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HostageI.Lysak tells about the events
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, 14 2002

By Anna Politkovskaya

Novaya gazeta

Orchestra musician ILYA LYSAK:

Every third musician in our orchestra died. For some reason Imade it


Ilya LYSAK is 24years old and a Muscovite. He was the son of musicians and a hostage from October 23rd to October 26th, 2002 while working as a musician at the musical Nord-Ost. He graduated from the renowned Merzlyakovka music institute of the Moscow orchestra, and was twice awarded the Order of Lenin at the P.I.Tchaikovsky state conservatory.

Anna Politkovskaya (A.P.): The parliament is reviewing laws that will severely limit the publics influence a hostage situation. It will be illegal to trade places with hostages, and to pay ransom. It will also be difficult to hold negotiations. How does all this look from a different perspective not from a member of parliaments seat, but while sitting in the auditorium at Nord-Ost?

Ilya Lysak (I.L.): To not speak or make contact, this is wrong. I think that the authorities did what was easier for them. After all, they showed that they do not know how to conduct negotiations, and now they are demonstrating that they do not even want to learn. The government is creating terrorists in Chechnya and the parliament is not voting against it, but learning how to control such a situation, since it highly likely to occur again, and the government does not want to find itself in the same straights again.

A.P.: Perhaps it would be better if we learned how? How to act if we should end up a hostage? What would you advise?

I.L.: The main thing is to control all your activities: each movement of a finger, every turn of the head, to do so very specifically and calmly. It was also the first time in my life that Iacted like this. I sat there and considered all the possibilities. We studied the terrorists psychologies: that one could lose control in a hurry, while that other one was more cautious, and that terrorist girl, we thought, may not react as expected. For me personally the most important thing to not psyche myself out. I am argumentative and combative. At times there were situations in the hall when the gunmen were not paying attention and it may have been possible to knock one upside the head and grab his assault rifle. Everyone may have been up to this, only the waiting was the hard part.

A.P.: Tell me how long you could have held out? How long you could you have sat patiently, waiting for Lord only knows what?

I.L.: Ithink another two days, maximum. Later people would have just said: Go ahead and shoot, God damn it! and started getting up and not caring about anything.

A.P.: Did the hostages have to speak with the terrorists? Or was this a categorical no-no?

I.L.: It would be better to say that it was a must. When you start talking with a person that can harm you, you have a chance to at least change something. In our sector, for example, we spoke with the Chechens, and, at least during the time we were talking, we diminished their aggression. And Istill think that if this person had come to commit and crime, then where is the guarantee that they will not change their mind? There have been cases where the terrorists surrendered. They surrender because they were talked into it, a long and difficult task. It is impossible to forbid talking with them, in any situation.

A.P.: But they shot the first girl specifically because she spoke with them! What do you think? Wasthis shot a warning? To teach the hostages who was who?

I.L.: No. They simply led her away and shot her. The doors were closed except for the one next to me, so Isaw everything that most people in the hall did not. The girl acted in a way she should not have. She simply came there to die, and we all understood this. She was very drunk. She insulted them: Whats this, a masquerade! What have you got on yourself! An assault rife and a mask! Then someone said: Shoot her! I heard it. While she said: Well, come on, come on. It was the first time Isaw someone shot. Certainly, from that moment on, we knew whom we were dealing with. Before this we thought that they would play around a bit, and then it would be over.

A.P.: In this situation would it have been possible to run away?

I.L.: Ido not think so. Two girls escaped through the bathroom, and their escape only injured everyone else. While Sasha, our technician at Nord-Ost, though he had a chance to run away, he did not do this because he knew that it would be worse for the rest.

A.P.: How did the chance to escape present itself to Sasha?

I.L.: The terrorists did not know their way around the building very well. They could not find or turn out the theatrical lighting on their own. And so they would bring Sasha along. He went with them to places in the building where he could have just made a step or two to the side and he would have been free. But then the people in the auditorium could have suffered for it.

A.P.: In your view, how should you act? Should you act in order to save yourself, or act as a team?

I.L.: One has to hold out for the team. The team has to survive. It seems to me that the most awful thing in this situation would be to remain alone, or to act alone.

A.P.: Did anyone try to come to an arrangement with the gunmen?

I.L.: Yes. But Iam only talking about those who were in my field of view. We could not look at everything, or turn our heads everywhere. One man, an Uzbek, went up to a terrorist and said: You and Iare brothers, let me go. The terrorist pointed the assault rifle at him and said: Sit down, brother. Another came up and said: Let me go, Im a Moslem. And the terrorist said: Since youre a Moslem, read me a prayer. But the other lived in Moscow and did not know a single prayer. So he did not get what he wanted. Later Iwas next to him in the hospital and he said to me: If only Id known, Id have learned a couple of prayers. There was another fellow, a well-dressed man. He offered them money, but a terrorist woman said: Theres a woman sitting next to you who has no money. Whatmakes you think that Im going to let you go, but not her? And so they did not release him.

A.P.: The men only tried to make arrangements for themselves? What about the female hostages?

I.L.: The women cried and begged that they release the children. But they did not ask for anything for themselves.

A.P.: When was the most difficult moment of all?

I.L.: Right at the beginning. Later Istarted adapting and Isaw who was who: this one is violent, he could should you right off the bat, while that one is a bit softer, you can talk to him.

A.P.: The rest were doing the same?

I.L.: Not everyone. Next to me sat a fellow from out technical service, and he slept the entire three days such was his nervous system. At first they took away his phone and his money, then later they came back and gave them back to him.

A.P.: What did they say?

I.L.: Heres your thousand dollars.

A.P.: Why did they give it back if everyone was preparing to die?

I.L.: Ido not understand this myself. Why walk around wearing a mask for three days if you are preparing to die? One woman-terrorist said that she had a hungry baby at home, and that she didnt come here to die, but to win freedom for the land. There is a lot Ido not understand. When she looked at the auditorium, at all the dressed-up people, and at the stage, she said to us: You are all having such fun, but for 8years already we havent seen anything like this. On the second day Barayev went up on the balcony and somehow he found an MVD(interior ministry) general there, and loudly, to the whole hall, he said: Look whos sitting here! A major general! My whole life Ive dreamed up taking a general prisoner. He had such euphoria in his voice, and he was so happy. The Chechens sat the general down separately and dusted him off.

A.P.: Did the general survive?

I.L.: Yes. His wife and son also survived, but their daughter died. The four of them went to the show. Every third musician in our orchestra died: two clarinetists, two violinists, a trumpet player, to violoncellists, a flutist, and a drummer. All died from the gas. All were remarkable musicians. It is difficult to make a musician. He must form a special circle about himself, and he must work very hard from childhood on.

A.P.: They were all young?

I.L.: No. Fyodor Ivanovich, the trumpet player, was not very young, and neither was Sergey Pavlovich Savelev. Heplayed the clarinet.

A.P.: Do you understand what these people gave their lives for?

I.L.: No. They died from the gas, and not even in the auditorium. They had nothing to do with the war in Chechnya. They never held a weapon in their hands. I cannot stand weapons. Weapons are not a solution. Perhaps we were musicians because we were no good for fighting.

A.P.: When you saw on television the operational film report after the assault, was this the picture that you remembered before you blacked out?

I.L.: No. Not that one. All the terrorists back then were standing by the rows wearing respirators. When the gas came the gunmen went on stage and opened the doors and started bustling about.

A.P.: When the gas came, did you understand that things were coming to a head?

I.L.: No. I knew that the gas had come, and that was all. When they started shooting, Ibegan to pray. One woman-terrorist was standing very close to me, and Ithought that if that thing she was wearing were to blow up, then nothing would remain of my face. Later Idid not care anymore, probably this was an effect of the gas.

A.P.: Is it true that many of you had things stolen from you?

I.L.: Yes, at the Sklifosovsky (medical institute). I had three thousand and some rubles. I pulled it out there when Ichanged clothes. But when they gave me my clothes so that Icould go home, there were only 30rubles in the pocket. I asked: Is this everything? They told me: Yes. The Uzbek who asked to be released had ten rubles in his pocket; they stole 12thousand from him. His wife died. I pity people who steal things. They are like jackals. I can only imagine

A.P.: After the tragedy, the parliament made a law that from now on the bodies of gunmen would not be given to their relatives, in punishment for what they did. The terrorists did the most evil to those who were with you. What do you think? Wasthe parliaments decision a correct one?

I.L.: It was absurd, and a waste of time. We must think about the main thing, and not fight over dead bodies. We must decide what to do with the war, and how to raise fewer terrorists. What has the government come to when it even considers such a thing!

A.P.: It is clear that the theme was: those who go to commit an act of terror in the future will understand that they will receive a funeral, and this will stop them.

I.L.: They will still do so, and it will not stop them.

A.P.: Why?

I.L.: Ifelt it. The women-kamikazes said: It makes no difference where we die. Theyll kill us there, or kill us here. They had a poster hanging up that read: Two roads either death or freedom. When they yanked us out of the orchestra pit they already had their posters up. They were not for us. They were in Arabic and were meant for them. They translated them for us. And they put their songs on the tape players. We were afraid that they would understand where the sound mixing equipment was and put it on the loudspeakers. We had seven kilowatts at Nord-Ost. The best sound system in Moscow.

A.P.: What was the main lesion you took personally from this story?

I.L.: Treasure every minute of life. When Isee now how people complain about life, how they are swearing in the subway, along the lines of how cold it is outside or someone stepped on their foot, it surprises me. My emphasis: you have to love life as it really is. You must do what you wish to do quickly. You must live a little quicker. Before all of this Ilived a bit slowly. And also, regarding the situation in the world around us terrorism, murder, violence if you do not create moral foundations, then we will end up like condensed milk. They will take us by the spoonful and do to us what they want. If the terrorists, these fanatics and crazy people, are strong and powerful people, then were are not. Andit would be better if the government did not debate corpses, but thought about how to raise those around us to not be condensed milk. You have to treat people as if they were butter and juice. So that we do not replace our values. Like after the revolution when they took away the silver and gave everyone aluminum, and after all of that they did not die, but it turned out bad anyway. Though now Russia has the status of a materialistic government, but one could wish for a bit more soul. It seems to me all around that there is not enough soul. Before all of this Itoo thought that it should be so, but know Iunderstand how it is. There is a problem with the soul. The Chechens were better united and active then we were, more than we 700or so.

A.P.: Have you ever heard of Stockholm syndrome?

I.L.: Iheard about it when Ileft. If this is what they call it from the scientific point of view, then that is what is was. They were closer to us that anyone on the outside at that moment. We talked with them, the girls made eyes, and we understood that no one wanted this war in Chechnya, not the hostages or the terrorists. They told us: We need at least some kind of peace. And we agreed with them. There is a funny story on the Stockholm theme: when the gas was released and the women-kamikazes started putting on their respirators, our oboist Pasha told the one standing nearby: Youre putting it on wrong, heres how you do it. He helped her and said: Now this is correct.

A.P.: And did she offer him a respirator?

I.L.: No.

A.P.: Do you regret going to work at Nord-Ost?

I.L.: No. I liked the show and my work gave me pleasure. The team we had at Nord-Ost was unique. No one put one together like it at Chicago or

42nd Street
. We were unique because there had been a serious selection process, and we worked hard. There were no second-stringers.

A.P.: You are now the most popular musical on the planet. Can you resurrect it? Go on tour?

I.L.: Many of us went through certain things I would like to play in this musical, in memory of those who participated. Kaverins Two Captains has the best ideals of humanity: true love and how a person can go through the world and always find himself. These ideals can change the world. But the parliaments decision to not give up the bodies, this changes nothing in the world.

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