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N.Lyubimov, A.Rozovskaya, M.Shumsky, M.Kazarinova, and others tell about the events
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, 25 2003

By Alexander Rochlin, Alsu Guzairova, Natasha Afanaseva, and Pavel Rybkin


Nord-Ost a year later

Not long ago, just 12months, 129people died during the hostage rescue operation in the DK (Palace of Culture) on Dubrovka. It is still unclear if these losses could have been prevented, and the government is silent on this account, so we turned to people who lived through this nightmare and asked them to narrate how it has changed their life and how they have been doing for the last year.

Nikolai Alexeevich Lyubimov, age 71, a watchman at the theatrical center on Dubrovka:

The story of my year? For me it began as it did for all the northeasters, on October 23rd. I came to work in my guard booth, and at 9p.m. or so Ibecame a hostage of the Chechens. I sat in the 12th row, all the way to the right. On the 26th there was the assault and poisoning with the gas. Coma. I ended up in Veterans Hospital #1. My pulse was 40, respiration was 3per minute, and my blood pressure was 60over 20. I was dead. At first it was dark, and later these orange words flashed by: massage, adrenalin, all that the doctors were saying was fluorescing there in front of me. Finally one doctor bent over me, picked up my eyelids, took a look and sighed: Thats it, get him ready for the morgue. And here Iam flying up through a tunnel and all around was this silvery-pink light and Iwas completely weightless. I was in a condition of complete bliss, but Istarted praying: Lord, any other time, but not right now! The thing was, in August my wife and Iburied our 44- year-old son. If Iwere to die, then Inessa would simply never have been able to cope. Suddenly Ihad this feeling, that Ihad stopped and then later Istarted to fall slowly, slowly downward in a spiral like a tiny feather. I ended up again in the resuscitation ward. At my head stood a doctor and at my legs was a monitor, and on its screen was a flat, green line. Then there was a beat. Then another. The pink glitter disappeared and Ifound myself once again in my body.

Though my body was not the same as before: the whole left side is gone. My left arm hangs like a big sausage, and my left leg can barely walk. They discharged me on November 18th and Iam still making the weary rounds of doctors. I do not enjoy being sick, and before these events Iwas full of strength and energy. I just figured that Ihad to work while my legs could still carry me, but now Iam suddenly a cripple. I had three months on sick leave, and then they sent me to the agency and assigned me handicapped status, and on that same very day this February they fired me from the DK.

This summer Ifiled two lawsuits in the Tverskoy court: compensation for psychological damages, and restoration of lost income. Neither one has yet been satisfied, but Ifound out a lot about myself during the court sessions. For example, that Iam sticking my hand in the pocket of all retirees and invalids, that is, with my lawsuits Iwas even robbing myself. But after all, they stole my health and took away my job. I asked for three thousand rubles (about$110 ed.), not the 1800that Iam getting now, of which Ihave to use 1500for medicine. They smashed the TV-radio that Ihad in my guard booth, and a good leather coat with liner went missing, and my boots and winter hat. The judges said, by the way, that the TV-radio was indeed a terrible loss, but Iwould have to prove that all the rest actually existed. That is, Lyubimov the guard came to work naked, but remembered to bring his TV-radio.

Alexandra Rozovskaya, age 15, who played young Katya Tatarinova in the musical:

For the past year my progress in school has not changed. I used to get 3s (Cs ed.) in chemistry and Istill do. On the other hand, Iget a lot of 5s (As ed.) in literature. Now Iam thinking about what educational institution to attend after 11th grade. There are several choices. Dad wants me to go to the actors college, and mom talks about the journalism school, while grandma says Ishould learn to be a synchronous translator. I find all these very interesting, but Ihave doubts about a career as an actress. After all, if one is to be an actress, then they must be famous, but Iam not 200percent certain that Ican make it.

I have been forgetting the details of Nord-Ost little by little. I practically cannot remember the faces of the terrorists. I only remember one Arab who we called Ricky Martin: he was very similar to the singer. I still remember the smell of the gas. It is hard to put it into words, but Ifelt how it got deep inside my nose and started to burn, a little like smelling salts. When Iremember it, for some reason Iassociate it with the color brown.

When they sent the gas into the auditorium, my girlfriend and Iripped to pieces an old dress that Ihad brought in. We gave pieces to those around us and wet them with water and put them over our noses. We were sitting in the balcony. I wrapped myself in the wet rag and laid face down on the floor. My girlfriend Kristina was lying on her back. I remember that at one moment her hand together with the material slipped from her face. It seemed that she had simply fallen asleep, but later it was determined that Kristina had died. My cousin Senya also died at Dubrovka. I miss him a lot. It has already been a year, but it always seems to me that Iwill meet him again soon, and this endless waiting torments me.

After the hostages were freed many said that it had been easier for the children there than for the adults, since we did not understand anything. This is not true. It seems to me that children catch on to some things quicker than adults. For example, it is still unclear to me why the Americans have lost fewer people in Desert Storm than were killed during our rescue. I still do not understand why they injected me in the neck when giving me first aid, but then gave my friends shots in the arm or leg. And someone had the treatment three or four times, and other people were simply forgotten about.

When Icame home after the hospital, none of my classmates or friends called me. This was very annoying, but later it turned out that a psychologist had told them not to bother me. For a long time, whenever someone outside would walk pass the windows of our classroom, Icaught myself thinking that at any moment they would come inside and take us hostage. I would think about which direction Iwould run and how best to stack the desks on top of each other to barricade the door. I also dreamed about Red Square being captured.

Now Ihave begun to better understand my mother. Before, whenever we were to head out to the dacha and Iwanted to stay home alone, if she did not excuse me Iwould get angry. I asked what could happen? Now Ido not ask such questions anymore.

Mikhail Vyacheslavovich Shumsky, age 36, violoncellist:

One of the main events of the year following Nord-Ost was the memorial concert for Yevgeny Kochat, who was perhaps my best friend. He died during the assault, and he is now in the M.I.Glinki museum. There was an exhibition of Genes photography, and they played his favorite work, Metamorphosis by Richard Strauss. It was directed by Maxim Gudkin, who was the director at Nord-Ost and also one of the hostages.

Another event of this year Isat down and seriously learned how to use a computer, and then the entire family did. At the end of February Ibought one and realized that it was that Ireally needed. A real gamer computer with all the fixings: an over-clocked Alton, a gigabyte of memory, two fans and a whole lot of everything. My computer is only for games. First-person shooter now that is me. Certainly, it is too bad that Gene is not around anymore so that we could do some photography together. I will never again have friends like Kochat, and like Volodya Zhulev, who was also in our violoncello group and also died, but the computer has helped a little to get over the lack of someone to associate with.

Now Iam working in the Presidential Orchestra of Russia. Our director, Pavel Borisovich Ovsyannikov, wrote a remarkable ballet that was commissioned by Thailands ministry of culture, titled: Katya and the Prince of Siam. It is about how a Siamese prince at the beginning of the last century is attending a military academy here and falls in love with some Katya, but later he is summoned home to rule. Well, the lovers must part: Katya is not allowed to go to Siam. Such lovey-dovey. And that was the year for me.

AlexanderM. (who asked that his surname not be used) was a sergeant in the rapid reaction force and took part in the hostage rescue operation:

I was serving in the interior ministry forces, so such nighttime blow-ups were a normal thing. They brought us to the scene and our first assignment was to preserve public order. On the first day we did not even have ammunition. On the second day they gave us a new assignment: to provide fire support to forces in the event of an assault.

What did Iexperience? Fear. Cold. For practically three days Idid not sleep, Ionly got two or three hours of shuteye in a bus, and that was it. Hunger. The Red Cross, thanks to them are in order, they organized a feeding point, but the police mostly got to take advantage of it: soldiers could not leave their combat post without orders. All the commercial stores in the area jacked up their prices. I would have to say that my respect for the merchants in the capital has dropped a bit: business is one thing, of course, that is clear, but this is crap, making a living on misfortune.

The members of parliament were very annoying. Okay, Kobzon, he was the first to arrive, he went over and he really got some useful results. Then later the parade started. Everyone who was not too lazy tried to show off for the cameras, instead sitting on their fat asses where they were supposed to be. Instead of keeping track of the captured building and the hostages, we stayed busy guarding these fools who were putting on their own little shows. I personally chased Ampilov away with a kick in the pants.

Well, but when the assault began, we got the order: everyone who comes out of the building knock them to the ground and search them, to find the Czechs (Chechens).

We wait. No one comes out. Only one woman came out and immediately she fell on her back. When Iwent inside the building Isaw a girl lying there unconscious, so Icarried her out. I went inside a second time and Ifound myself getting woozy. After all, they had not warned us that they had used gas.

Later Iwas lying in the hospital, getting over the results of the intoxication. I had only a month until de-mob (demobilization, i.e.: end of service ed.). I thought that Iwould get out and finish college.

But later Iunderstood that Icould not live as before. I knew for certain that you are either with them, or against them.

Like my comrades in arms, Ihave left the Pepsi Generation and Ido not care anymore about discotheques and rock concerts. You know, Inever went to Tushino (military museum and open air concert hall ed.), and neither did my friends, because we knew that such mass gatherings were dangerous. Nowadays Icannot accept girls my age as simply girls: Isee them as helpless beings that can become victims at any moment. So Idecided to stay in the army. It is true, you cannot live on 4500 a month (about$180 ed.) and so Ihave to get a part-time job making furniture.

Maryana Konstantinovna Kazarinova, age 32, orchestral musician:

Everyone sitting to my right died. They fell into some sort of a stupor: they would not talk with anyone, or do anything, or even want anything. We would shake them, but then they would once again fall asleep with their eyes open.

At a certain moment Ialso understood that it was the end. It was simple and without emotion: here is death, and here Iam. But later Idecided that if Istop on this thought, if Iwas to keep thinking it, with spittle dribbling out of my mouth, then it really would kill me. Then Ijust shook myself and moved away from it. I just ceased to feel like Iwas inside the events. It was, after all, a show, a stupid, awful show. People were walking on stage. They would shoo, and shout and smile and pull out bombs. I made as if Iwas not participating in any of it, that none of it had anything to do with me. Sometimes, of course, it would break down: how is mama, papa, what is going to happen to me? But Iforced myself to not think about, and to live as if Iwas someone else.

Almost the entire orchestra, 24people, was sitting in the second row in the stalls (the main auditorium ed.) The whole time we were playing cards. We played sea battle and those stupid clubs and zeros and laughed ourselves sick. And the fear went away. Oh, how mad Iwas at those bastards with the assault rifles, damn their eyes! They acted very courteous with the frightened people, took care of them, talked with them and filled their heads full of nonsense. They read them these prayers in Arabic that supposedly opened up the road to paradise. But they would not let me use the toilet: they sensed that Iwas not afraid of them. The last night, when Iwas ready to piss myself, Igot up without permission and went down into the pit. By the way, Iwoke up everybody to my left while Iwas getting out of the row. Perhaps this is why they survived the assault.

But when it was all over, when Iwoke up that first morning at home, Idecided that Ihad just had a normal, though very long, nightmare. And once again Ijust moved away from it, from the events. Nothing had happened to me. It is funny, but Idid not lose anything: my clothes or my instrument or my money, just the SIM card for my cell phone. The gas did not work on me and Iwalked out of the building on my own two feet. Nothing inside changed almost. I understood that life was a fragile thing. That it is as easy to break as a fingernail. But my earlier fear never returned. This year Iwent kayaking down river rapids not even knowing how to swim, and even though Ihave been afraid of heights since childhood, Iwent parachuting. I still cross the street on a red light. Butwhen Isee a woman in Arab national clothing, Ishrink inside and think: Now Im going to die.

Elena Anatolevna Prostomolotova, office manager whose daughter and grandson were hostages (her daughter Alexandra Ryabova perished):

I hate this country. I hate the government that spits on us. I hate Pugacheva and her in-law Baisarov who opened that Chechen gay club down at Dubrovka. When everything happened, there was lots of talk about how the terrorists got here, how they got into the theater. But any ticket girl from Dubrovka could tell you that they viewed the Chechens as their own, that they were used to seeing them there. They offended the mouse by crapping in his burrow. I have this written on a t-shirt and in my heart.

The tickets to the musical were a present to my grandson on his 14th birthday. We were all autumnal: my daughter was born in September, and Lyosha in October, and mine is November. I remember how those ill-starred tickets hung on the fridge under a magnet. My daughter bragged to her friends: Third-row center tickets, everythings going to be right there in front of us. I do not have them anymore, but on the other hand Istill have the sales slip from the clothing store: for his birthday we clothed Lyosha from head to foot, we spent around ten thousand (about$400 ed.) We bought pants and a jacket and a sport bag and all, but he only got to wear them for two days. They sent him out from the theatrical center almost naked, with the other children up to 12years old. Lyosha is our skinny boy, and he looked 12. Though at the exit one of the terrorists had his doubts, sort of like: you are a tall fellow, but Lyosha told him that it because of his boots.

The last time Italked with my daughter was at midnight of October 2425. The cell phones batteries were going dead, and all Icould hear was: Everything hurts, Ihave problems going to the bathroom. Later they took away the phones, but Icould still hear her, by telepathy. You know, Sasha was not just like a daughter, she was my best friend. We were always together, and we understood and supported each other. So Ican say precisely that this was Sasha talking, not my nerves or fears or delirium.

I looked for my daughters body for two days. On the lists of the dead were four Alexandra Ryabovas, and there was also a Ryabtseva and a Ryabushkina. For two days Idrove around, showing her picture to medics and asking: Is she here? I only recognized my daughter from her fingernail polish and her permanent her face was that swollen. Before they would give Sasha to me they demanded that Isign a statement: The body was given out without a right to a repeat exhumation. None of the other relatives of the dead hostages signed anything like this, and Iknow this for a fact. They probably shot her.

When they gave me her things Ifound a little notebook inside her passport. She had written in it. Here, for example: To Dima Ryabov! Dima, dont abandon the child, help mama! Sasha, 12:01 a.m. Dima Ryabov is Lyoshas father, and Sasha and he are divorced. Or this: Mamochka, Ill be at peace if Lyoshka is with you. Kisses. Apparently she already knew that she would die. I am still keeping the notebook in Sashas passport. Together with a clipping from the paper, an interview Idid with Barbara Brylskaya: My life ended with that of my daughter.

But Ido not allow myself physical death: Ihave a grandson. For a year after Nord-Ost Lyosha did not go to school, he only went from one doctor to another and rode on his skateboard for hours on end, trying to forget. They did a CT scan on the boy and it turned out that after what he went through his brain has shrunken. This can happen from shock. In June Lyosha and Iwent to the Moscow Court rest home, in Karlovy Vary, which was paid for by the Blagovest charity. For two weeks we rested. The 150thousand rubles ($6000 ed.) that the Moscow city government paid us disappeared in a flash: a memorial service, medicine, and doctors. It was as if the money never was.

I am very thankful to the banker Vasily Shachlovsky. He helped Lyosha get into a good school and he sends him 300dollars a month. This man was among the entrepreneurs who wanted to help the victims, and Lyosha especially inspired him. He said: I was an orphan at 14, too.

Now we are getting ready to move to a new apartment and are packing up our things. We cannot live here, because everything reminds us of Sasha. I am saving up to buy her a marker, but for now there is just a tablet on her grave, like all the others.

Alexander Mikhailovich Telenkov, age 31, a rescuer in unit #6 of the search and rescue service, western Moscow district:

During those days when the assault occurred Iwas the head of the duty shift for the western district rescue unit. That evening, on orders of the chief, a reserve unit of rescuers arrived at the base and it was sent out to the theatrical center. At about half past five they called us to go there, together with crews of rescuers from other units in the city. At night the roads were free and we got to the theatrical center in about 15minutes. Just as soon as the special forces finished their work, we were ordered to start the evacuation, and they explained: The victims need to be carried out into the fresh air immediately.

When Iran into the auditorium, it was deadly quiet: people with ashen faces were sitting in the chairs, not breathing. But they had no wounds, and no one had shot them. It was clear that we could not do resuscitation in the hall: you could sense the choking smell of some kind of a gas. We started right away working according to the grab and carry principle: we carried the victims out onto the porch and handed them over to the medics, the physicians from the rescue teams.

Neither Inor any of my colleagues have flashbacks to this. I can tell you that if Ithought about all the dead Isaw in my line of work, then long ago Iwould have ended up in the nut house. Every rescue team member in Moscow has maybe two or three out of ten that cannot be saved. Car crashes. Gas explosions. Drownings. Suicides. Transport accidents. I am not impressionable, and Icannot say that it is some kind of a psychosis. Like the academician Pavlov said, temperament is in the genes, and that is how it is with me.

Murat Artavevich Novruzbekov, a surgeon of the Sklifosovsky Institute:

Early on the morning of September (sic) 24th several groups of doctors of various specialties were sent to duty at Veterans Hospital #1. Firstly, we were astonished by Nord-Ost, and there it was, right next door. From the wing of the hospital to the DK on Dubrovka were only thirty or fifty meters. We were all surprised: how could they set up a hospital so close to the center of the catastrophe? After all, if there was an explosion, then nothing would have remained of the hospital, and they would have had to give us medical assistance.

Honestly speaking, Iremember a lot of disorder, a very serious type of confusion. Theywere little things, but to educated specialists they say a lot. It was basically impossible to get to the hospital: the entrance was so narrow that only one vehicle could pass, and there was no way to back up for oncoming traffic. If the ambulances were to come all at once, then it would be a traffic jam. And really, thats how it turned out: when there was a massive influx, then the vehicles just got all bottled up.

As soon as we got there they were ordering us about: unload right here. We start to unload, and some soldiers run up: Are you crazy! Stop! This is a zone of (combat) fire, get out of here!

We were in general poorly informed. Really, the readiness was at number one, but we were preparing for an influx of victims with surgical pathologies: explosives trauma and gunshot wounds. But in fact of the several hundred victims we only operated on two, and all the others needed a completely different kind of assistance. It would have sufficed to prepare in advance several sets of respirators, and then a lot more people could have survived. When the arrival of mass casualties with signs of hypoxia and asphyxia began, we did all that we could with our bare hands. There was no difference in who was a specialist or who was a resuscitator, who was a surgeon or a doctor of science or who was a bureaucrat everyone went to work.

But when it was all over, when we got information on how many had died, it was a shock. The reports tormented us: the operation was successful. I agree, had there been an explosion, the deaths would have been much greater. But to report about a successfully conducted operation when due such poor organization 127people died? I just cannot get this into my head!

I was astonished by the relationship between the special services people. I never saw any kind of cooperation between the services at all: they literally gnawed at each other. And swore. They brought a patient with gunshot wounds into the OR, and during the operation we removed a bullet. We were to hand this over to the detectives. But then everyone grabbed for it: the FSB, the MVD, and the prosecutors office! There was almost a fistfight over who was going to take the bullet. The FSB went about with their noses out of joint: You doctors! and cursed us. We asked the young men to show us some IDso that we could write down to whom we gave the bullet, but they said: Go to Hell! and all but gave us a rifle butt to the head.

If this were to happen again, then at least we already have some experience, but Iam certain that it will be confusion all over again. After a year not a thing has changed neither in the agencies nor in the methods for providing assistance. Yes, and they steal everything like they did before. But either way, somebody has to save people.

Elena Olegovna Lazebnaya, senior scientific worker with the RAN Psychological Institute, a specialist in post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD):

The events of October 2326left a deep imprint on the souls of all who had any sort of a relationship with Nord-Ost: the hostages, the rescuers, the physicians and even the average citizen who followed the assault on television. The consequences of what happened are only now showing up, after all, if you believe worldwide statistics, the height of stress arrives after the first two years.

When a person undergoes a trauma he tries as soon as possible to forget about it, to force the worries into his subconscious. But since the pain does not completely leave, he becomes excitable, aggressive, and seeks to get away from society. Often the families of patients with post-traumatic stress disorders fall apart, the victims lose their jobs and they develop a dependence on alcohol and narcotics. They try to commit suicide. This is already a serious societal problem. In our country there has never been a scientific examination of PTSD, whereas in Australia researchers have determined that two-thirds of the less fortunate layers of society bums, convicts, and drug addicts in the past had some sort of trauma and are suffering symptoms of PTSD.

What should society do in this situation? We have already learned the first lesson; we have changed regulations governing the mass media and limited the accessibility of information available for live broadcast. What the press published about the assault on the DK on Dubrovka should have been categorically forbidden. They never should have been allowed to show scenes from the auditorium with the unconscious hostages, and they never should have shown close ups of the dead bodies of terrorists. This gave even me goose bumps.

Right now society must give the participants of Nord-Ost social support. Once again the social programs in our country are very few. In the USA a very good system was set up after Vietnam. Over there, if a tragedy occurs, then before anyone else does, the president addresses the people, formulating his speech as part of the entire nations relationship to what has happened. Later those who distinguished themselves are recognized, and there are various memorial services, benefits are assigned, and memorials are dedicated. All of this occurs with a widespread, positive resonance in the press. This is done so that people do not find themselves alone and denied by society, but, on the contrary, so that they feel that they are heroes and that their country needs them.

As far as material support, there is a mountain of suffering. Among the audience at the musical were two of my students. All year long Iworked with them: we remembered what went on, and we tried to show how they distinguished themselves there in the theater. There turned out to be quite a lot: they helped the weak, they helped young children, and they did not panic. Since these girls are getting better, Iwould recommend this method for other victims and their loved ones: talk, talk, talk about Nord-Ost, try to accentuate all the positive experiences they managed to take away from this tragedy.

I would like to note that what the hostages at Nord-Ost went through really does have a positive side. According to worldwide statistics, only 6to 7% of PTSD sufferers have serious problems, while 93to 94% master their grief and remain fully capable. A person is forged into a stronger individual, especially during emergency situations. We will have to hope that the events of October 2326of last year will for the majority of the Nord-Ost veterans be a starting point for their personal growth.

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