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Hostages Chukhrina,Abdrakhimov and others tell their stories
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, 28 2002
57 Hours of terror: Eyewitness accounts
In ‘Novosti Rossii’
The gas used during the hostage rescue operation as a non-lethal weapon took several minutes to act, so the terrorists could have been able to set off the bombs they had planted in the theatrical center. Whythey did not do this is a mystery.
Olga Chukhrina, a hostage in the auditorium during the assault, reported this to NTV.
According to the woman, when she noticed the suffocated aroma of the gas, she pulled the collar of her sweater over her face.She was even able to move to another row before losing consciousness. Shealso noted the terrorists, once they noticed the gas, began to move about the hall. Since they had sufficient time to set off their explosives, hundreds of hostages owe their lives to a miracle.
Teacher saved children by putting wet napkins to their faces
“When they released the gas after the first hostages were shot, Isaw a terrorist sitting on the stage jump up and try to put on a respirator,” said one of the former hostages now in a hospital. “He made several convulsive movements, trying to get the mask on his face, and then fell down.”
The former hostage also said he saw a teacher sitting nearby, who had come to the show with her students. Theteacher wet some napkins and put them to the faces of the children next to her. “Because of this, she saved several children before losing consciousness herself,” added the eyewitness.
Orchestra pit was wet with urine
‘Nord-Ost’ performer Marat Abdrakhimov told ‘MK’ in an interview: “You know, their strategy was to frighten us. Theywalked around shouting, and one man jumped up and started running, to where Idon’t 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 weren’t 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.”
On the day the terrorists seized the building, a girl was murdered out of sight of the audience
“She shows up an hour after we are all reseated,” continued Marat Abdrakhimov. “She opens 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’ll shoot, and she says: ‘Go ahead and shoot!’ and so they’re 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. Theydidn’t kill any hostages, but Iam of the opinion that they were provoking it. Whatreally went on? There’s a lot that didn’t make sense, and Ihad this feeling that Iwas going nuts from hunger.”
Hostage: “They tossed little chocolates to us as if we were dogs”
The terrorists who held hostages in the theatrical center on Dubrovka for almost three days were trying to break their will, according to Interfax employee Olga Chernyak. Shewas freed with the other hostages last Saturday as the result of a special operation by the federal armed forces.
“They (the terrorists) didn’t let us sleep,” said Chernyak. “They tormented us, with music and the lights. ‘Sit up straight’ and so forth and so on. Wewere pretty much not allowed to move around, except to go to the toilet. Theyhad this Muslim music, on cassettes. The(terrorist) men all slept in shifts, on mattresses they drug in from somewhere. Theyweren’t bothered. Theyonly bothered us, trying to break our will.
“Practically the whole time we were hungry,” continued Chernyak. “Food was whatever they had. Theybrought in juices and water, everything they could get from the snack bar. There were various Santal juices, but no regular water. Thewhole time we were thirsty, and one little bottle of Fanta four ways doesn’t do the trick. Later we started saving water and drinking less, because they stopped letting us use the toilet. Thetoilet was awful. Everyone had to go use the orchestra pit, and it was a nightmare. Ifyou made any kind of false move, right away you got fingered and the finger was the barrel of a pistol in your face and they’d say: ‘Sneeze and you’ll meet Allah’.
“Later they tossed little chocolates to us as if we were dogs,” said Chernyak. “Rossiya-brand candy, tiny things, and gum.”
Asked if the terrorists were hysterical, the Interfax employee told of how they beat a fellow for “incorrectly” leaving the orchestra pit toilet. “They kicked him around, it was horrible. Apparently he either didn’t leave the toilet on time or hadn’t asked permission to go or something. Theybeat him up for no reason,” the Interfax employee said.
“I think that’s hysteria, beating up a man just for going to the toilet. Ithink it’s pure hysteria.” According to Chernyak, “the people were very calm. Somewere crying, but we tried to comfort each other. Weexplained that tears didn’t help things, and that we had to sit calmly,” she said.
“The children were very quiet and correct,” noted Chernyak. “None of them whined or anything. Thechildren behaved perfectly, sometimes even better than the adults.”
Terrorists were getting ready to shoot “the juiciest”
Later evening on Friday there were indications that the terrorists were preparing to massacre the hostages.A source with the Russian security services reported to Interfax that a telephone conversation that took place late Friday night between one of the terrorists and an accomplice located outside of Moscow. Inthe phone call, the terrorist said the following word for word: “Tomorrow the work begins and we’ll be doing some shooting. We’ll start with the juiciest ones first.”
Hostages: We were saved from imminent death
“Had it not been for the assault, we’d be dead,” declared Interfax employee Olga Chernyak, who was one of the hostages.
“We were all waiting for death. Weknew that they’d never let us out alive. Wedidn’t believe they’d let us go, even if they carried out their demands and removed forces from Chechnya. Theterrorists, especially the women, told us flat out: ‘We came here to die and we all want to go to Allah, and you’re all going with us’.”
“Allah is God, that’s what the terrorists told us,” said Chernyak. “And they said they wanted to go to his kingdom. TheChechen women with the terrorists said they would be glad to ‘gain freedom’ and were going to blow themselves up. Whensome kind of noise would start around the building, the female suicide bombers immediately ran around the hall and dispersed themselves among the seated hostages. Theygrabbed at their belts and shouted that they were ready to blow up the whole hall and themselves along with everyone in it.”
According to the Interfax employee, early on Saturday morning the terrorists started killing hostages. “Right in front of our eyes they killed two hostages, and man and a woman,” said Chernyak. “The man was shot in the eye, and there was a lot of blood. Iwas sitting in the stalls (main seating) in the middle of the hall, and it all happened right next to me.”
“We knew that the shooting had started and suddenly we noticed some kind of gas. Prior to this there were periodic smells in the hall. Apipe leaked, and something else had happened. Everyone was used to it, even the terrorists, so they apparently didn’t pay it any mind when the assault started. WhenI realized that it was gas, Iremembered what my grandfather told me. Hewent through the entire Second World War and later worked as a veterinarian. Nextto me was my husband, and we both pulled our shirts and clothing over our faces and tried to moisten them with anything. Afterwards Ifainted and woke up in intensive care.”
Olga Chernyak is convinced that, without the assault, the terrorists would have lost patience and killed every hostage.
“More than anything we were afraid of an assault, so we prayed for a miracle to every Saint we could think of”
“When the assault began, Iwas sitting in the fourth row in the stalls,” recalled one ‘Nord-Ost’ performer. “We couldn’t sleep, even though we wanted to very much. Wedidn’t know anything: did Putin know about us or not? OneChechen said: ‘We are absolutely certain that Putin will write you all off and you’ll 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’. Morethan anything we were afraid of an assault, so we prayed for a miracle to every Saint we could think of.
“I wasn't 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 right grabbed ‘Nord-Ost’ t-shirts. Nowthey’re showing them on TV, laying dead in our t-shirts.
“When the ventilation was switched on, Isaid: do you know what would be cool? Ifthey release some kind of sleeping gas. Nextto 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.”
Commandos were inside the building long before the assault
“Pulling out blueprints of the building, the security officials wanted to know where were the ventilation ducts and shafts,” said one of the theater technicians. “The night before the assault, one of the commando groups entered the first floor of the building, where the technical facilities are housed. There are big windows in there everywhere, as big as a man. Theterrorists were afraid of snipers and never went in there.”
“When the hall resounded with automatic weapons fire, we were in a first-floor storeroom with the commandos,” one of the technicians who serviced the theater building recounted in an interview with the publication ‘Kommersant’. “So the ‘Alphas’ started talking on their radios with someone, and judging by their conversation, they got the go-ahead for an assault. Thegroup that was with us did not join in the battle. These commandos went over to a hole in the wall that led to the ventilation system. Someof them took backpacks from their shoulders, and pulled out tanks that resembled those that scuba divers use, only smaller, and made out of plastic instead of metal. Idon’t know what happened next: before they released the gas they led us civilians out of the building and out past the police cordon.”
Hostages did not get under seats when the assault began
Eyewitnesses said that stun grenades preceded the gas attack. Fromdozens of under-barrel grenade launchers, commandos opened fire on the huge ‘Nord-Ost’ poster that covered the second floor windows of the building façade.The grenades punched through the fabric and glass and flew into the room, exploding. People were literally deafened and blinded.
“The terrorists thought that commandos had penetrated into the building and were dropping grenades down on them from the balcony,” recounted one of the participants in the assault. “They began returning fire, and their attention was diverted from the hostages. Thefiring subsided after a moment, because the gas started to take effect.”
“I didn't understand what was going on,” said hostage Sergey Novikov. “The assault began when we were asleep in our seats. There were gunshots, explosions, and then my throat got very tight. They(the terrorists) warned us that if we tried to take cover during any shooting they’d blow up their bombs. Sonobody got under the seats. Everybody just ducked and covered their head with their hands. Thenit got very stuffy. Icouldn’t even move. Itwas like Iwas paralyzed, and Ithought it was the end. Then, Idon’t know how much later, Ireturned to consciousness. Someguy in a dark uniform was carrying me on his shoulder. Iremember that in his other hand there was a long rifle. Hewas probably a sniper.”
Gas also affected the commandos
The gas not only had an effect on the terrorists and hostages, but also the commandos who took part in the assault. According to Kommersant', even though the men of ‘Alpha’ entered the building after giving themselves injections to block the effects of the gas, the second-echelon SWAT squads who followed ended up being poisoned.
“We were supposed to clean up after ‘Alpha’,” said a commando named Alexander. “Kill the terrorists and carry out the hostages, but we ended up needing help ourselves. Wehardly swallowed a breath of air in the hall when the whole squad started to puke as if on command.
“In contrast to the hostages, however, none of our commandos received serious intoxication. Thiswas probably because of their excellent health and good physical condition. Whatalso played a role was that we didn’t spend a protracted period in the poisoned auditorium, also in contrast to the hostages. Following SWAT into the building were officers from the Civil Defense and Emergency Ministry departments of the capital.”
Rescuers did not know ‘H-hour’
“None of us were warned in advance about ‘H-hour’,” said rescue officer Yuri Pugachev. “We were sleeping in a minibus about a 100meters from the building main entrance. Explosions woke us up. After a few seconds there was a command on the radio: ‘Readiness one in three minutes’, but we didn’t even need this much time, and we all rushed into the lobby in a crowd. There was still shooting going on, so some people dragged us out and ordered us to take cover on the ground behind some cars parked in front of the center. Whenthe shooting stopped, we returned to the building. First we went upstairs to the second floor, which had already been cleared out by ‘Alpha’. Theleadership of the operation said that all the female suicide bombers were taken out before they could set off their explosives. Maybe so, but Ipersonally saw the dead bodies of several women in black, whose stomachs were literally ripped apart by explosions. Obviously the explosives were not very powerful, and the blast wave propagated in the direction of the terrorists.
“On the first floor were the most of the bodies of the terrorist men. Movsar Barayev and ten of his men were shot down in the snack bar storeroom, where the refrigerators are. There weren’t any windows, so the militants barricaded themselves in there to protect themselves from snipers out in the street. Butthe commandos they still got through the door. Theybeat Barayev’s boys like they were nothing.”
Rescuers had no special medicines to neutralize the gas
“While the sappers were disarming bombs in the auditorium, the rescuers were evacuating hostages. Almost none of them were able to walk on their own,” continued rescue officer Pugachev. “Many of them were unconscious. Wecarried them on stretchers, and, when we ran out of stretchers, in our arms. Allwho could still speak asked for one thing: water. Apparently headquarters knew the gas would have this effect, so they were constantly bringing cases of half-liter ‘Holy Spring’ water to the building. Wedidn’t give the hostages any kind of special medical care the doctors at the hospitals saw to that. Wetreated for shock and gave the usual painkillers.”
Yuri Pugachev maintains that the rescue teams had no special medicines to neutralize the gas’s effects on the victims, and they did not know what kind of gas it was. Itwas the first time they faced such a problem. Thevictims’ conditions were described as follows: “Either sleeping soundly, or dead. Cannot immediately determine.”
Witnesses tell how they were questioned
“I didn't notice the gas,” recalled Marat (Abdrakhimov). “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 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. Itwasn’t rude. Evenif they had dragged me out I’d 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’. Sothree of us, all were ‘controversial’ like me, we were put in the back of a jeep and taken to a nearby school. Mythroat was dry and Icouldn’t 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.”
Terrorists filmed video of the events in the theatrical center
“The first day after seizing the hostages, the terrorists made an amateur video of what went on inside the hall,” said one former hostage in an interview with Interfax. “They filmed close-ups of many hostages, and themselves, and everything that happened in the hall. They(terrorists) walked between the rows and did near and far shots, and filmed the auditorium from various angles. Theyeven filmed themselves.”
Then, according to the eyewitness, “a woman in the hall went up to the terrorists and said she was a professional journalist and could film it better than them and send it outside so that people knew what was going on inside the auditorium. Theterrorists agreed and gave her a camera.”
According to the former hostage, “the woman picked someone from the audience to be her camera operator. Itwas a gray-haired man. Theman held the camera, and he also went around the room, filming. Thewoman sat on stage and tried to talk during this with the first rows of hostages, asking them what they wished to convey, what they lacked, and what they wanted people to see.”
Then, according to the former hostage, the terrorists decided to release the woman. According to his description, she was wearing dark-frame glasses and wore her hair short. Whenthe woman left the hall, the Interfax source said he heard the terrorists ask her: “Is the tape with you?”
The former hostage believes that this could be the tape containing the video filmed by the terrorists themselves, as well as video the woman made. “But it’s possible that there are two different tapes,” he suggested.
The former hostage also told Interfax that, while in the hospital for the past few days, he has watched various television programs and was surprised that he did not see on any of the TV stations the video made inside the hall, first by the terrorists and then by this unknown woman. Thehostage said that either the film did not reach the law enforcement authorities and they do not know about it, or they seized it and for some reason decided not to show it.
The Russian Federal Security Service stated that at this time it has no information about the existence of a tape. “We are checking out this information,” said a source at the security service.
A source with the investigative group looking into the terrorist attack told Interfax that, “investigators have at their disposal several video tapes that were made inside the auditorium, and they’re all being studied as part of the criminal investigation.”
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