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HostagesV.Popov and S.Il'ina tell theirtales
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, 01 2002
‘Lucky’ Volodya
He was on the Arbat when the governor of Magadan was killed there, and he was in a McDonald’s when a bomb went off.But then he went to unwind at ‘Nord-Ost’
When a tragedy like this happens, many people ask themselves: why did it happen this way? Whywere these people at this fateful spot at this fateful hour? Astrologers claim (albeit after the event) that it is all written in the stars. Superstitious people believe that it is preordained at birth, while the religious say that everything is in God’s hands. Oneway or another: we are not freely disposed.
The stories we are relating today ended happily, though some of the participants seemed pulled into the maelstrom of events as if by an evil providence. Atthe last moment, others hesitated in taking a seemingly inevitable step, but what is truly in our power is the ability to remain human during even the most inhuman situations. Thisis what our heroes did. Ifonly there were less of these situations.
Vladimir Yevgenyevich, geologist, came to Moscow from the Far East on a business trip. Onthe eve of his departure, friends who had already been to the capital drew up a sight-seeing program for him: he simply must go to Noviy Arbat, they said, and then go eat a hamburger at McDonald’s. Otherwise it was as if he had not even been to Moscow. Afterwards he should go and take in a theater show somewhere.
Arriving in the capital, Vladimir acted strictly according to plan. Heperformed his mission at a ministry, and on October 18th went to the Arbat first thing in the morning in order to buy his wife a leather handbag for a present. Somejostling started while he was there, and then the police ran up, pushing a lusting Vladimir from the shops. Inreply to his naive question: “What just happened?” someone yelled that a famous person had been killed Tsvetkov, the governor of Magadan! Theunperturbed provincial once again asked: “Right here on the Arbat?” but no one answered. Noone would give him the time of day.
On the next day, October 19th, he decided to visit McDonald’s. Heonly got a taste of his fries (he had not even started on his hamburger) when outside there was a blast. Glass went flying, and people screamed. Itturned that a car parked next to the McDonald’s had blown up. Miraculously unscathed, Vladimir decided: “I'll never so much as put one foot inside a McDonald’s again.”
So he decided to relax after all this stress. Heasked the lady at a ticket office where most Muscovites love to go. Ifonly the wicked lady had said the zoo, but instead she advised: “Go see a musical!”
The cashier even said, Vladimir recalled, that ‘Nord-Ost’ was the most emotionally powerful.
He wanted to go on Monday, but there were no good seats left, but there were good ones for Wednesday, the 23rd.
Vladimir: “When the people in masks and carrying guns jumped on stage, Ididn’t realize right away that it was serious. Iknew that a war scenario was assumed, but Ithought this was something avant-garde directors came up with.”
- What did people say? Wasthere a panic?
“We talked in little groups, with those sitting beside us and in front of us. Cells formed and we shared medicine and water. Onlythe foreigners panicked. Notfar from me were some Germans. Theywere a pity to look at, while ours talked a lot more.”
- About what?
“About everything. Theyspecifically recalled some household stuff, made plans about what to do what once they were released from there. Someone had to pick up underwear from the cleaners. Someone else needed to pay the phone bill. Infront of me sat a woman, and she told me about her niece and about her personal life. Ifell asleep, woke up, and there she’s still talking away like a babbling brook. Thiswas a healthy distraction from gloomy thoughts.”
- Did they talk to the Chechens?
“Useless. Theysaid that if negotiations didn’t happen, they’d start cutting our heads off and tossing them out into the street. Ihad no doubt that it could happen.”
- But some of the hostages said that the terrorists were nice and gave chocolate.
“They didn't give it. Theyjust tossed it into the hall. That’s different. Westill hoped that they’d released the women, so we wrote on the women’s programs phone numbers they could call to report about us.”
Vladimir handed his program to the musical’s producer, Georgy Vasilyev, in the next row. Georgy wrote: “This adventure has a happy ending.”
The only pity is that Vladimir lost the program during the assault.
“When the gas came Isoaked a handkerchief with water and pressed it to my nose. ThenI looked around. Ididn’t pass out until Isaw that the Chechen closest to us fell to her knees, and then instantly she fell asleep. ThenI realized that she hadn’t connected the contacts (on her bomb), and then Ifell asleep myself.”
Vladimir Yevgenyevich is reluctant to give his surname: “Well, just write Popov. Backhome a lot of people still don’t know what happened to me, and Idon’t want to frighten them.”
- Do such events often happen to you? Whatelse do you think you will visit while in Moscow?
“I'm a little tired here, but I’d like to meet my comrades. Somehow Ilost my program with their phone numbers!”
Vladimir has been standing out in the rain at Hospital No. 1for two days, waiting for the rest of his group to come out. Helooks closely at the faces of everyone who leaves.Toward evening, on the hospital threshold appears a light-haired, almost transparent girl.
“Ira! Ira!” cries my companion, forgetting about the rain, the journalists, and everyone around. Dropping his rain-soaked beret, newspapers, and something else, he pushes his way over to the smiling girl: “I found her! Wesat next to each other! Fourth row, seat eighteen!”
On October 23rd, Masha Gushchina was supposed to go to her dance troupe’s rehearsal, which was in one of the halls of theatrical center where the musical ‘Nord-Ost’ was showing. Atthe last moment, however, she changed her mind for some reason and rescheduled it for the next day. IgorDenisov, her favorite artistic director, had to rehearse the ‘Iridan’ troupe without her.
Masha adores Irish dance. Morethan two years ago she came to work out in a newly opened studio, and simply fell head over heels for the artistic director. Shewas 21, and he was 37. Theyfell in love. Theydanced together, and back at home all she talked about was dancing.
“I wasn't scared by the news of the hostage-taking,” says Mariya. “I even shouted to my parents: Look, that’s the wing where Igor and me work out! Iwas sure that Igor had already finished rehearsal and was sitting at home, but just in case Icalled him up, only, there was no answer. Thensuddenly Igor calls me on his cell phone, he says: I’m being held hostage, don’t worry, everything’s fine. Ifelt ill Itturned out that the guys stayed later than usual. Onedancer left 10minutes before the hostage taking. Shehad a sudden headache. Shedidn’t notice anything suspicious. Everything was quiet!
“At the moment of the capture their dancing heels were making such a racket that they didn’t hear anything. Theywere all heated up from the workout, and wearing shorts and skirts when they were taken hostage. Wethought that the terrorists would at least release our Georgian dancer. Herfather offered to trade himself for her, but nothing came of this.
“It was a kind of fatal destiny! Dancers from the Flamenco group that worked out next to us were, thankfully, they finished with rehearsal on time, but our dancers for some reason were delayed that day! Whenyou start to think about it, your head spins ButI understand what happiness is! Happiness is when your beloved is alive! Yesterday Iwas with Igor in the hospital. He’s still getting treated. Itwas as if Igor was under a spell: he only talked about our dancing, probably so as not to think about what he went through. Noweveryone who’s been discharged is going to clinics on the advice of doctors: the gas seems to be psychotropic and its effects may damage the liver. Theterrorists interfered with our creative plans, but in spite of them all we’ll hold a concert on December 1st. Cometo it!”
Svetlana IL'INA: Iwill definitely find him!
Svetlana was given tickets to ‘Nord-Ost’ by a girlfriend who was too sick to go. “I was so happy,” the girl said. “My first time at a musical! Ieven consulted with my friends on what to wear. Theother girls at work joked: Well, Sveta, don’t come back without a groom.
“During the second part Imoved from tenth row to an empty seat in the sixth. Beside me there was a young man, a real spectacular one! Iwas still thinking about how to catch his eye
“When into the hall burst these masked men. Heturned to me and said: How natural they thought this all out! Onlyten minutes later, when the bandits began to put explosives around the hall, we realized that everything that was happening was not a game.
“Only thanks to Igor was Iable to endure the horror! Heturned out to be a real man. Forall those days he tried to reassure our neighbors. Hetold stories and even jokes. Tohis left a woman was sitting with her daughters. Whenthey started throwing chocolate and water to us, Igor gave everything to them, and to me. Onlyoccasionally did he take a sip of water.
“During the time we were in the theater, Igor became for me my dearest person in the world. Hesaid to me: Talk in a whisper when you talk, and it’ll be easier. Itold him everything about myself: how we came from Kazan, how things weren’t great at work, how Iflunked my tests at the institute, but then he smiled and said: If you stay alive, I’ll help you with work.
When the terrorists gunned down a man who tried to escape, Iwas desperate. Inthe row behind us sat a woman, who told her neighbor: You need to sleep it’s not scary to die in a dream. Ifell asleep, but Igor nudged me in the ribs and said: Don’t sleep or you’ll freeze. Icame to in the street, where Ihad been carried by one of the commandos, but what Idon’t know what happened to Igor. Ican’t find him Idon't even know his last name! Iwent to the headquarters to look at all the lists and wrote down every Igor under the age of 30, and Iwill go every hospital and even the morgues. ButI believe he’s alive! AndI will definitely find him!”
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