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Journalist eyewitnesses tell about the events
Written by   
, 27 2002

In a few hours itll all be over

In Izvestiya

On Friday evening forces began to reposition themselves near the Cultural center at Dubrovka. In a series of short sprints, a group of special operations soldiers headed in the direction of the theater. Snipers situated themselves on the ground around the theater perimeter, and the police cordon was widened significantly, pushing relatives and onlookers back several hundred more meters. This was explained by the fact that the terrorists had promised to begin shooting hostages at 6in the morning.

The policemen were nervous, and took it out on the people gathering nearby. At 11at night a rumor swept the square: in the morning the special forces would storm the building. Our FSB source on duty by the captured building confirmed this information. Watch TV tonight. In a few hours itll all be over, he promised Izvestiya.

At midnight, outside the cordon and not far from the bridge, a young man runs along with raised arms. It turns out that his son is inside the DK (theatrical center). The police are not able to catch him, and he enters the theater unhindered. Through my binoculars it is distinctly visible how he is met by one of the gunmen in the foyer. Ten minutes later, a special forces soldier passes through this same part of the cordon and goes inside as well.

Well, now Idont even know how to explain all this, says a young lieutenant on the barricades, shrugging his shoulders. They walk around like its the Tverskaya (a Moscow main street).

The special operations soldier tries to convince the man to come back. Through the glass doors one can see that the soldier is trying to lead him outside by force. The father, crazed with fear for his child, resists. This brawl clearly irritates the gunman, and the special operations soldier returns empty handed. A few minutes later, shots are heard in the building.

Well, therell be no more of that fellow, sighs the lieutenant.

At two in the morning two ambulances drive up to the building. Doctors carry two hostages from the building. As it was explained later, Tatiana Starkova and Pavel Zaharov had panicked and attempted to escape. Tatiana was wounded in the abdomen, while Pavel got a bullet in the back of the head, which exited through his left eye. By some miracle he is still alive.

At 3:20 a.m. two explosions are heard in the building, followed by a short burst of automatic gunfire. Then once again silence.

At 5:15 a.m. the silence hanging over the theatrical center is broken by shots from inside. The terrorists have decided to prove the seriousness of their intentions to the authorities and shot two hostages on stage in front of everyone. Panic starts in the auditorium, and people crowd toward the exit. The terrorists open fire from assault rifles.

At literally the same minute the decision is made to storm the building. A correspondent from Izvestiya is on the 7th floor of a building directly opposite the DK, observing events through binoculars.

Dozens of special operations soldiers move as one across the bridge parapet, and disappear in the region of the theaters right wing. When the last soldier is hidden from view, another group appears on the bridge. At this same time small units of special operations soldiers are trying to enter the left wing of the building. Snipers lying around the perimeter crawl closer to the entrance and provide covering fire against the windows. Haphazard gunfire is heard from all directions. Grenade launchers start to work inside. At six oclock there are three blasts inside the building, two of them very powerful. The blast from the last explosion pushes out the huge Nord-Ost banner over the center entrance like a sail. Huge holes appear on it. The blast was so powerful that glass in the stairwell where our correspondent is located is smashed to smithereens.

The first floor has been taken

From the shots coming from inside the building, it is apparent that close-quarters combat is taking place. Around the building soldiers set up in pairs, and they take turns shooting in the air, trying to distract the terrorists attention and attract it to them. Once again there are explosions, and two red rockets soar overhead. It is a signal that the first floor has been taken.

Under cover provided by Vimpel (special operations unit Pennant), the Alfa (special operations unit Alpha) soldiers enter the second floor. Another two powerful explosions are heard, followed by the sound of breaking glass. Special operations troops rappel from the roof, and enter through the broken second-floor windows. Suppressed shots from Val machine guns and the rifles of the special operations troops are interspersed with the haphazard, loud fire from the Chechen guns. From all directions, masked soldiers run toward the building, with white ribbons on their left sleeves this is so that they can make out their own people in the dark. After another few minutes all is quiet. At infrequent intervals single gunshots or short bursts are heard from inside. Columns of ambulances move toward the Nord-Ost building, along with fire engines and MChS (emergencies ministry) vehicles. The evacuation of the hostages begins. At 6:49 a.m. the first person is carried out from the center entrance. A big, strapping soldier carries a girl over his shoulder. Whether she is dead or alive cannot be determined. The only thing visible is that her coat is covered in blood. The hostage is put into an ambulance, which, with a wail from its siren, drives off from the square. A living stream has already been organized in the foyer. A row of MChS workers hand each other body after body. Who is asleep, and who is dead, cannot be made out, but many of the hostages are red with blood.

It is clear that there are not enough ambulances. Buses drive up to the central entrance, and the victims are now loaded into these. The MChS people carry a little girl from the building. Her arms lifelessly dangle, and her head is covered with blood. The rescuer tries to find a free ambulance, but they are all taken. The girl is put into the bus. After her, they load the body of a man who is almost torn in half. The bus drives off, carrying its casualties to the nearest hospital.

Every terrorist woman had a hole in her head

At 7:05 children come out through the central entrance, accompanied by soldiers. They are staggering, and the soldiers have to pick them up. Literally a minute later a woman in handcuffs is led out from the building. She does not want to walk, and continuously falls to her knees, or tries to get away. The policemen all but drag her along the ground behind them.

Towards 8, the stream of hostages lessens. The last victims are already being carried from the building. Sergey Voronin, an instructor at the central emergency airmobile unit Centrospas, was one of the first rescuers to enter the newly liberated theater:

We from central rescue went inside the theater building right after the assault. The boys from Alfa and Vimpel were still going down the corridors, and the blood hadnt even begun to flow onto the faces of the dead terrorists. Our mission was simple: as quickly as possible to get out of the building all hostages who were in a condition to walk, and carry out all who had fallen asleep from the gas. Our boss, Andrey Legoshin, had everything organized very well, and we started working using an assembly line method. Im built strongly, so Itried to choose my cargo accordingly. I carried someone out just in my arms, and another, Ihad to bring out on a stretcher. None of the hostages had any bullet or shrapnel injuries, and we were looking for these. But the Chechens all had bullets in their skulls. Even their women, who looked like they were sleeping, every one of them had a hole in the head, either in the temple or in the back of the head. We were ordered not to touch those that the special ops troops had killed, since the forensics people were to work with them. There was a heavy smell in the auditorium, but Idont know what was stronger the gas or the excrement in the orchestra pit, which the Chechens made into a toilet for the hostages. We worked without gas masks. There was a fresh breeze coming through the open doors. I didnt count how many hostages Icarried out. There was no time for that there. We carried from back to front, trying to hand people over to the medics as quickly as possible. We didnt have time for tallies. We got everyone out in less than an hour.

Several gunmen managed to escape

Two hours passed since the start of the assault. Deputy minister of internal affairs Vasilev reports, Several gunmen managed to escape from the encirclement and hide in the environs of the theatrical center. One of the terrorists was detained near a camera crew from NTV, when, pretending to know them, asked to use a cell phone.

The police contend that all approaches to the theatrical center are blocked. However, from the direction of Volgograd Prospect one can walk right up to the back of the building along the railroad tracks. From there one can get almost to the center of the city. Walking this route, our Izvestiya correspondent did not meet a single person. Investigators reported that a group of about ten gunmen managed to hide in the confusion. Their descriptions are known, but what is not known is where to look for them.

Near the polytechnic university, where relatives of the hostages were situated, a police cordon was put out. The protectors of public order, with their assault rifles at the ready, examined all automobiles leaving from the direction of the theater. A van drives up, with markings stating that it is from UVD (directorate of internal affairs) for the southern administrative district. It is stopped and carefully searched as well. But a black Volga with a siren and connected license plates and a Russian flag is not let through, since they have no pass.

A little further along some GIBDD (highway patrol) officers are frisking a wide-eyed Mercedes driver. He has the misfortune to possess the external features of someone from the Caucasus, and stands by his luxury car with his legs spread wide and keeping his hands on the roof. The open trunk is full of bags from one of the supermarkets, and a policeman is scouring these. Another policeman pulls a pistol from the bosom of the man he is searching. A third policeman chases away the Izvestiya correspondents watching the scene: Move along, theres nothing to see here.

 
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