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HostagesA.Treiman, B.Zhuykova and others tell their stories
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, 31 2002

The children who grew up too fast



We know how almost each and every minute of these tragic events unfolded to shake all of us, the nation and the world, but we have heard none of the ‘little truths’ from individuals who survived those difficult days. Today we give the eyewitnesses a chance to speak

Olga Treiman, snack bar attendant in the theatrical center: “At that moment when the terrorists burst into the room, I’d gone to wash my hands in the bathroom. Fromthe noise Irealized that there was something awful going on. Ididn’t know what to do. Twohours afterwards a gunman kicked in the door and drove me to the mezzanine. Isat next to the cleaning woman. Because of the stress, Istated having severe abdominal pain. Thewomen around me were whispering: ‘Press! Press!’ And the terrorists shouted: ‘She’s going to have a baby now!’ It looked plausible enough, because Iwas already in my eighth month of pregnancy. ‘For Allah’s sake, help!’ cried the cleaning woman. ‘For Allah’s sake you can be patient!’ barked one of the militants, but the Chechen women beckoned me to go, and so Iran.”

Valentine Zhuykova, doctor from the city of Kirov: “I came to Moscow for a conference, and, as usual, Iwent to the theater. Thefirst half of ‘Nord-Ost’, my colleague from Ukraine, Lyudmila Yakovlevna Kushko, she and Ireally enjoyed it. Thenthe second half started. Thepilots were singing and dancing on the stage, and then suddenly men in camouflage uniforms burst onto the stage and it looked like they were really shooting. Mycolleague and Iexchanged glances: Is this part of the show? Butnow we were forced to put our hands behind our heads. Werealized what was taking place when they beat two men bloody. Theytold us that they had taken the place hostage in revenge for what our soldiers were allegedly doing, burying 13-year-old Chechen boys alive and blowing them up. Wedidn’t believe these stories. Weall knew it was a lie, fake.

“I was not afraid for myself, but only for my children. Howwould they cope with the information about this horror? Howwould my sick, old parents hold out? Isurvived only because of them, simple because of the prayers for them.

“The terrorists brought a bomb to the center of the mezzanine, and all those terrible hours next to it stood a girl who held a pistol in one hand, and the detonator in the other, with her finger on the button. Shenever left her post, not even to go to the toilet. Itwas not clear what they had pumped her full of. Wewere afraid that when she got tired, she might accidentally press the button. Shestood there like this, and after many hours she revealed her face an eastern beauty. Whydid she need to kill someone and die in the process?

“It was very scary when they started shooting. Weimmediately crawled under the seats, and that is what causes stress: respectable underneath them bending into the most unimaginable positions. Theyall fit there, even though the rows were very close.

“When the gas came, there was a nice, tart flavor, and Isaw that a man had thrown a scarf over his mouth, so Idid the same. Theterrorists were running around, and apparently this accelerated the effect of the gas on them. Ididn’t wake up until Iwas at the hospital.”

Lyubov Kornilova, a resident of Sergiev Posad: “It was really scary when they started filming us. Theyaimed at everyone'’ face. Manytried to turn away so that relatives, who might see this film that we thought they wanted to put on TV, wouldn’t recognize us. Manythought: ‘They won’t see me and it won't not be so scary for them’. TheChechens said they were ready to release mothers with many children, but only if they didn’t live in Moscow. Icried out: ‘We're from Sergiev Posad!’ Ihad my two children with me, and Igrabbed a third child, a little girl named Dasha who’d been playing with my girls, and we ran to the door. Dasha was crying and pushing me away, and Iwas cuddling her little body and thinking: ‘Just shut up, don’t give us away’. Everything turned out all right, thank God.”

On the eve of the assault, Lyuba was telling this story out in the courtyard of the rehabilitation center. Spotting an interesting subject, a TV journalist went over to her with a microphone. “Lyuba, shut up!” shouted a man whose son was still among the hostages. “You must keep silent. Ifthe militants know you lied to them, they’ll get mad and it’ll be the end of our kids! Yourname isn’t even on the list of those rescued, and now you’re telling the world?” Lyuba left, weeping.


A black fence surrounds School No. 190, where most of the relatives and friends of the hostages spent these days. Behind school desks in the gym, adults learn to live with grief. Manyhave suffered heart attacks, or have come down with high blood pressure and hysteria. During the first days there was less of this, than during the very last day, when during the early morning it was suddenly announced: “There are 67victims.” (Later, this number would increase).

One man nervously smokes one cigarette after another: “I have severe asthma, but it’s gone now, even though I’ve been smoking six packs a day.”

Marina is waiting for her son, a senior in high school. Shetries to smile affably at everyone, without tears in her eyes: “We must buck up our children by keeping a good mental state. Ibelieve my son feels my spirit. Iwon’t give in to these reptiles.”

A very tall young man leaves his spot to grab a smoke. Every other moment he waits here, afraid to miss anything, just in case they say his wife’s name. Heis extremely hunched over behind a small school desk. Neighbor women, knowing the condition he is in, bring food to him here.

The people here do not notice the unhappy hours. Theydo not care what day of the week it is, or the date. Frozen time will only move from this place when the trouble ends. Atthe headquarters time is measured in periods: from the release of one group of people out of the theatrical center, to the next. For58 hours, almost no one has been released, and they sleep fitfully.

Representatives of the rehabilitation center that moved here during most critical moments try to calm the ‘floaters’. Silently, they endure abuse from the exhausted and confused people, and do everything possible to ensure that the situation does not spiral out of control. Psychologists are constantly walking around, sympathetically asking how they can help, trying to talk to whomever they find sitting with a fixed gaze, or crying. Fromone person to another walks Natalya Chistyakova, a 5th year student in the Psychology Department of Moscow State University.

“I couldn't sit at home,” she says. “I help with whatever Ican. After all, someone might need just to talk, while someone else might need to get sent to a doctor right away.”

All day long Episcope Georgy has stood by the black fence, in order to assist with the Word of God.

“I would go up to the terrorists and talk with them and try to reason with them,” he says. “But it’s not allowed. I’m confident that everything will turn out okay. Notlong ago the icon of the Holy Virgin of the Resurrection of Russia was revealed. Shesymbolizes the phenomenon that we have reached a dangerous juncture: either we slide into the abyss of Sin, or we finally turn towards the Light. People have begun to wonder why there is Evil, and it’s already been said that we’ll return to the right path. There is no need to wish harm on anyone. Theterrorists are misguided people. Wemust pray so that the Lord instructs their souls. IfEvil is born, then all are to blame. Eradicating it from our souls is the most difficult thing, but in this is our Salvation. Godforbid that we should descend into uncontrolled anger: from this we shall perish.”

Those sitting in the hall have no time for malice. Theylack the strength for it. Allof their strength is for but one thing: that their relatives survive. Thewalls of the school foyer are covered with telegrams: “To Maskhadov, Basayev, and everyone working for them in Moscow and abroad. Amother turns to you. Ibeg you to look out the window of the building. Iam a mother and Iwish to believe that you could deign to recognize maternal and paternal feelings.”

Nearby hang messages such as these:

“To Moscow, the hostage release headquarters. We, the teachers, students, and parents of School No. 26 in the city of Miass, are extremely concerned about the fate of the hostages at the theatrical center, and wish to express our sympathy to their families and friends. Wewould like to ask why is there no unity and understanding in our world? Webelieve that it should not just be delegated to various governments. After all, people were created for life together. Weare against evil on the earth.”

“Our thoughts go out to you. Wetrust in the best. Havepatience, courage, and hope. Lifeand courage will win. Fromthe relatives of the crew of the Tu-154 that died in the skies over Germany on July 1st, 2002.”

“Dear fellow citizens who find themselves in the hands of terrorists, the Women of Krasnodar, members of an organization of friends of the military, offer their lives for those of the hostage children. (Signed,) President of the organization of Afghanistan war veterans, Marina Krasina-Zemlyanaya.”

Self-sacrifice, it seems to me, has become a characteristic feature of these tragic days. WhenMoscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov was in the hall talking with us, a boy calls out to him from the back: “Yuri Mikhailovich, I’ll go in exchange for any of the hostages!”

“Oh, so you want to be hostage,” smiles Luzhkov sadly. “They won’t take me, and you all the more.”

“The terrorists started asking if there was a doctor among us,” says Lyubov Kornilova. “A dark-haired woman stood up on the balcony, where the children were. Itturned out that she was a Kabardinka (from the Kabardino-Balkaria Republic Ed). Butthe militants right away said that all so-called ‘persons of Caucasian nationality’ could leave the hall. Theyrepeated it to the woman, but she refused to go, saying she couldn’t leave the children. Itseems that her name was Maya.”


“The terrorists told us they’d prepared an attack for Vladimir Putin’s birthday, but it didn’t work out,” recounts Valentina Zhuykova. “Then the date was moved to October 19th, when ‘Nord-Ost’ was celebrating its first anniversary. Myneighbors on the mezzanine, the actors, when they heard this they were terrified because at the commemorative play the whole auditorium was full of with children.”

A man carries his newly released daughter in his arms to the bus. Sheis wrapped in his huge jacket. Sheis a slender creature, and looks pale. Sheis trying to sing: “La-la-la.”

A child’s inability to understand what happened is the defensive reaction that saves many children from breakdowns, but not all of them.

“On the mezzanine next to me was sitting the whole the children’s troupe,” recounts Valentina Zhuykova. “The two Katyas, and the Sasha Grigoryevs. Theysoftly sang to me everything Ididn’t get to watch or hear because of the militants. Ijust asked them: ‘Hush it down so they don't get angry’. Thechildren asked me: ‘Well, how do you like it?’ Wonderful children. Theywere always very hungry and Ialways gave them my share. Theywere so hungry just one snack bar cake divided four ways. Andthere was Max, whose nervous system suffered a lot from the hunger, so the men gave him their food.”

Spending every day at the headquarters were children from the Golden Section private school. Seniors Masha Chumachenko, Vladimir Sobolev, and Dasha Verbitskaya were happy to have already found all of their school companions, and talked excitedly:

“Among the hostages were 24from our school, 20children and 4teachers. Allthese days we’ve been here. Onlyonce briefly did we go home to fake a copy of Masha’s sister’s birth certificate. Wewere told that they definitely needed this to release children, so we thought that we’d make her younger and then she’d get released more quickly. Weworked our sorcery all night on the certificate, but it didn’t work: the terrorists heard when we started telling her on the phone. It’s good that we didn’t cause her any harm. Wejust had to do something. Nowthat awful stuff is probably all behind us.”

The psychologists do not think so. Literally the first hour after the hostages were released, they came into the hall and started teaching parents how to correctly behave with children who have borne great stress:

“Your task is to let the child speak. Don’t be afraid to ask. Ifyou notice strange behavior, this is a normal reaction to an abnormal condition. Usegames to change their role from that of victim of these past events, to the role of hero. Point out that they are heroes. Agirl showed courage, and a boy became a man.”

The children who have gone through this Hell have become more adult, but the main thing is that we, as adults, must collect this wisdom, and, in the future learn better than they, and, yes, protect ourselves.

By Irina Pulya, in ‘Trud’ (No. 197, October 31st, 2002)

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