouble, taken a pistol from one of the shahidki and perhaps even shot two or three terrorists, but the rest would have killed me before Icould do anything else. In so doing it could have cost the lives of several other hostages as well. Even if others helped and we neutralized a large number of gunmen, and this, of course, was rather unlikely, then the rest would have set off the bombs anyway. I understood that, even if Isacrificed myself, and in so doing accomplished nothing and saved no one, then it was impossible, and this tormented most of all.

Second, Ihad the thought that, perhaps, all my sufferings were useless. Here we all were, wracked by thirst and fear, but in a few days we would all die anyway. I drove this thought from my head by recalling how many people had struggled for their lives and survived even more hopeless situations.

Finally, the third feeling was one of complete desperation. This feeling later even overpowered the first two. I understood that no one was going to pull the troops out of Chechnya for our sake: we were but seven or eight hundred people, while a retreat would lead to the deaths of several thousands. This meant that the only thing remaining was an assault. But how can one storm a booby-trapped building, in which in every other row was a suicide martyr with plastic explosives, and all the gunmen had grenades? There was no chance of survival. It was more than likely that our people would declare that they were going to pull the troops out and give the gunmen and hostages safe passage to Chechnya. When we were transferred from the auditorium to a bus, then at that time they would carry out an assault. In this case the chances of survival looked more like 50:50.

There were other dark thoughts: thoughts about my loved ones and my friends. I thought about myself a bit less, or more likely, Ijust did not want to think at all. I was comforted a bit by the thought that Iwould soon find out what dreams death may bring. My neighbor joked about this: Here were all going to die now, and some will end up in Hell, and there those guys (the gunmen) are going to be sitting. Now that will be one happy encounter!

I thought about A a lot. How absurd everything turned out! After all, Icould have gotten tickets for another day, or for another musical. But no, Iwanted to see Nord-Ost, and Wednesday was better for both of us. Sometimes, looking at my watch, Ithought about what they were doing right now back at the institute, or what my friends were doing. I tried to read. I had some programs from the show with me, including one in English. I tried to memorize new words, but it did not turn out very well.

On the first night the people began to write notes. They mainly used the programs. There were not enough pens, but fortunately our row had enough. Besides this, the terrorists gave the children souvenir pens from the musical so that they could draw. The terrorists did not forbid notes, but it seemed that they did not like them, either. I wrote A a few notes, and she wrote back. A, as before, was in peak form, but Icould tell that she was very tired.

The little children on the balcony organized a whole game out of note writing, not very different from what was going on in real life. They had some kind of an underground, and even their own code, though an elementary one, but the important thing was that the children held on. The notes cheered us up a bit, because we had something to do: to write a note, or pass someone elses, it was all better than just sitting dully and waiting for your lot from life. But what can you write in such a letter? How can you cheer someone up when they all know how close to death we all are?

The morning began with the gunmen singing their prayers. Later they again began letting us go to the bathroom, since they had not let us go at night. Here was the only difference with the dark time of the day.

Aslan brought from somewhere a little black and white television set, the picture on which was almost non-existent, but you could hear it well enough. We watched the news a lot. We were surprised that the authorities did not even stutter when speaking about pulling our forces out of Chechnya, and this calmed the terrorists down, and lessoned the tension of the situation. We rejoiced at Putins words that the mission priority was saving the lives of the hostages, though everyone knew that these were merely words. The negotiators (Nemtsov, Hakamada, and Kobzon) were happy, and since there were talks going on, we would still live. But no one took the negotiators efforts seriously, since everyone knew they had no real authority. After the main news was over, they turned off the television, and even the hostages asked for this, since the experts and journalistic investigations were very hard on us. The gunmen, to put it mildly, were skeptical about the demands some Islamic leader made, and they discussed it in their own language, but it was clear that they had no intention of releasing anyone.

When there was talk on television about exchanging some of the hostages for (Chechen president) Kadyrov, my neighbor asked a shahidka if they were prepared to do this. She laughed and said that they would release everyone in exchange for him, and then blow themselves up together with him. Other gunmen said that they would certainly not release everyone for him, but they were ready to make concessions.

I asked a shahidka what would happen to us if our people agreed to pull the troops out. She replied that we would all travel to Chechnya. I said that for us this was equivalent to death, after all, they would shoot us for sure down there. She smiled and said that they would release us in Chechnya, since no one had any use for us there, and that nothing else would threaten us if our authorities acted correctly.

Sometimes Aslan turned on a tape player with eastern music, with a man singing in either Arabic or Chechen. It irritated some people, but Iwas indifferent.

During the day we signed an appeal to the president, asking him to carry out the gunmens demands. At first Idecided not to sign, but in the end Isigned anyway, thinking that it had no legal force, but could be even useful to make a list of the hostages. One woman (it seems she was the physician) on orders of the terrorists later held an interview with the hostages. I was glad that Idid not have to answer her questions, because Iwould have either had to lie or put my life in grave danger. The gunmen brought in a camera and photographed the hostages for a long time. I ended up in several frames. They told us later that journalists from NTV came, but Idid not see them in the auditorium.

On the second day the gunmen gave us something like a lecture from the stage, and they explained that they did not wish to do us ill and that it was all the fault of the Russian authorities, who had abandoned us. The gunman giving the lecture threw in phrases from the Koran, and Iespecially remember one about paradise is under the shade of a saber. In general, it seemed to me that he was all mixed up. He jumbled together revenge for his loved ones, a war of liberation, and jihad. Any semi-literate theologian could have picked his pronouncements to pieces, if, of course, the gunman would argue with him. They were all very stubborn and kept parroting phrases someone had rammed into them, about paradise and sabers. I did not hate the terrorists, and, in general, Ifelt pity that someone had forced them onto the path of evil and war, and had stolen from them a normal life. I do not think that this was Stockholm syndrome.

On stage G.Vasilev appeared a few times. By the way, he was the one who put out the fire in the orchestra pit, but Icannot recall exactly when this was. Vasilev did his utmost to talk to the gunmen, trying somehow to keep the situation under control. He was great, and acted very worthily. I like his songs a lot, and Ihad wanted to see him for a long time. Who knew that Iwould see him under these circumstances?

The most awful hours of all the days that Ispent as a hostage Ican certainly say were in the evening of the second day. The gunmen were nervous and started to talk very loud in Chechen. One of them said to us: Your people have decided on an assault, so go and say goodbye to each other! Later the women gathered in the center of the balcony, discussed something among them, and parted once again. Someone said that they were bidding each other farewell. The terrorists took down their flags and the men left the auditorium. I asked the gunman in the blue sweater if there was any chance that things would turn out all right. He turned away from the doors and said: Perhaps not. Later he thought for a while, sighed, and then added: No. The female terrorists stood closer to the seated hostages. Our suicide martyr was squeezing a grenade in one hand, and in her other she held two AA batteries. She told us to pray and started to whisper something. She, it seemed, was the most devote, and Idid not see the other Chechen women praying. A few people in the auditorium cried, and everyone once again threw themselves under their seats. The shahidka tried to calm us down: Sit down, sit normally. If theres an assault, nothing will help. Were all going to die here, but dont be afraid. Prayand well all end up in paradise!

It was clear that this was the end. I looked at my watch: it was ten minutes to nine. In fifteen minutes we will have been here an entire day. I read somewhere that most hostages die in the first day, but if they make it through this, then their chances are much greater. I thought: Too bad we didnt draw this out a little longer. But maybe we will! I took off my watch and laid it front of me. I watched the second hand. It was not even frightening, but interesting. I started to pray the I Believe (The Apostles Creed). Right at the shooting started and Ithought: Pity Inever finished! and raised my head. The Chechen woman jumped up once again and had already brought the batteries close to the wires, but the shooting, to our astonishment (real astonishment, because everyone had already lost hope) ceased. The men returned to the auditorium, hung the flags, while the shahidka continued standing there, squeezing the batteries. I looked at her, and repeated to myself: take away the igniter, take it away as if trying to hypnotize her. Finally she sat down by the door. Only then did Iallow a sigh, if not of relief, then at least with a little hope.

For a little while afterwards everyone sat silent. They had come to their senses, but after an hour these worries were secondary, and there were enough new emotions.

Recalling the black days Ilived through, and reconstructing in my mind the events, more than once Iam surprised by the nature of human memory. The fact is, separate episodes: the capture, falling to the floor, speaking with the gunmen, these are easy to remember. But reconstructing the sequence of events and their order is very difficult. This is obvious, since many historians note how many mistakes witnesses of various events make in their memoirs. In order that Imay not mimic those writers whose works only confuse the readers, Imust admit sincerely that Icannot recall exactly when the next two episodes occurred: the arrival of Doctor Roshal, and the escape of the two girls. I remember the events very clearly, but Icannot recall whether they happened on the second or third evening.

We had been waiting for the doctors since the morning of the 24th. We knew this because the gunmen had told us and we heard it on TV. Roshal (back then we still did not know his name) showed up accompanied by another doctor of Near eastern appearance. When he went into the auditorium (through our door in the galleries), many women wailed: Save us! and several got hysterical. Roshal tried to calm the people down. He had a traveling bag with him full of medicine, and, together with several hostages, the physicians began to hand them out to the people. People mostly asked for medicine for their heart and blood pressure, and even contact lens solution. I was surprised that the people mostly asking for medicine were not old people, but the young. I did not need anything. From the beginning Idid not like Roshal, since he did everything so slowly, as if he could not hear the requests for help pressing from all sides, but later Iunderstood that he was correct, since making a big fuss in such a situation would only make it worse. The terrorists later yelled at Roshal and demanded that he hand over his bugs (listening devices ed.). The doctor replied to the terrorists steadfastly, reminding them that in his time he had treated Chechen children. If this made an impression on the bandits, then it was not a very strong one. He later operated on someone in the womens restroom, and re-bandaged a gunmans wound (which Idescribed earlier). All this time the television was adding to the tension, worrying why the doctor had not returned for so long. Later on television Iheard them interviewing Roshal, and he described the situation in the auditorium. This was the first time that they broadcast information on what was happening with the hostages was broadcast, which was more or less accurate.

I did not expect anything special from Roshals arrival, so Imade my mind up to get some sleep, deciding that at least while he was in here among us the assault would not take place, and so we had a little break and could relax a bit. Apparently because of this Icannot connect the doctors arrival with the general picture of the events.

As far as the escape of the two girls such noisy events taking place outside the building were for us, or at least for me, almost unnoticed. There was some more shooting, the terrorists got upset, we all fell to the floor and heard two explosions, and one of the gunmen opened fire over the hall (a man in front of me was hit by fragments from the lights and was covered in blood). Later they told us that two girls had run away, but we should not be happy about it, since one or two policemen had been killed. For a time afterwards they would not let us go to the bathroom.

I remember well how on the second day a helicopter flew over. Everyone, terrorist and hostage, got nervous, but nothing happened, if you do not count some noises on the roof. Perhaps they were monitoring us from up there. Now Ibelieve that the helicopter was needed for sound effects, to cover preparations for some special operation.

The terrorists attached flashlights to their assault rifles, using them like laser sights. With these they looked for something on the ceiling for a long time, but later calmed down.

Time passed very slowly. Even though Ihad a watch, on the morning of the 25th Istarted getting mixed up: what day is it? How long have we been sitting here?

The terrorists demanded that we show them our wristwatches. They were afraid that some watches could take pictures and send the photos outside. This relaxed us a bit: if they were afraid of being photographed, it meant that they were hoping to survive and not thinking about blowing us all up for now. We explained that there were no camera watches. Then they began to search us for recording and transmitting devices, as well as documents. It was a very unprofessional search. A few people would go out into the aisle, show their identification, after which they turned out their pockets. But if you wished you could leave things under your seat or hand them to your neighbor. As a matter of fact, Ihid documents on me that a fellow from the row opposite mine gave me. When Ishowed my student ID, the terrorist searching me asked what Iwas studying. To keep it short, Ireplied that Iwas a studying computer programming. He said that Iwas probably a hacker and asked me to fix the computers so that he could get on the Internet. I said that this was impossible, that all the computers were wrecked.

They did not search the old men out of respect, and took them at their word. During the search they found a Dictaphone on a woman teacher and yelled at her. Later they found a cell phone on a young fellow. By this time everyone had already given up his or her phone, and it was forbidden under pain of death to phone. The fellows guilt was compounded by the fact that he had stripped down to his t-shirt (as it was stifling), and the gunmen through some strange logic of theirs considered this a sign of heroism or disrespect for the women. He was led out into the foyer and they said they were going to shoot him. There were several shots, and later the fellow returned. We did not ask him anything, and he would not say what happened. I think that they fired over his head a few times. During the search the terrorists were very friendly and joked with the hostages, and in the end they said they were sorry for the trouble.

Later a shahidka yelled at a young fellow who smelled of cigarettes (they did not let us smoke). In her opinion it was a sin. Someone tried to sneak a smoke in the auditorium, but the other hostages talked him out of this.

I remember when they beat up a fellow who tried to hide in the orchestra pit. I remember when G.Vasilev said from the stage, under wild applause, that some fortune-teller had predicted that everything would end well in five days. There were some other insignificant episodes, but Ithink that it is not worth overloading these recollections with them. What Ihave written above, in my opinion, fully suffices to understand the situation in the auditorium.

Towards the evening of the 25th we grew accustomed to our situation, and calmed a bit. But then another calamity awaited us. Movsar Barayev walked in from one of his inspections. We recognized him, since by this time he had been on television. He had a rather confident, very resolute face. But we did not like his orders at all: he ordered the men moved from the gallery to the balcony, to be closer to the bomb.

Some people made a hurried over and sat down closer to the women. I wanted to sit closer to A as well, but someone was already there. There was no room by the bomb, so shoved us into various other seats. I ended up on the balcony, on the very end, right by the entrance with the gunmen. I got very, very sad. First of all, it was because Icould not sit by A. I swore to myself for not rushing over right away. I thought perhaps Icould have helped calm her. Looking in her direction, however, Isaw that she was holding out with her prior confidence, and this gave me strength. Secondly, sitting on the balcony, yes and even right next to the gunmen, it seemed much more dangerous than upstairs in the gallery. I figured Iwould have no chance here during an assault, but seeing the children sitting there with me on the balcony, these sad thoughts made me feel ashamed. The children continued to write their coded notes back and forth, playing their underground game. Their conduct cheered me up, though fatigue (physical and mental) was building. I talked to the kids with pleasure, and asked them about the show.

The gunmen sitting there eagerly played with some of the nearby children. They played palms and fists (rock- scissors- paper) and were very happy on winning, which, to say the least, surprised me. In order to think about other things, Iplayed underground with the children, and guessed their ciphers, and offered them other, more complex versions. Tousling about with the kids, Irelaxed completely, but when the kids fell asleep it was boring once again. Then Iturned to the gunmen at the door. Almost all had left for somewhere, and only a terrorist in a red sweater and a shahidka remained. I asked them for water and they gave me a few bottles and a box of chocolate. I ate a piece and drank a bit, in order to support my strength, and sent the rest own the rows. I did not feel like sleeping. The gunmen were less than a meter from me, and Ibegan to consider what Iwould do if. Should Itry to grab the igniter? Grab a grenade? Or the assault rifle that was right there? If there was a chance My head spun from such thoughts and Iremembered the slogan: Do what must be done, and let come what may. I decided that when the assault came Iwould do what Ifelt must be done during the first second.

A gunman climbed upstairs to us from the stage, and he demanded a few hostages to go for a walk and get some fresh air. Since Iwas by the doors, Iended up with them. While they were leading us away, someone asked one gunman where they were taking us. He replied: maybe were going to shoot you, or maybe not and laughed. It was not frightening. I thought that if it came, Iwould take off running for a window, and then do whatever Icould. I had no choice.

Once we were out in the foyer, they lined us up and gave our command: we were to barricade the stairway and doors. We carried all sorts of junk up from the basement, and placed it on all the windowsills, or tossed it in the stairwell, while the gunmen reinforced and booby-trapped it, setting up trip wires. I thought, involuntarily, that we were barricading ourselves from our own people. Later Idecided, however, that if there were an assault through the windows, we would not have a chance no matter whether there were barricades or not. It was depressing to look out at the world outside the window. Out there was Freedom. Before all of this Ihad always been free, and Icould always decide if Icould go somewhere or not. Now Ihad no freedom.

After finishing, we stood a few minutes in the foyer, and Idid some exercises. I thought, perhaps they have enough sense not to do a frontal assault. Then we might be able to survive. Later Idrove these depressing thoughts from my head and returned to the auditorium. The night of October 26th came.

Final night Assault Hospital

Close to they began to hand out juices and water that had been brought in from the outside. Everyone got a.33-liter packet of apple juice and there was a one- or two-liter bottle of mineral water for three, and so the problem of thirst finally disappeared. They also promised to send in hot food. People relaxed noticeably. For one thing, they got used to things, though they were still tired and frightened. They relaxed because Barayev said that the talks were going well, and that the authorities were more reasonable, and that soon Kazantsev (Putins top general in Chechnya ed.) would arrive. Everything should turn out okay, but, if the talks broke down, they would have to start the second part of the operation, for which he was apologizing in advance. We thought that he was talking about shooting hostages, but this did not create fear in us. Later the gunman gave a long talk about how our peoples had different cultures, how we were always offending then, and that they were going to fight to the death for their independence, that they had not blown up any apartment buildings in Moscow, etc. The terrorists softened up a bit.

The mother of one of the boy actors was allowed to move from the main seating in the auditorium up to the balcony were we were. The boy was very embarrassed: the other children were on their own, and here he was with his mama. His mother had with her a booklet with an icon of the Matron of Moscow and her prayer. She sent it down the rows, and the children took turns reading the prayer. Someone wrote down The Lords Prayer, and also sent it down the rows, and those who did not know the prayer read it from the paper. I also wanted to write down The Apostles Creed, but there was no paper, and, besides, the Our Father was simpler, so Ilimited myself to reciting the Symbols of Faith to the children, though rather quietly.

Aslan allowed us to go see the girls, saying that he enjoyed watching these dates and lovers, lamenting how Putin forbid us love, so only war remained. Another terrorist told the children that they should do well in school so that they did not become a fool and a bandit as he did. It was all becoming a farce, but then another tragedy occurred. There were cries down in the main seating, and a wail of some kind from a shahidka, then two shots from a pistol and a gunman on the stage opened fire into the auditorium. After awhile it quieted down, then there was a shout: They killed a girl! Everyone leapt from his or her seats, but the gunmen shouted for us to sit down. Down the rows came the news that some man had struck a shahidka with a glass bottle and run down the aisle. The shahidka fired at him, but hit a girl in the stomach, while the gunman on stage had killed the man. The gunmen argued about the situation for a rather long time, and then allowed a man to help the wounded. The man went up to the dead man and said that he was still breathing, but as they got ready to carry him out, someone else said that the breathing had stopped, and there was no chance, since he had been hit in the head. The wounded girl was taken out into the foyer, and Idid not see her again.

The bandits on stage said that the man was to blame for his own death and for the wounding of the girl: Thats what heroism will get you! If there are still heroes in the hall, let them step out and well shoot them so that its quieter for the others! Later they demanded that we collected all glass bottles in the empty boxes. Since Iwas sitting by a box, and wanted to go stretch and maybe see A, Itook the carton and went down the rows, collecting bottles and talking with people. When Iwent over to the womens half and started to collect bottles and talk to A, however, the woman terrorist sitting there demanded that Ireturn to the mens half.

Collecting a full box of trash, and under the watchful eye of the gunman accompanying me, Icarried it into the foyer and tossed it in a corner. The gunman with me was very angry at the conduct of the hero and said that he had an evil spirit in his head and it because of this that people die. Unexpectedly he took his assault rifle from his shoulder, and, taking aim at me, asked if Iwanted to be a hero as well. My pride would not allow me to say: I dont want to! but if Ianswered: I want to this would be equivalent to suicide. So Isaid: I wish that our peoples lived in peace. The gunman calmed down and said: Fine, go. If only everyone wished this. I did not tell him that Ithought that we each had a different concept of what constituted peace.

On returning to the auditorium, Iagain took my place by the doors. The gunman who escorted me sat next to me, as did our shahidka. Since Ihad nothing to do, Iasked if the woman knew what was written on the flag. She answered: There is no god on earth other than Allah, and Mohammed is his Prophet. Freedom or death! The gunman corrected her: Freedom or Paradise! I said that freedom or death was from Che Guevara, but the bandits did not know who Che was. My neighbor asked what we were doing here; after all, we did not disagree with the slogans. She replied that we were here because the Russians killed her brothers. I told her that she was mixing up religion, revenge, and the struggle for independence. I asked if she knew the history of Islam, and, if she had no education, how was she certain that she was acting correctly? The shahidka did not answer, so Igave a summary of the history of religion, avoiding the especially painful parts. She listened attentively, and with interest. I said to leave your explosives, the death of people only increases the evil in the world, but she answered that even if she did not like it, she would carry out her orders. She was to set off the plastic explosives on command, or upon seeing a Russian special forces soldier.

Sitting not far from me was an older man who whispered: She wont blow up anyone, shes afraid! The female terrorist, however, heard this, and yelled at the old man, saying that she was a suicide martyr and had come here to die.

Then the gunmen down below started yelling and pushing a man out onto the stage. He looked to be about 40years old. He was all hunched over and covering his face with his hands. It was apparent that they had beaten him severely, and his face was all bloody: blood was not just dripping, but pouring from his wounds. The little man could barely stand, and they held him there. They told us that he got inside the auditorium from outside. That he was an FSB spy and they were going to shoot him right now. The man protested and said he was looking for his son. He said it very quietly, and we could not hear him, but the gunmen repeated his words. They asked what his sons name was. He said the name, something uncommon, sort of Roman or Gleb. The gunmen told the son, if he were in the hall, to come out. A little fellow on the balcony was named this, the boy who was with his mother. His mother was very frightened and thought that it was her husband down there his face was hidden under all the blood. The auditorium was also worried. It was very, very difficult for everyone to deal with. Now Ithink that it could have been possible to pretend to be the mans son, and perhaps that could have saved him, but right then my thoughts were mixed up. I saw the man, and Iknew that he was doomed. Finally the gunman said that since his son was not there, this must mean that he was a spy, and so he put a gun to the mans head. The man started to fall, and everyone froze. He was grabbed and dragged to the doors, and then there were two shots. We did not speak about this episode afterwards.

At about this same time, one of the suicide martyrs found some documents tossed among the equipment and computers, and gave them to a gunman. The documents were in the name of an MVD(interior ministry ed.) major general. The gunman demanded that the general reveal himself, and said that they would find him either way, since his picture was on his ID. The general turned out to be a man who had been sitting behind me for quite awhile. He walked out into the aisle, and his wife did as well, it turned out that she was a major. The gunmen told them to sit together in the first row of the gallery. Their children (a boy and a girl of about 13) remained upstairs. The gunman went for Barayev, who came right away and told the general to calm down, that no one was going to shoot him unless something happened. Later he asked if the general had been in Chechnya, and if he had, then to tell the people about the crimes of the soldiers. The general replied that he had not been in Chechnya, but he had participated in escorting Basayevs column from Budenovsk. He even said that was not involved in combat, but a professor at the academy, though the gunmen did not react to this. Barayev said that his whole life he had dreamed of capturing a general, and Allah had finally sent him one.

I looked at my watch it was about . I thought that if negotiations would probably go well, at least in order to lull the gunmen to a false sense of security, but instead of Kazantsev at eight in the morning, we should probably expect an assault. If this were the case, then it would be better to get as far from the door as possible. I asked a shahidka for permission to return to the gallery, since it was warmer up there (there was a draft by the door on the balcony), and it was quieter as well. Up in the gallery Ilaid down on a flight of stairs near the wall, and put my sweater under my head. The steps were almost comfortable, since for the first time in three nights Icould finally stretch out to my full length. On the wall over me was a ventilation duct, its grate broken by the gunmen. I decided that, in case of an assault, Ishould jump in there: the opening was small, but all the same it was someplace to hide.

It was rather calm. The gunmen either slept or cleaned weapons. The terrorist in the blue sweater took the silencer from his Stechkin pistol, took it apart, but then he could not get it back together again. He called another bandit over to help, and he could not do it, either. They asked to general to help, but he replied that he had never worked with Stechkins. Then they took it all apart and hid it in a bag.

It got close to five in the morning. Almost everyone was asleep. I decided to fall asleep at , because Iexpected something to happen at eight. I fell right asleep, but had no dreams.

Later Ifelt as if it were difficult to breath, as if my nose and mouth were full of plastic, and there was a corpse-like smell. Later the smell disappeared, and the feeling of plastic over my face stopped.

I opened my eyes and there were two nurses leaning over me. One held an oxygen mask, while the other was giving injections. They said something to me, but Icould not hear them. I looked to the side the walls were tile, so Ithought that Imust have lost consciousness and had been dragged into the bathroom. Then Inoticed people on gurneys being pushed into the room, and Irecognized the general. They were unconscious. I asked the nurse: Was there an assault? She nodded. I looked at myself my hands and legs were still there, and Icould feel my whole body, but it was all like cotton, and Idid not feel like moving around. Then Iasked: Were the losses great? and the nurse nodded again. I was surprised, why could Inot remember anything? Then Ifell asleep again. After awhile a different nurse woke me up and she said something. I told her that Icould not hear her. She wrote on a piece of paper that Iwas to tell her my name, age, and address. I said everything, but Idid not know what to say about my age, since Iwas supposed to turn twenty-two on October 30th, and Idid not know how long Ihad been unconscious. I asked about the losses again and they told me 67people. I asked if they could tell me something about A, and gave her particulars. After awhile they told me that she was not in that hospital, but perhaps she was in another.

They gave me activated charcoal, gruel, and pills. They set up an IV. They explained that it was now the night of October 2627, and that Iwas not to worry. They had told my parents. I lay there and remembered probability theory: how great was the chance that A was not among these 67dead? I got sad from the thought, and hurried to remember my slogan: Do what you must and tried to calm down and fall asleep. I woke up on the morning of the 27th. The former hostages were watching a television set that had been brought in, and they wrote most of the news down for me on a piece of paper. That evening they told me that A was alive, and Iunderstood that Nord-Ost was finally over.

They released A and me from our hospitals. Now, as Iwrite these lines, my hearing has returned a bit. I hope that, in the new year of 2003, Iwill be able to hear as well as Idid before the assault.

On finishing these memoirs, Ican see that several episodes are all mixed up in my head. It is hard to recall which event happened on the first night, and which on the second, and what happened after that. But the episodes, and all the worry related to them, they sit in my memory very clearly, as if it were only yesterday. Apparently this is a characteristic of human memory.

Many of my friends ask me if the way Irelate to life has changed after what Iwent through. I do not know how to answer them. Most likely it has changed, but exactly in what way is hard to say for now. I saw life from a different angle, but Istill need some time to understand all of this.

The second question Ireceive a lot is: would Igo to this musical again? Yes. I would go, even though Ifeel some tension on imagining this. I would go mostly to show myself that you could not break us so easily! To struggle and to search, to find and never give up! (The motto of Benjamin Kaverins Two Captains, the novel on which the musical Nord-Ost was based ed.)

 
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