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HostageM.Abdrakhimov tells hisstory
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, 28 2002
What the hostages say
In ‘Moskovsky Komsomolets’
MARAT ABDRAKHIMOV: “We prayed for a miracle to every Saint we could think of”
For the first time since that terrible night, actor Marat Abdrakhimov came to the offices of the musical ‘Nord-Ost’ on Marxist Street. Hecame alone, and everyone rushed over to hug and kiss him. Hecried.
At the offices they have not slept in three days. Onthe table is whatever anyone brought in: tea, bread, pieces of gingerbread, and a little bit of chicken. Marat was seated and given something to eat. Buthe said he could not eat.
Marat: The militants behaved very correctly, and they said: “We always behave very correctly. Theonly thing we ask is that you act like hostages. We’ll give you whatever you need. Youwant water we’ll give you water. Butyou don’t need it, because there’s no restroom.” We all went in the orchestra pit girls on the right, boys on the left. Theysaid: We guarantee you a good relationship, but if you do silly things, such as trying to escape, we’ll have to shoot.”
‘MK’: Did they speak good Russian?
Marat: Good enough, but with an accent. Atfirst Ithought of striking up a conversation with the women, to find out something from them. Theydid not want e to make contact at first, but later they did.One of them was even an actress. Iasked her: “Did you go to school at GITIS (Grozny theater institute)? There used to be a Chechen girl in our studio from there.” And very carefully Iasked: “What's your name?” but she said: “What is it to you? Justcall us ‘sisters’. Those are ‘brothers’, and we are ‘sisters’. Nonames.” The other girl guarding us, her name was Zarah.
‘MK’: So they introduced themselves?
Marat: No, they were talking between themselves, and the one who was supposedly an actress was named Sveta. Youknow, these were not just stupid fanatics. “What would you do any different?" they asked us. “My mother buried my brother just his leg and his head, and that’s all that was left of him. You’re far away from there, so you don’t know about it, but we’ve been living in that Hell for 8years.”
They cursed our troops: whatever they needed, drugs, weapons no problem. Andanything you need or what to smuggle, the main thing is to pay, and they look the other way. Theterrorists said: “We expect to sit here a week, or maybe more. Ifnothing comes of it, then we’ll blow ourselves up together with you. Wedon’t care where we die here or there.”
‘MK’: Is it true that they killed two hostages that morning?
Marat: It was an accident. Thefirst man was not a hostage. Wenever saw him before. Hewas not sitting in the hall. TheChechens said: “Someone's walking around out there. We’ll go grab him now.” Ten minutes later they dragged in this fellow whom none of us knew.
‘MK’: But the hall was so crowded, maybe you did not notice him? Maybe he was sitting in the far rows?
Marat: No, you know, when you sit in the fourth row and for two days people walk by to go to the toilet, you learn every face. Nobody saw this man in a black sweater and black jeans. Hesaid: “I came to exchange myself for my son.” They called (the son’s) name, middle and last. Tentimes the militants asked if there was somebody by that name in the hall. There was not. Theman was taken away, and we do not know if he was killed.
‘MK’: But was there not a woman who was shot?
Marat: You know, their strategy was to frighten us. Theywalked around shouting, and one man jumped up and started running, to where Ido not know, and one of the Chechen women standing around with their bombs grabbed a pistol and started shooting at him.He fell, but she hit a completely innocent fellow. Shealso wounded a woman. Iknew they were trying to provoke this, even though they said they were not going to kill anyone.
They needed to know everything about the building, and how to shut off something in the orchestra pit. Itwas all wet down there from urine, and a wire started to burn. SoGeorgy Leonardovich (Vasilyev, the producer of ‘Nord-Ost’) grabs a fire extinguisher and goes to put it out. Whenhe climbs out, however, he accidentally squeezes the handle of the extinguisher and shoots foam into the face of one of the militants. Theterrorist yells: “What are you doing?” and Georgy says: “It was an accident,” but you could see the gleam in his eyes.
‘MK’: Marat, how did events unfold before the assault? Canyou reconstruct these for us?
Marat: Every day they would try to scare us with something. Theywould yell: “Everyone! We’re starting! Getready! Takeout the bomb! Putit in the center!” And then they would begin to pray aloud.
‘MK’: On stage, or what?
Marat: No, everyone in their area. Theynever went anywhere. Thewomen stayed seated where they were sitting. Theywould go to the right or left in the hall, and that was it. So, there is no way that they could have been drinking and shooting up. Theyate just a little bit, and drank water, just as we did. Theysaid: “If Ican take it, if Ican drink just a little water, what makes you any better or worse than me? Justsit and endure it. Ihave nothing against you, I’m only against your government.”
‘MK’: So what about the first girl who got shot on the first day?
Marat: She shows up an hour after we are all reseated. Sheopens the door and walks in, dressed in a jacket and wearing a beret. Shesays: “Everybody’s so scared! What’s going on?” and the terrorists ask: “Who are you?” and she says she used to go to music school in the theater. Theytell her to sit down or they will shoot, and she says: “Go ahead and shoot!” and so they are in a fix and without further ado they take her out to the lower corridor, to the performers’ foyer. Andwe hear automatic weapons fire, but none of us see her getting shot. Theydid not kill any hostages, but Iam of the opinion that they were provoking it. Whatreally went on? There is a lot that did not make sense, and Ihad this feeling that Iwas going nuts from hunger.
‘MK’: Ibeg nonetheless that you recall: what happened before the assault?
Marat: Iwas sitting in the fourth row in the stalls (main seating). Wecould not sleep, even though we wanted to very much. Wedid not know anything: did Putin know about us or not? OneChechen said: “We are absolutely certain that Putin will write you all off and you will all be blown up with us there will definitely be an assault and it will end with us not even fighting, but simply pushing this button.” More than anything we were afraid of an assault.
On the second evening we were told: “Good news. Tomorrow at 10o’clock Kazantsev is coming. Everything will be fine. Theycame to an agreement. Thissuits us. Actcalm. Wearen’t animals. Wewon’t kill you if you sit quietly and calmly.” As a result everyone instantly relaxed and began to smile, drink water, and even let us go to the toilet freely, that is not one by one, but still under supervision.
We were not allowed to get out from our seats, but Iquietly slipped lower and lower under the seats until Icould lie down, on my back or on my stomach. Andat that moment Ifell asleep instantly. Thestress was released and Isnoozed. Nextit turns out that the firefight started, and there were bursts of automatic fire. Iwoke up from it, and immediately Igot out from under the seats.
‘MK’: What did you see?
Marat: Everyone next to me had covered their heads with their arms. Noone fell to the floor: they still remembered the warning (from the terrorists not to try to hide). Itseemed like no one cared: so what if there is shooting somewhere? Nobody screamed.
‘MK’: Could you sense the gas?
Marat:No, maybe Iwas saved by the fact that Iwas lying where it was poorly ventilated. Theair conditioning worked from the outset; otherwise we would have suffocated from the smell coming from the (orchestra) pit. Allmy clothes stunk. Later they (the commandos) grabbed me by the scruff of my neck, and right away Isaid that Iwas one of the performers, and they said: “Okay, exit the room quickly.” It was not rude. Evenif they had dragged me out Iwould still be grateful to them. Theysaid: “Be patient, be patient.”
They took me aside, but Ialready knew that because of my non-Russian mug questioning was inevitable. Soright away Istarted talking specifically about whom Iknow in the play and what role Iperform. Ifilled them with information. Atsome point they finally got it. “You can now pass, over there the prosecutor’s office is working and you’ll be asked for some telephone numbers since you don’t have any documents.” So three of us, all “controversial” like me, we were put in the back of a jeep and taken to a nearby school. Mythroat was dry and Icould not even remember my own number. Igave them the phone number of my friend Selitsky and his wife in Zelenograd. Theyhanded me the receiver and Irecognized (the voice of) our employee Dasha, and she recognized me. Thenthey gave me water. Idrank, but everything came right back up. Endless nausea
‘MK’: Do you remember what happened in the hall during those days? Forexample, when the doctors came from the mission?
Marat: First of all, there was a doctor on the inside, in the audience. Thencame the doctors from the Red Cross, two Jordanians. Themilitants tied them up and shouted that they brought someone else with them. Scared them silly: “That's it, we’re shooting everyone.” Everybody got scared again. Thiswas on the first day, and back then there was only the one doctor from the audience. Theneveryone got involved: Marina Krylova, the administrator of the theater, she walked around measuring blood pressure and giving the necessary medications, mostly sedatives, of course. Theysent us a first aid kit, though for quite some time they did not send anything, but then they again began to send things.
‘MK’: How do you get information?
Marat: It was hard. Themilitants walked around the hall, listening to radios. Theyalso had a small portable TV that ran on batteries. Ifthey were sitting close you could hear it, and later we told each other what we heard. Onthe second day they took away all mobile phones, music players, calculators, electronic watches and cameras, because our guys were filming them on the sly. Theypulled the film (chip) and started to smash it. “If you don’t give these up willingly, then later you’ll regret it.”
‘MK’: How did people behave the whole time? Werethey frustrated?
Marat: No hysterics, in general. Thepeople were well aware of how you should act when a gun is pointed at you. Youcannot behave any other way. Itis like in a state of stress, and you cannot even eat.
‘MK’: And the children?
Marat: At first the children cried, but not the ‘Nord-Ost’ kids. Right away Igrabbed some of the children sitting by me by the hand and said: “Calm down, they won’t kill us.” Istarted to tell jokes and other silly things. Itold them: “What we didn’t have time to show you, we’ll show you now.” Itold the story, portraying on my fingers how everything happened on stage, what went on where. Thechildren sort of calmed down.
But immediately after this the question arose: “Any foreigners?” Here two French children responded. “So, kids, quickly, we’re releasing all of you.” One of the terrorists played at being noble, but up jumps some guys almost 18years old. “Hold it, I’m not letting go anyone over 12.”
There was a feeling of complete unreality, that none of this was really happening to you. Everything was strange, alien. Ihad to support people, but when you support others, you save yourself. Whensomething would happen, Iwould take them by the hand and say: “Easy, I’m here with you, and we’re going to win.” You have to help each other with energy. Ihad nothing left but to pray. Iprayed, holding hands with everyone. Weprayed for a miracle to every Saint we could think of.
‘MK’: When did the feeling of wild hunger appear?
Marat: Iwas not hungry, and Istill am not. Whenthere was no mineral water, we just took water from the tap. Whenthey offered juice and everything else, we drank juice. Atfirst they used everything that was in the snack bar. Right away the gunmen grabbed the ‘Nord-Ost’ t-shirts. Nowthey’re showing them on TV, lying dead in our t-shirts.
When the ventilation was switched on, Isaid: “Do you know what would be cool? Ifthey’d release some kind of sleeping gas.” Next to me were some women, and they said: “Why didn’t we bring Harry Potter with us? Hecould have frozen somebody, or released some magic gas.”
‘MK’: Are you going back on stage?
Marat: We thought about it. Nextto me there was an Aeroflot stewardess. Shesaid: “In thirty years, Inever got into a situation like this. Weflew Japanese terrorists, and anything that was possible. Upin the sky, everything depends on my skills, my hands, but here there’s nothing Ican do but just sit and wait stupidly.” So this stewardess said to me that now she does not go to the theater at all. Butfor me, to go on stage? Inorder to do that Iwould have to put on a suit. Perhaps Iwill put it on and tell myself that none of this ever happened to me.
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