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ParticipantsA.Shabalov, D.Kirtadze, and others, tell about the events
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, 05 2002

ByV.Vorsobin, A.Pavlov, Y.Snegirev, A.Selivanova, A.Kots, and A.Rodkin in Komsomolskaya Pravda

A few questions about the important matter: would it have been possible to avoid the numerous deaths among the hostages at the musical 'Nord-Ost'?

On Sunday, nine days after the assault in the theatrical center at Dubrovka, Russia remember its innocent dead.

Had not it been for the courage of the soldiers in Alfa and Vympel, there could have been many times more casualties: in risking themselves, they saved hundreds of lives. But did everyone on that awful morning and the night before act as professionally and efficiently? We need an answer to this question, for this is our debt to the fallen, and our responsibility to future generations.

Here is the opinion of the director of the Moscow rescue service, Alexandra SHABALOVA, on why there was no one to drag out the casualties.

How would you evaluate the hostage rescue operation?

One must divide the operation into two specific parts the liberation and the rescue. The first part was brilliantly executed. Seven hundred people were sitting on a bomb, and any of the fifty terrorists could have set it off. So far as Iknow, none of the hostages was killed during the assault, and none of them had gunshot wounds. At the moment the operation was complete everyone was alive except for the gunmen. But the second part of the operation was poorly organized.

The first to drag out the people were those same special forces soldiers, though this was not their assignment. Their duty was to carry out an assault and step aside, but there was the impression that all the hostages were dead. According to our doctors, they had no respiration or detectable pulses, and it seemed that there was no reason to hurry up and carry out corpses. Only Alfa knew what to do. They broke windows so that fresh air could get into the building, and, still wearing their heavy protective vests, they began to drag people from the auditorium. Had it not been for them everyone may have died.

Were the rescuers warned that gas had been used during the assault?

Neither the doctors, nor us, the rescuers, were warned us about the gas. Even though this may not have been possible to do before the assault, then they could have at least done this during it. After all, in our vehicles we have respirators, gasmasks, and devices for artificial respiration. But they told us only to bring bandage materials. And thats it!

They started to bring in some interior ministry soldiers. They entered the auditorium, smelled the gas and decided: why risk our lives if everyone here is already dead? Time was wasted on this.

What kind of medicine did they use in the rescue?

Naloxone. This substance is used to bring a person out from a state of severe narcotic intoxication. Only Alfa and we had Naloxone, since our service often has to go pick up drug addicts. But the ambulance teams had only two or three ampoules, and so the special forces soldiers and our doctors performed injections on the casualties, while other soldiers carried people to the buses. The medicine would run out every now and then, and we had to go drive somewhere to get more, and then it turned out that more people were carried outside than were taken away. Then the confusion began: since there was no one responsible to sort the casualties, some got two injections, and some didnt get any. There was a catastrophic shortage of medical teams. Later Isaw hundreds of ambulances by the Proletarskaya metro station, blocked by heavy trucks. It was complete chaos! No organization of entry and exit routes, and endless traffic jams. Valuable time was wasted on this! So people were taken by bus, private vehicles, and even in trucks, without accompanying medical personnel.

Doctors from the city hospitals called the Rescue services information center and said that they were receiving a large number of casualties, but they had no one to unload them! A majority of the hospitals were not ready for the assault; they were working with the usual staffing for a weekend, with minimum personnel, and so the casualties had to stay on the buses a long time.

How many people was it possible to save?

Ill give you an example. When it became known that one of the hospitals had no Naloxone, one of our medical colleagues was sent on a bus together with the casualties. Knowing that there was no one there to help unload, volunteers drove to the hospital. We sent our own medics there, since there was also a shortage. As a result, none of the people from our bus died.


On why the hospital on the other side of the street from the theater received only 120hostages

Chief physician of Veterans Hospital #1, Demuri KIRTADZE, explains

The hospital stands 50meters from the right wing of the theatrical center on Dubrovka. Despite its military name, it belongs to the health ministry. During the days and nights of the special operation, the operational headquarters was located here.

Today your colleagues (in journalism) are saying that, after the assault, there was a lot of confusion, but Icategorically disagree! So began the conversation with chief hospital physician, doctor of medical sciences, and decorated physician of Russia, Demuri Grigorevich Kirtadze. He was one of the first in Moscow to find out what had happened.

Our duty watch called me up. A guard from the DK, dressed only in a shirt, ran into the hospital, yelling: Call someone, terrorists have broken in on us!

How soon after this did the headquarters start to work?

A half-hour after the capture. The wing that looks out onto the DK (theatrical center) was full of soldiers, officers, and no one was allowed up to the windows. Everyone set up special equipment, and right away the decision was made to evacuate all the patients.


What if there was an explosion? It wouldnt have been just the theater building damaged. And thats why the fewer hostage casualties that came to the hospital, the better. And so here at one in the morning we had to decide with other hospitals where to send 568of our patients! It was not an easy task, since our contingent is 70, 75years old, and 38patients were in critical condition, with infarcts, and post-op. But everything went well.

The first wounded were brought to you?

Yes. A woman with a gunshot wound is here in intensive care. I think that nothing unforeseen will happen with here, even though the bullet had an off-center how do you put it?

Center of gravity?

Yes, but the second patient was brought here three hours after being wounded. He was struck in the temple and brain matter had come out. He died.

In the press there are reports that, after the assault, you only received 120hostages, and you could not receive more because the entrance doors were not fully open. They say that they could not bring them all inside in a short time.

They also say that you can milk a chicken! This is a provocation. We could have received all the hostages. There was room, but there was no point. Why? Imagine if there had been an explosion. Every casualty would have needed immediate wound treatment, operations, and so on. But we have only six operating tables, and suddenly six hundred come in. We wouldnt have had enough doctors and other personnel.

There are hospitals only five or ten minutes from here. And the manner in which the patients were distributed among them was understandable and intelligent. As far as the doors go, rubbish!

But in the first minutes following the assault, it was clear that there were no gunshot wounds, and that the people had been injured by gas.

It is clear to you now, young man!

Ill allow that. Thus, what happened after the assault?

An influx of hostages arrived. There are only three, slow-moving elevators in the main building. I ran for the special forces, there were 80of them here in the lecture hall. I said: Boys, leave one man here to watch the weapons, and come and help carry hostages. And the soldiers climbed the stairs with patients in their arms, or on stretchers. Ten patients arrived in complete respiratory failure, in a state of clinical death. Wemanaged to bring one around, but we were unable to reanimate the other nine.

Did you foresee that there would be such patients?

No. Frankly speaking, we were ready for an explosion.


Why ambulance doctors knew nothing about the hostages injuries

Because they were prepared to carry corpses

Ambulance physician Dmitry reluctantly agreed to speak with us. His supervisors would not have approved of this interview, but he could not remain quiet. This is because Dima takes upon himself part of the blame for the dead hostages at Nord-Ost. At his request we are not publishing his surname.

We had been on duty by the theatrical complex, says Dmitry. But on the last night it became clear that there would be an assault. Our vehicles were arranged on Volgograd Prospect. Twenty had been summoned, and ten showed up. Right at 5:30 a.m. they declared radio silence. No information. The convoy column commanders hinted that, on command, we were to drive over to the theater and take away corpses. Thats hard to get used to.

As soon as the command came over the radio, the column moved down Melnikov Street, but a policeman at the barricades stopped Dimas vehicle. It seemed that the command to let the ambulances through had not yet reached him.

We waited ten minutes for orders, continues Dmitry. Later a traffic jam. They hadnt yet gotten the cranes to take away the obstructions. There were already hostages waiting by the entrance. Nearby there was a box of syringes and ampoules of Naloxone. Some man yelled: Anyone who knows how, give shots! So we started opening the packages and putting together syringes. Whoever knew how and didnt know how, started giving shots: special forces, city rescue crews and MChS (emergency ministries) people, even policemen from the barricades. No one marked down who got an injection. In the heat of things wed inject people two or three times. But these are fatal doses. It was complete chaos. No time to do artificial respiration at any moment the building could blow sky-high.

Only by accident did Dmitry find out that sleeping gas had poisoned the hostages.

Why didnt they warn us about the gas?

The special forces right off the bat loaded 8unconscious hostages into his vehicle. The Gazelle moved past the obstructions towards Veterans Hospital #1 on Melnikov Street, the closest base for the casualties. 500 beds were ready there. On the first floor was the headquarters, but their vehicles were blocking the entrance to the receiving area. The injured had to be carried along the street.

The hospital was not ready for such an influx, and personnel simply could not keep up. As a result, the hospital only admitted 120.

At this time the special forces, together with rescue personnel, had filled the buses with hostages. Half of them were not breathing. They loaded them onto the floor like cordwood. Whether they were alive or dead did not matter. The bus drivers were from out of town, and simply did not know where to take the casualties.

Im certain that many died in route from Naloxone overdoses, and from asphyxiation, says Dmitry.

When the first ambulance arrived at Sklif (the Sklifosovsky medical institute), no one was there to meet it. A guard came out with the duty physician, and for 15minutes they decided were to send one injured woman. Only a half-hour later did the Sklif awaken. Doctors and medics came running, but, all the same, there were not enough gurneys to unload the buses. Something strange then happened: a woman, who had been declared dead, suddenly came to life. It was not a sight for the faint-hearted.

Certainly, there could have been fewer deaths, says Dmitry. There needed to be more ambulances and doctors, not bulldozers and BTRs (armored vehicles). We werent ready for the living.

We telephoned the Sklifosovsky research institute for emergency and critical care. Vladimir Shevchuk, the assistant to the head physician, refused to comment on the situation. He directed us to the press center of the city health department, whose summary stated that the rescue and evacuation operations had gone smoothly.


How Olga Romanova managed to get through the police cordon, and die

You cannot watch everyone, explained those responsible

The first rank of soldiers, standing wet in the rain, was set up around the DK building only an hour after its capture. Movement into the cordon did not cease, however, until after ranks of interior ministry soldiers were concentrated along the perimeter.

In the MVD(interior ministry) press bureau we were able to find out that 1,500 soldiers from the Moscow military district were used in the cordon, as well as a separate operational division of the VV(the armed forces of the MVD), which was formerly known as the Dzerzhinsky division. Besides these interior ministry forces, armored vehicles were brought up to the DK. But neither the armed soldiers, nor the armored vehicles, could save Olga Romanovas life. She simply walked into the captured auditorium, and there she died.

There were, of course, those who snuck through the cordon, explained the VVpress bureau. And it was not a matter of our soldiers not being vigilant. Firstly, this was an industrial district. There are a lot of garages, railroad crossings, and communicating yards. One could get around the cordon by going across roofs. If a local resident, who knew the region much better than the soldiers and the police, set himself the task to get through, he could. And Olga Romanova was a local. The VVsoldiers did not decide who could be let through the cordon, and who could not. This was the GUVD (police section of the interior ministry), at whose disposal our forces were made.

At the capitals directorate of the police, it was explained to us that passes were actually decided by police posts outside the cordon. But, over at the GUVD, they believe that you cannot put policemen into every hole, because during the first hours after the capture there were a lot of siloviki (police, military, and secret service officers) working there, as well as rescuers and medics.

People simply were going to and fro, says Kirill Mazurin, assistant chief of public communications for the Moscow GUVD. Some outsider could have just attached himself to a group of operations officers.


Why Moscow morgues kept secret the number of dead

The morgue chiefs, it seems, were protecting the medical officials

A source in the capitals public health committee reported that the medics knew when the time of the assault was to begin, but there was uncertainty as to whether they would be bringing corpses out from the DK, with shrapnel and bullet wounds. All the nearby morgues were ready to receive a large number of bodies. In a roundabout manner, this confirms that the city medical services were ill prepared to struggle with the aftermath of the gas attack.

Confirming this information, we called the morgues that had received victims of the terror act, and asked them three questions:

Was there really a command given before the assault, to prepare to receive a large number of dead?

How many bodies were received at each morgue?

How many bodies were received in the first hours after the assault?

We are publishing their answers without commentary.

Oleg Kriger, chief of Morgue #2: I love Komsomolskaya Pravda and Im ready to speak with you for a whole hour, but Idont want to lose my job, so Ican only talk to you with permission from the Moscow public health committee press center.

Chief of Morgue #4 (would not give his name): What, are you a newborn? No comment unless through the public health committee.

Alexander Nikolaevich, chief of Morgue #6: All information about all morgues is under the control of the Moscow bureau of forensic examiners.

Alexander Tkachenko, chief of Morgue #7: No comment.

Morgue #9 refused to identify who was speaking: We cant give you any information.

Georgiy Sakharov, chief of Morgue #10: Excuse me, but Idont have the right to answer questions, call the prosecutors office.

Sergey Petrovich (he refused to give his last name), chief of Morgue #11: What, are you a newlywed? I wont answer a single question, call the public health committee.

Secretary to the chief of the bureau of forensic medical examiners Vladimir Zharov: We cant give anyone an interview. Ask all questions at the press center.

Alexander KOTS, Andrey RODKIN

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