home arrow act of terrorism arrow memoirs arrow Hostage Irina Hiarrell describes what happened

home |

Hostage Irina Hiarrell describes what happened
Written by   
, 05 2007
'Nord-Ost': Once again in captivity?

Published in 'Molodoy Dalnevostochnik' (The Young Far Easterner), November 2002.

They expected Irina a bit sooner. After being freed she felt great, and was ready to fly to the Far East right away. But

Irina planned not just to visit her old hometown this year, but also to attend to some affairs. Sheneeded to change her passport, and solve a problem with her apartment. SoHiarrell put all the needed documents into her travel case. Atthis time she unexpectedly asked her daughter to make copies and keep these in Portland, as if she had a foreboding.

On October 23rd, while getting ready to go to the theatrical center on Dubrovka, out of Russian habit she took everything of value along with her her documents, money, and her return ticket to America.

On the 28th, however, while alone in her room at the embassy hotel, for the first time she felt as if she was a non-person.

No, the embassy workers had treated her very attentively, and the Russian government had quickly provided her with material support. The50 thousand rubles they gave her could buy her warm clothing and a ticket to Khabarovsk. Theproblem was that they do not sell tickets without identification, and after 'Nord-Ost' all she had was a hospital form stating that she had been through 'detox' and the dates, but one can be poisoned in variousways.

Whether worn out from the confusion, or whether the competent agencies were merely 'incompetent', they shrugged their shoulders and said: fine, we'll give you a form stating that you were a hostage.

But an officialstamp?

The stamp is at the prosecutor's office.

Such a form, however, did not solve the ticket problem. Shefound out that she needed a temporary identification (Form 9), which she finally received, and then she caught the plane for Khabarovsk.

But it was holiday time in Russia. Herflight home to her place of residence, to Portland (she was able to get a replacement ticket), was in 10days. Scarcely had her fellow citizens finished reconciling their differences and coming to an agreement (about the apartment), then Irina had to hurry to the passport and visa department of the local police. InAmerica Irina has a permanent residency permit, but her citizenship is still Russian, and she is officially still a native of Khabarovsk. Onceagain there was a problem the police were working holiday hours because of a professional holiday. Irina showed up at our editorial offices with this unhappynews.

In spite of everything, she is an optimist: Everything will be fine. Shebelieves that sympathetic and warm-hearted people live in her homeland, and that they will take her position and will understand the situation. After all, it is impossible to go from one form of captivity to another, this time a bureaucraticone!


The second act of 'Nord-Ost' begins with Sanya Grigorev's celebration: Chkalov himself had noticed him and would soon arrive. Therefore, no one was surprised when a short fellow in a black hat appeared on the stage with an assault rifle and shouting to the other actors: Get out of here! Few modern stage managers had read (Kavernin's) Two Captains, perhaps it was the hero's bodyguard, and now Chkalov would come and everyone would go back to their places. Onlywhen the man fired at the ceiling was is it clear that a different director had thought up this situation. Others in black appeared in the auditorium. Theybrought in, it seemed, a huge metal pig of high explosives, and they placed it in the row behindIrina.

The terrorists were in no hurry to kill anyone. Theystated their demands and trained the hall a few times by making everyone lie down on the floor under their seats. Theyconfiscated cameras and began a procedure to identify the foreigners. Butwhy in order to release them, or to shoot them? Irina went onto the stage and handed over her green card with trepidation: United States. Shewondered: Do they understand that it is only a residency permit, that Iam a Russian, or perhaps, the opposite will they consider me an American and it'll be even worse? Onewoman did not identify herself, and another, an Israeli, somehow cut a hole in the carper and hid her documents there. Anelderly Englishman out of fear could not even pronounce or write his name. Theywere sat down in the first rows and told to call their friends and embassies.

Irina was unable to switch on her cell phone, and the only thing it was good for was to use as a telephone book. Shefound the phone number of her daughter's Internet friend, and used another phone to call. Itwas 4 in the morning:

Dima, are you watching television?
Of course.
I'm in the theater.


They noticed the smell of burning plastic coming from one of the stage lights located much too close to the explosives. Notonly were the hostages worried, but also the terrorists if the stage light were to burst, then the booby traps in the hall could go off. Turning off the electricity could have the same result. Several tense hours passed in waiting until they could find a specialist who knew how to operate the complicated computer system. Onedanger displaced the other, but at last the stage lights were extinguished.

But then unendurable boredom ensued. Irina and returned to her row with the foreigners, and to the travel companion who had invited her to the popular musical.

Come one, I'll read to you out loud, offered Vick, and he pulled out Steinbeck from his voluminousbag.

Listening to the monotonous mumbling was even worse, and she worried about how the people around her would react. Perhaps it would be the laststraw?

It'd be better if Iread to myself.

A dozen pages were enough. Vickat this time took out a clean sheet of paper from his bag, a penknife, and a pen. Thepage was divided into 36pieces, and he carefully drew the playing cards suites. Theyplayed 'Fool' (Russian Old Maid), and slept. Itwas strange, but even under all that tension they were easily able to fall asleep. Apparently their bodies were on autopilot.

Nothing remained but to wait and watch. Morning and evening were easy to discern: the terrorists went to the corner of the stage to pray. Irina would remember forever what side was east at 'Nord-
st'. Itwas the same direction as her hometown.


Unexpectedly, a girl was driven into the auditorium. Inan artificially happy voice she shouted: Ooh, so many people! Well, are we going to watch a movie?
The terrorists explained: We're going to ask in front of everyone how she got in here.
Like Ialways did when Iwas little, said thegirl.
It's great here!
They sent you! We're going to shoot you.
What, I'm going to die now?
They led the girl out, leaving the door half-open. There was shooting and a cry quiet, like the mewing of a tiny kitten. Later, still moreshots.

Irina leaned toward her neighbor who was sitting right in front of the door: What's that? Didthey really kill her?
It's nothing, nothing, everything's fine, the woman assuredher.

After this, however, they stopped taking hostages to the bathroom. Apparently the girl's body was stillthere.


Later some kind of a fuss began among the captors. Fromtheir remarks it became clear that somewhere in the auditorium was a police major general. Hewas located on the balcony. Now you're our prisoner, they toldhim.
I'm not at work, Ijust came to the show with my family, like a normal person, like everyone else. They left the general alone, and he remained with his wife and daughter. Thetwelve-year-old girl was later to die during the assault.

Like another child, remembered Irina. Notfar from her sat the new family of an American who had been in the epicenter of another terrorist attack, in Oklahoma. Heconducted himself very well, but it was difficult to watch his companion. Itwas as if the woman felt something. Whenshe sent her pale, thin daughter out with the other children to be released, and the girl returned, the woman seemed to grow dimmer before Irina'seyes.


Suddenly something hung in the air and Irina wanted to cover her nose under her sweater and wrap her scarf around her face. Vicksplashed mineral water on his collar, and the events Irina remembers next are only a few bright flashes.

Once Irina woke up on the floor, it seemed to her, of a bus. Shecould see the iron legs of the seats, and the bodies of people. Right next to her a deathly pale man lay. Hewas not moving, and, it seemed to her, not breathing. Thenunconsciousness.

The second time she awoke in a doorway, which for some reason reminded her more of the entrance to a cave, and someone in a gray cap appeared: Is there anyone alive?
She had to make herself known, and Irina mumbled something inarticulate.
That's it, Isee you, the man yelled.

Unconsciousness, and then again, the man in the cap appeared. Irina tried to hold out herarm.

At last she awoke in Municipal Hospital #13. Shewas in her underwear, and an IVof glucose solution was sticking out of her vein. There were also the marks of several injections on her, meaning that they had given her an antidote. Surprisingly, the tests showed no changes in her body chemistry, in contrast to her neighbor in the ward, and she felt wonderful. Theygave her a note from her friend in Moscow: The embassy is informed. 'Taya' (her daughter Taisya) will be in Moscow today. She wanted to fly, and to live, and she very, very strongly wanted a shower. Fortunately the hospital had hot water, but there was no soap or towels, so she had to use a sheet. Anurse brought her a piece of soap from another department.

Of course, the personnel and those who were already up and about could talk about nothing else. Thegirls from the medical staff told her how it was when the first hostages were brought in, and everyone ran to help admit them. Eventhe beefy cafeteria lady left her spot and carried people in her own arms in spite of her age, weight, and shortness of breath. Irina got to know another survivor from 'Nord-Ost'. Hewas a tall, healthy man, who came to in the auditorium. Hewife was lying next to him, and he tried to pick her up and carry her out, but one of the rescuers pushed him out into the street. We'll carry her out next, the rescuersaid.

But they kept carrying out others. Getting back into the theater was impossible, so he started to help people as they came out. Hefound his wife a few hours later in that same hospital, #13. Shewas not breathing: What to do? The man grabbed a medic from the corridor. Do you know artificial respiration? Doit! The woman began to breath, but did not regain consciousness. Forseveral days she remained in a coma. NowIrina's new acquaintance posed the same question to her: What to do? Irina told him: Talk with her. Talk, and call her home.

After a few days the doctors declared that Hiarrell was ready to be discharged. Imagine finding yourself in a huge city without money, identification, and clothes. Thehospital was only able to give her a surgical gown and a work coat. Irina refused toleave.

By evening her mood began to fall Taisya had still not shown up. Irina knew for certain that her daughter was somewhere close by, probably in the crowd by the gates, and simply could not get through the police cordon. While in the cafeteria, her acquaintance ran up to her, joyfully: My wife woke up and wants to go home! It was fine that things were going well, at least for him. Irina slowly plodded off down the corridor.

At the end of the hallway there was a bright orange, dancing spot, showing like a beacon. Alas, during the assault Irina had lost her glasses. Then: Mama! She made it! Taisya had talked her way through. Shewas the only one to be let in from the huge crowd, and she brought with her some people from the embassy. Irina ran for the doctors again: Let me go! They swore a little, of course, but not very strongly, and compromised, and for the second time that day they signed the papers, even searching all over for the stamp that had been hidden until morning.


They came for Irina while Vick was still in intensive care. There was no time for intelligent conversation, due to the stress and fatigue. Taisya fell asleep, but Irina could not. Quietly she got out of bed, looking for cigarettes. Hergrown-up daughter fumbled around the bedclothes in her dreams: Mamochka, don't leave! Ilove you!

When Taisya got the message from Dima about her mother being taken hostage, she got right on the phone: she called friends in the America, friends in Russia, and her grandma and grandpa in the Far East. Sheeven called a state senator in Oregon. Sheset up a site on the Internet with her mother's picture: Help! Taya even made a web page and placed it on the Chechen sites: Release my mom!

When it seemed that the state authorities were too slow, she called Washington. Thenthey found Irina. Taisya collected money for the trip from all their extended family in around Portland. Senators contacted the embassy. Onthe day before she was to fly to her mother, a good company had hired Taisya, but she was ready to give it up if only to get to Moscow as soon as possible. HerAmerican employers, however, were very understanding: the girl was not only granted leave, but they even promised to pay her for the days she wasgone.

In the village of Roshchino, in the Primorsky district, Irina's parents awaited the outcome, not daring to tear themselves from the television set. Everything will be okay, her mother stressed to herself. Herfather tried to distract her mother from the screen: Look, look how the kitten performs. But he was the first to cry when they showed the lists of the dead on television. Mamais still unable tocry.

Irina's best friend in Khabarovsk, Lyudmila, is not able to cover her tears. Itis good that it is all over, but back then she practically never left the phone: there were calls from Moscow, from America. 'Asya', Lyudmila's daughter, lives with her husband in Seattle: Mama, everyone is praying here. They're all watching CNN. Right now they're showing an interview with Vasilev, but they silenced the Russian speech. Mama, what's he saying?

The interview was being simultaneously broadcast in Russia. Lyudmila repeated the words: The hostages have been freed.

Lyudmila blasphemed a little: If that fellow up in heaven hadn't helped, then half the world would've turned away from him. Support flowed from Spain and Africa. Irina and Taisya were known to many on the Internet Taya is a serious photographer and posted many photos. People who had been atheists for 70years were even praying toGod.

And HE heard.

< Prev   Next >