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HostageG.Mozhegova tells about the events
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, 21 2002

In Komi Republic (Russian far north) Internet magazine Molodezh Severa (Youth of the North), Evgeny Izotov.

Memories of Nord-Ost

Galina Mozhegova: During this time of fear and desperation there was unity.

The seizure of hostages at the musical Nord-Ost, as the media has many times reported, touched everyone, even us in the Komi Republic. Among the unlucky ticket holders on October 23rd was our fellow countryman, Ukhta resident Galina Mozhegova, who went to the show with her Moscow girlfriends Yevgenia and Yakha Neserkhoyeva. A Molodezh Severa correspondent met with Galina Yemelyanovna in the city of Syktyvkara, where she was staying with her sister after returning to Ukhta following rehabilitation in a Moscow hospital.

You are a native of Ukhta?

Our family is from Maksakovka (a suburb of Syktyvkara E.I.). I graduated from the physics and mathematical college of the Komi teachers institute, but they sent me to the Ukhta region, where Iworked in the computer center for Komi Oil and Gas. Now Im working in the Ukhta branch of Svyaz, Inc.

Is it difficult for you to recall Nord-Ost?

Not really. Some very good psychologists worked with us and advised us that it was necessary to talk about it all, to not keep it inside of us.

What did you go through during the first minutes of the seizure?

The show takes place before the Second World War, and the artists were in military uniform. Out onto the stage walks an OMON (special SWAT police officer ed.), or at least that was my impression. I was confused, but my friends said that it was part of the show. I thought: Now look, before the war they didnt have such uniforms. I looked behind me and saw there were two fellows setting some people down, who were shaking with fear. I thought that perhaps they had grabbed some drug addicts. And then here Isee people with guns were surrounding us. They made the actors lay down, and then they told everyone that we were hostages. I could just not believe it.

The gunmen demanded everyone call whomever they could and report that they had been taken hostage. They made their demands: the retreat of forces from Chechnya and its independence. I was in shock, and thought my heart would leap from my chest. My legs were paralyzed. It was good that Iwas sitting between my girlfriends they held me up. A woman gave me a tablet, apparently some kind of a strong tranquilizer. I did not come to for 10minutes. And either way, Istill could not believe what was happening.

The terrorists shot a girl who came into the auditorium and acted as if she wanted to challenge them. For the next two days we saw the body of this murdered girl just out the door in the corridor. It was then, perhaps, that the realization came to me that this was all very serious.

Did everything happen just like they showed in the media?

Even back then, while Iwas a hostage in the auditorium, Iheard that there was distortion of information. Some people had small radios. For instance, they reported that 120hostages had been rescued. But wait! They had only released a few children, less than 12years of age.

Back then many talked about Stockholm syndrome, when hostages start to sympathize with the terrorists. Did any of this happen with you?

Certainly, all of were already against the war. Everyone sympathizes with peaceful Chechens. But among the hostages, who were around me, there was no sympathy for the terrorists, not for a minute. My girlfriend Zhenya said: Oh how beautifully they tell their lies! After all, they said that if our special forces came, then they would defend us and hide us. But how can one believe this when they were the ones who were holding us under the barrels of the pistols and assault rifles? They were the ones who set up the bombs.

At first Imistook Barayev, there was another who went around without a mask, and only later was Iable to tell them apart. He made such tiresome speeches to calm us down, but then he would threaten us: We will shoot, we will stab, blah-blah-blah. The gunmen said that if one of them were killed, then ten hostages would be shot right away. Later they said they were not going to shoot us, but they would cut the heads off the first ten and throw them out on the square for your government. It was terribly frightening.

And they made fun of us. At first they would send boxes of chocolates down the rows, but by the second day the gunmen began to just throw chocolates out into the auditorium. It was obvious that they got pleasure from this. We were like cattle to them. A real mockery was when they made the whole auditorium clean up under the seats. The floor by this time was very dirty. Everyones shoes were filthy from walking in the open toilet that they made us use in the orchestra pit.

The bandits supposedly wanted to shoot at the ceiling (they heard some noises from up there) and had everyone lay under the seats so that ricochets did not hit anyone. The men near me said that the chairs would not protect against a ricochet, but when everyone was down under the seats there was no shooting. Then the terrorists warned us that if our special forces started shooting, we were not even to show our heads, otherwise a grenade might end up thrown at us.

But there were all kinds of terrorists. There was one chatty female gunman, and some of the hostages even managed to question her. If you can believe her, their unit spent 21days walking to Moscow, traveling at night and resting during the day. Later they rode on some trucks. Once in Moscow they bought two minivans, which they used to drive to the DK (House of Culture, i.e.: theatrical center ed.)

How did the hostages conduct themselves?

There were a lot of young people in the auditorium. It was surprising how much care they showed for each other, how kind they were to one another. They helped everyone with everything the old and the adolescents. In this grief, fear, and desperation Ifelt a certain surprising kind of unity.

You hoped for something to save you?

I believed in this. At the request of my niece, Dasha, Ibought her a set of recordings from the musical Nord-Ost. One of the songwriters Vasilev was among the hostages. Why not get an autograph? I sent the album down the aisle to him. You know, this was like war, we did not know if we would live or die, and here someone is asking for an autograph! He was stunned. Somewhere around two hours before the assault he came over to sit with us, to raise our hopes: There are so many holes in the hall, our soldiers are probably taking aim right now on each and every gunman. It was, certainly, hard to believe, but Idid, though Istill thought about the bomb that they could set off in an instant. It was such a moment that Iwas no longer scared one bit. I thought that at least it would not hurt. I remembered my mama, my loved ones and friends

As far as we know, not every hostage was ready for such a frightening future

Yes. Not long before the assault one young man could not take it any longer. I did not see him, but they said that he took a broken Pepsi bottle and rushed across the armrests towards this woman kamikaze that was sitting by the bomb. The terrorists started shooting at him. They hit a woman, and another bullet hit a young man in the eye. The husband of the wounded woman took her in his arms and begged: Help, help. They put the woman on the floor at the end of the auditorium. Their daughter, about 16or 17years old, went over there. I thought that they would let them all go, but they did not. Later at the hospital Ifound out that the woman survived because the terrorists released her before the assault. But her husband and daughter died from the gas.

There was also an American who was there with his Russian wife and her daughter. I have never before seen as much desperation as Isaw in this Americans eyes. A few hours before the assault Barayev told him: Call the embassy and well let you go in the morning. The assault happened earlier than that. The American and the daughter died, and the wife survived.

Did the male hostages not try anything? There were probably some military among them.

Not long before the assault the men next to us came up with a plan. They discussed it out loud: Lets divide into three groups and attack the terrorists. Well break the kamikaze womans neck Iheard these conversations and thought it funny. I said: This isnt the movie Cobra or whatever. Where do you think youre going empty-handed?

Do you remember the moment of the assault?

The gas came. I did not notice any smell, but Ifelt it was stupefying me. My extremities went numb, while my head remained clear. I looked around, and those who were not asleep started to try to hide right away. I saw that my girlfriends had fallen asleep.

What about the terrorists?

At that time the terrorists were acting surprisingly calm. Perhaps because there had been a few times before this when there were some kind of strange smells, something burning, or a noise. Back then the gunmen got nervous and turned on the ventilators, and everything went away. I think our special forces people did this on purpose so that when they sent in the real gas no one would suspect a thing.

Then Ilooked at the stage and saw a gunman in camouflage, moving very slowly. I looked over at the woman kamikaze next to me, and saw she was asleep. At that moment Iblacked out and woke up in intensive care. But my neighbor in the hospital ward saw a bit more. She said that she completely lost the sense of smell. At first she fell asleep, but later she awoke with a start and raised her head. As she put it, she had never seen such a horror ever before. She saw a sea of dead bodies, people with pale, frozen faces, many with their eyes open and glassy, and everyone lying in such unnatural poses. The side door opened and three men in camouflage with covered faces came in. She got up and asked: What should Ido? A man in camouflage answered her: Come here. But she did not understand, and repeated: What should Ido? And again: Come here. And a third time: What should Ido? And here, as she put it, she got a three-story obscenity! She felt better, and right away she knew that these were our boys.

How was it in the war veterans hospital where you ended up?

When Iawoke Igave them my last, first, and middle name, but it turned out that Ihad hurt my tongue and they could not understand what Iwas saying, and so they wrote it all down wrong. My loved ones and friends could not find me right away because of this. Everything was marvelous at the hospital. The personnel were very professional. Had Ibeen taken to the 13th or 7th municipal hospitals, there would definitely have been one more victim. Though it is true, that when they released me from intensive care to the wards on the third day, they did not treat me with anything except vitamins for two days (but they were doing all sorts of tests). I got the impression at the time, perhaps, that they did not know how or what to treat. Later they suddenly started giving everyone a lot of pills and gels and shots. All of us had swollen livers, and almost everyone had pancreatic failure.

Did the doctors figure out it was some effect of the gas?

No, but right away they said that all the complications were from it. Though Istill do not know what kind of gas it was. They still say that the complications can worsen from exhaustion, but Ido not think so. As far as Iknow, some of the Muscovites who managed to get released from the hospital right away in general did not lose any weight.

What is your health like right now?

Now it is relatively normal, but it is hard to breathe. I never had this problem before.

Did anyone from the law-enforcement agencies come and talk with you?

In the hospital, two weeks after our rescue, some investigators came, and each had their own questions: what happened in the auditorium, where was Ifrom, why Iwent to the concert. They were very courteous and correct. It was a girl and a boy who came to me, Lord how young they were! They should still be in school, and here they were, investigators.

What do you think about the accusations of collaboration against you girlfriend, the Chechen Yakha Neserkhoyeva, with whom you went to Nord-Ost?

Yakha had a serious nervous breakdown. I saw her five or seven minutes after the accusations were withdrawn. I did not ask her about anything she was doing very poorly. The ten days after our rescue from Nord-Ost broke her more than the ordeal in the theater.

She lived through two wars in Chechnya, and she cannot withstand any of this psychologically. I cannot say anything more about her. It was all so hard on her.

A few months ago she had an operation. When she was a hostage at Nord-Ost, she sat all deathly green, trying somehow to hide. She was a bundle of nerves, and it was all very painful for her. She is not guilty of anything.

In your opinion, was the use of the gas justified?

I get this question a lot. Had they not released the gas, everyone would have died. This is my opinion.

Besides medical, what other kind of assistance to you receive?

Everyone is helping me. I am very grateful to the Komi representatives in Moscow. A huge thanks is in order to all my loved ones, friends, and acquaintances for the moral support they gave me. Thank you to my employers at Svyaz, Inc. And thanks to the residents of Maksakovka. I am from there, and everyone knows me.

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