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HostagesI.Chernena, T.Koplakova tell theirstory
Written by   
, 29 2002
Hostages Irina Chernena, Tatiana Koplakova, Maria Lebedeva, Elena Privalenko, and Alla Ilchenko tell their story
57 HOURS OF HELL
The hostages had to sign nondisclosure agreements, but they still told ‘MK’ how it was
It is a wild picture: a hostage comes out through the hospital gate and is immediately set upon by forty TV cameras. There are hugs and tears, and the words of their family: “Give a person a chance to recover!”
“Why do you all flock like crows? Wecan’t get at our loved ones because there are more journalists than relatives here!” We heard this outside various hospitals. “We won’t give you our telephone number, or even our name. Whycan’t you please just leave us in peace?”
Psychologists who worked with the hostages during these hectic days were no less categorical:
“Everyone reacts to stress differently, but there are two major reactions: violence, and emotional death. Aperson withdraws into himself. Hefalls into a stupor and does not wish to see anyone. Suchpeople should be questioned slowly, and very gradually forced to relive the incident. Thishas to be done very carefully, so as not to drive the pain even deeper.”
We found hundreds of phone numbers for ‘Nord-Ost’ hostages, and called up dozens of their relatives.
“I'm doing fine, but Ijust can’t talk about it right now.” This was pretty much what most hostages told us. “I’m sitting here with my closest friends, but we try not to discuss it.”
Day to day relatives of those discharged thank us for our participation, and willingly share their joy with us:
“Thank you. Somany have called us,” we heard in response. “We didn’t expect to get so much attention. We’re still at the hospital, but the tests look very good. Ijust talked with the chief physician and tomorrow or the day after tomorrow we’ll be discharged.”
We call another number, but instead of an answer there is a sob.
“Natasha has just come to, but before that she was in intensive care the whole time. Thedoctors said that her chances were slim,” said the mother of Natalia Alexandrova. “We brought her a cell phone, and she just now called us. Hervoice is weak, and she feels very poorly. Oh, girls, you just can’t imagine how terrible it is. Natasha is only 28and she has two children”
And once again, these terrible words:
“I don't know what happened to my friends.” 19-year-old Katya Shevchenko’s voice is dull and seems detached. “They still haven’t found all of them. Iwas in the musical Butwhere are the guys? OhLord, please let them still be alive!”
“Three months ago our friend Daniel’s wife and little daughter were killed a car crash. Hissister and his parents went to ‘Nord-Ost’ that night. He’s been searching for his loved ones the whole time, and just last night he discovered the terrible truth: his father and sister were dead, while his mother, though alive, was in critical condition.”
Over the last two days about 300former hostages have been released from city hospitals. Investigators have already questioned them, and everyone had to sign a nondisclosure agreement.
Here before you are the stories of those who not only feel fine, but also are well enough to tell about the 57hours of Hell they just lived through.
Irina CHERNENA, age 38, teacher at School No. 1314: “The night before the assault, they showed us how they’d blow us up”
“Six of us went to the musical. Iwent with my little daughter and with some former students, Arkady Gerasimov and Andrei Chulichkov, and their girlfriends Lyuda and Sveta. Idon’t remember the last names of girls. Weonly just met at ‘Nord-Ost’. Eventhough my boys had already finished school six years ago, we were still friends Allthe days run into each other like a white spot, but Ican remember some moments very clearly.
“I remember how it all started: there were the pilots on stage, the story is very patriotic, and so when these men in camouflage went on stage and no one looked surprised Ithought that it was how it was supposed to be. Butthen Arkady nudged me; he had been to ‘Nord-Ost’ before. Hisvoice was confused, and he said: That’s not in the script. Shots were fired in the air and the militants were absolutely sober and spoke very clearly, saying: We have nothing against you, just against your government! Somehow Ijust felt that this would take awhile, and the whole time Iworried about my daughter, Olenka. Thank God she was released right away when they let out the children. Onlyafter Icalled home and my relatives said she was home did Icalm down a bit. Butit was, of course, easier for us than for others: we didn’t have to change seats and so Icould talk a lot with the boys. Westuck together and kept up each other’s spirits.
“I tried to talk with one female suicide bomber who was closest to us, but she wouldn’t speak to us Onlythe first days were hard, it was stuffy and we very hungry, and that terrible orchestra pit and not being able to clean yourself up Thencame the torpor. Already we didn’t want to do anything, and we started getting used to this nightmare. Because of the heat Iremoved a lot of my clothing, and the militants also took off their camouflage and stayed in ‘civvies’. Someof them wore ‘Nord-Ost’ t-shirts.
“I knew right away when they released the gas for a second there was this pungent odor in the auditorium. Itold the boys to take off their clothes and breathe through them, and Itook off my blouse. Foranother second shots rang out, but we still breathed through our sweaters with our heads on our knees. Iremember the first few seconds, and the sound of running feet. ThenI passed out and woke up in intensive care.
“That they would have blown us up There could be no doubt. Afew hours before the assault, it was clear that something was up. Fora few seconds the female terrorists went around the auditorium with their hands on their belts. Iwas impressed by the clarity and speed with which they did everything. Itwas as if they’d practiced this more than once in this same auditorium. Eachone counted exactly six seats, and suddenly they were everywhere. Hadthey been given the command, no one would have survived.
“Andrei’s alive. Yesterday Ispoke with his father, and he’s still in the hospital. Theyhaven’t found Arkady yet. Wedon’t know about the girls, either. Thehead physician at Hospital #1, where Iwas taken, told us later that whoever thought to breathe through their clothing survived. Healso said that three more died of poisoning that night. Isaw that Andrei and Sveta were able to pull off their clothes and put them to their faces, but why couldn’t Arkady and Lyuda have been able?”
Tatiana KOPLAKOVA, age 18, medical student: “I was like a zombie and saw the entire assault”
“I was at ‘Nord-Ost’ with my mother and aunt. Wewere sitting in the mezzanine, in the second row. Wewere lucky since no gun was pointed at me, no one pushed my family around, and we didn’t get split up. IfI asked the militants for water, they gave it. IfI wanted to call my father, they’d let me call him on my mobile phone.
“I talked with the suicide bomber women. Oneof them was in charge of our row. Shesaid: Idon’t want to die, but I’m ready to die for the idea.
“The night before the assault the Chechens said: Tomorrow at 10am a representative of the President will come and all of you, perhaps, will live. Youshould have seen their eyes! Noneof us had any doubt that they’d still blow us up
“When the gas came Inoticed it right away. Fora second there was this gray-green mist, which evaporated right away. Isaw the militant women fall asleep immediately none of them managed to even lift a finger. Butthe guys weren’t knocked out. Theystarted running around and shouting something in their language, and shooting at random. Ididn’t fall asleep, and Iwatched the whole assault with my own eyes. Though, frankly, when the gas was released Ithought it was all over and that now we’d get blown up. Onlynow do Irealize that it didn’t bring us death, but life.
“Everything was lightning fast. TheAlphas (commandos) clearly knew what to do. There was no confusion and everyone did his part. After the shooting stopped, they started taking out the injured. Theyalso ran upstairs to us and asked: Can you make it out on your own, or do you need help? Iwas like a zombie and couldn’t figure a thing out. Ileft on my own two feet, but my mother and aunt had to go to the hospital. Thank God everyone is alive. Mymother’s at home, and my aunt was discharged today.
“It was impossible to negotiate with the bandits in any way, and there was no way anyone was going to end the war in one day. Weunderstood this very well. Weprayed for our security services: If only they could think of something so that Icould survive this!”
Maria LEBEDEVA, 18, student: “They were all definitely stoned”
“I was sitting on the balcony in the 34th row. We’d wanted to go to this musical for some time, but we never could find the time. Wegot to go quite by accident. There were a couple of us, and we got together in a cafe and that same evening we went and bought tickets.
“From the outset the terrorists behaved more than a little strange. Theytrembled at the slightest sudden movement. They’d all but yell at the hostages and throw things at us. Igot a feeling that they were very nervous and that something was bothering them a lot. Theyhad no nerve, and that was noticeable.
“On the balcony there were six terrorists: three women and three men. Theywere all definitely stoned! No, not drunk, but on drugs. Ican tell the difference between someone who’s stoned and someone who isn’t. Yes, and their behavior was weird. Theyhad this vague look, and they were always on the lookout, as thought the whole time they were messing around. Itdidn’t look like they’d been drinking, though Inever saw them shoot up, either.But who does that in public? Periodically they'd go out into the corridor, and probably there they got their ‘fix’.
“They fed us a little, but we weren’t hungry. Wedidn’t even want to eat. Thefirst night the Chechens gave the children sandwiches, but they tossed chocolates to us. Theyalso brought soda.
“From time to time each of the terrorists removed their mask. Icarefully studied the faces of the Chechen women. Itseemed to me that none of them were older than twenty. Theynever gave their names.
“All the terrorists talked with the adult hostages, but none of them spoke to the children. Theyanswered our questions calmly, politely, but they were very reserved, just a few words and no further details. Sometimes they didn’t understand us and asked us to repeat it. Mostlikely it was because of the drugs that they were slow reacting and scatter-brained.
“I don’t know when they released the gas, since Iwas already fast asleep. Ididn’t hear any explosions or gunfire. Ijust woke up in the hospital.”
Eugenia PRIVALENKO, age 15, schoolgirl: “I think there were about a hundred of them in the building”
“We sat in the second row of the mezzanine. Thewhole class went to the play. Whenthe seizure of the building began, we were moved to different corners of the room. TheChechens allowed us to talk to each other, but we tried to speak as quietly as possible. Werarely saw Barayev. Healmost never went where we were.
“We slept in our seats, though at the beginning the Chechens promised that we’d get blankets and mattresses. Weweren’t allowed to lie on the floor, and it was forbidden to move around the auditorium on our own, or get up from our seats.
“I think there were a lot more militants in the auditorium than they said there were. Every hour there was a new face in the hall. Youknow, this is very strange: after all, usually when you spend a few days together, you get used to everyone and you know exactly what everybody looks like, but hereI think there were about a hundred of them in the building.
Alla ILICHENKO, 28, accountant at a travel agency: “One hour before the assault the Chechen woman told me: It’s time to pray”
“I went to the musical to rid myself of this depression that had enveloped me a few days before. Something went wrong at work, and Istarted having problems in my personal life, so it is correct to say that troubles never come in ones. Moreover, that same evening someone stole my purse with all of my ID, but by accident I’d put my ticket to ‘Nord-Ost’ in my coat pocket.
“When the seizure of the building started, Iwasn’t even surprised or frightened. Icontinued to think about my problems. Atthe time Icouldn’t imagine that it would all last so long.
“I sat in the stalls, in the 15th row. Nextto me was one of the suicide bomber girls. Thepeople next to us almost didn’t even talk, so Ijust sat in my depressed silence. ThenI just had to speak with the Chechen girl. Atfirst she didn’t pay attention, then it was like it was nothing and she started to talk. Shesaid that last year her brother was killed, and six months ago her husband.
“She said: Ihave nothing to lose. Ihave nobody left, so I’m going for it even though Iknow it’s wrong. Andat this point it was even more frightening, because Iknew for sure that we wouldn’t make it out of there alive. Shedidn’t give her name. WhenI asked her age, she said that the oldest one there was 25.
“None of the militants changed into civilian clothes, or at least Ididn’t see them.They stayed in camouflage.
“On the second day the hall was very stuffy. Manytook off some of their clothes. Themost embarrassing point for me came when they organized a toilet in the orchestra pit. Theytook 20people at a time there, and it was quite a humiliating spectacle. Wehad to tear up our clothes and use cloth for toilet paper. Manyof the hostages had stomach problems and threw up right under the seats where they were sitting.
“I have no doubt that every terrorist was ready to blow up the building, and would have done it. Onehour before the assault the Chechen woman told me: It’s time to pray.”
In ‘Moskovsky Komsomolets’
 
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