home arrow act of terrorism arrow memoirs arrow Hostage V. Kovalenko tells about the events

home |

HostageV.Kovalenko tells about the events
Written by   
, 02 2002

By Vladimir Severny

Back from Hell. Alpha troops beat up police looters.

Yesterday Vladimir Kovalenko returned home to Almaty after his Chechen captivity. On the day before in Moscow, he called his friends in Kazakhstan and asked them to protect him from unnecessary attention on the part of the press. He said that he was very tired and dreamed of spending some time with his family: his mother, wife, and children, at least for the first few days.

The former Nord-Ost hostage was met at the airport with strong handshakes. The usual questions, such as what torments did you endure from the action of the gas and how did you relate to your terrorist captors were asked by no one. And thank God. They drove to his fathers house, looking through the windshield at the striking autumn landscape and enjoying the silence. Having survived a condition of clinical death, Vladimir Kovalenko now views life a bit differently. He talked about the Moscow events without any special emotion. He spoke in an even voice, without strain, or reproaches towards anyone. He discussed details of the captured theatrical center in carefully weighed words, as befits a true man.

When armed men in masks rushed out on stage during the second act, Ithought that it was the tax police doing some kind of an unexpected operation, or, at the very worst, something thought up by the scriptwriter for stuntmen to scare the audience, recalls Vladimir Kovalenko. I call up my Moscow friend on the cell phone, hed been to the musical earlier, and Iask him if when Iwent anything like this happened. I get a categorical no in the form of are you nuts? But when a few minutes later people in black began bringing explosives into the auditorium, Iknew that they were preparing the worst of the worst for us.

By a whim of chance Kovalenko ended up in the very center of the auditorium: 9th row, seat 20. Fifty kilograms of high explosives, with which the terrorists planned to use to destroy most of the hostages, was right alongside him.

The contacts for the main bomb were in the hands of one of Barayevs relatives, Vladimir continues. She was very reserved. She didnt fuss or worry or go psychotic or into a trance. She said that they had nothing to lose and were really ready to be blown up together with the hostages if their demands werent met.

In Vladimirs words, the gunmen were very upset at the live broadcasts. There were no televisions in the theater hall, but almost every kamikaze had a radio.

On the first day a lot about the real situation was distorted, confirms Vladimir. For example, when for some reason the media wouldnt broadcast that the gunmen released several children, Barayev went on stage and gave a lecture about how the Russian press was bought off. Then Nemtsov called him. He probably asked for at least some of the hostages to be released, and Barayev even broke into a shout and threatened that no one else would leave the theater.

As Vladimir tells it, the hostages could use the cell phones for almost two days. Many of them had their phone batteries go dead quickly, and it was necessary to economize on power. Then when Barayev gave the order to give up the cell phones, peoples nerves began to give out. Only one girl, who said she was a journalist, could use a mobile phone to the very end. The gunmen asked her to make contact with negotiators who could do something about the drawn-out process. Despite the fact that there were people in the auditorium who could, as they say, walk into the top offices without knocking the ambitious journalist didnt let anyone use her phone.

She brushed off all who wanted to help. There was one moment when the press could have cause great damage. When the radio broadcast information about how an FSB colonel was in the auditorium with his wife, the terrorists were rushing about the hall checking documents. They looked for the FSBnik by row, and combed everyone and everywhere. Later they found on the floor under a seat a colonels ID. It turned out that the FSB officer was of Georgian nationality and being a fellow countryman from the Caucasus they had let him go right after the capture of the theater. The terrorists were in shock from such a vexing mistake. The next mistake the media made was when they started to broadcast live all that was going on in front of the theater building. On seeing the movements of the special forces, the bandits began to bustle about. They prepared retaliatory measures. Barayev came running and gave the gunmen some orders. They forbid the hostages to move around the auditorium. Right away they covered the approaches to the orchestra pit toilet.

The tensest moment came on the third day, says Vladimir. Everyone was terribly tired. The gunmen were worrying. Weapons safeties were off. I felt the end approaching and put on my boots and jacket and prepared for the assault

The majority noticed the sleeping gas coming into the auditorium, but they were knocked cold in an instant. Kovalenko woke up in a hospital. His throat hurt a lot. Later they told him why: it turned out that they had placed a rubber tube in his throat to give him artificial resuscitation.

I bow down low before the medical personnel of the Moscow hospitals. The physicians, in my view, did everything possible to save people. All kinds of medicines were brought to the hospital in large quantities. They did injections and performed analyses. There was never a shortage of mineral water or juices in the wards

Those who died, according to Vladimir, were mostly hostages who suffered from chronic diseases, or had heart attacks.

And still Ill say one thing, even though Icant twist my tongue to pronounce this word. Vladimir Kovalenko does not wish to accentuate the awful in order to attract attention, but what was, is what was: after the special forces conducted the operation and the shooting had quieted down, more than a few looters were caught among the policemen who entered the theater. Even the Russian press has mentioned this in passing. The Alpha team troops wrung the necks of everyone who was caught red-handed, but either way, many womens handbags and purses did not manage to avoid being sanitized.

Someone snatched a gold watch off my wrist, says Vladimir Kovalenko. Yes, and to heck with them, and with watches. Its disgusting, certainly, and insulting. After all, a majority related to our misfortune as people. But, like they say, theres no family without its freaks. God will judge them, but nows the time to think about other things

Weve driven up to the house. Alexandra Mikhailovna opens the door to her son. She hugs him and bursts into tears. She presses her son to herself and does not wish to let him go for even a second.

Oh my darling, Ive been waiting for you for so long

< Prev   Next >