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The situation with the hostages in Moscow
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, 25 2002
By Radio 'Echo of Moscow'
Kseniya Larina interviews hostage Maria Shkolnikova live on Radio 'Echo of Moscow'

KSENIYA LARINA: Radio station 'Echo of Moscow' continues its live broadcast, Kseniya Larina here on the microphone. Right now in our studio we have Maria Shkolnikova, one of the freed hostages from the theatrical center on Dubrovka. Hello, Maria. Iunderstand that you voluntarily took upon yourself the responsibilities of a negotiator. Howdid this come about, perhaps you could tellus?

MARIA SHKOLNIKOVA: Ivery much hope that they are listening to us right now in the theater. First of all, I'd like to appeal to them: People, hang on, you can't imagine how great a number of people support you and are worrying about you and suffering for you.

And I'd like to tell you that Vladimir Ryzhkov just got done speaking

KSENIYA LARINA: You said that Ryzhkov might speak with them, what does thismean?

MARIA SHKOLNIKOVA: Yes, Imet him just now and told him that perhaps he could speak with them because it seemed to what he was saying was very true. Ican perhaps agree with everything he said. Itseemed to me that his position was well thought out and valid, and Ialso heard Ruslan Aushev yesterday. Thefact is that, we need people who can hold talks and who can do it right, by not trying to irritate, but by very logically describing their point of view and trying to find a compromise. Wehave to find a compromise in everything possible, and in listening to him Ithink that Vladimir Ryzhkov might be able to. Sotherefore Iadvised him to try in some way to communicate with them, to try and make contact, maybe to talk, maybe to try and get in there and meet with the Chechen leaders in order to make some reasonable decision; to try to facilitate.

KSENIYA LARINA: You said that they're listening to us there, only to our radio station.

MARIA SHKOLNIKOVA: Yes, they're listening to your station; there's no other information in the theater, just theradio.

KSENIYA LARINA: No televisions of anykind?

MARIA SHKOLNIKOVA: No, what kind of television? Allthat was provided for, Iguess, by the builder, is there. There's a screen, there's a stage, and there are chairs and all, and there is a radio receiver, which is at the other end of the hall, and sometimes you can hear it, and sometimes the men on the stage interfere, and periodically, not depending on our wishes, periodically we can hear the information that 'Echo of Moscow' is transmitting. Atthe beginning there was 'Mayak' ('Beacon') it seemed, or in any case Iasked there what it was and somebody said 'Mayak'. It's very important to state the events, very important to not exaggerate anything right now, to not try and attach any kind of a hysterical note to things.

KSENIYA LARINA: You know, Maria, I'd like to say that it's unavoidable, when such terrible things are happening, when you're sitting live on the air, whether on the radio or television, and there's such a huge amount of unverified information coming in that you can't manage to check everythingout.

MARIA SHKOLNIKOVA: Then it seems to me that it'd be better not to even reportit.

KSENIYA LARINA: It's very difficult, but it's important to talk about this. Youmust agree that it'd be very strange if we acted like nothing had happened. After all, it could beso.

MARIA SHKOLNIKOVA: Everything needs to be carefully weighed, because unverified information can upset things, since when there was information, Ialready said this, that there were only 100people or that they were demanding ransoms, this information, it simply irritates them so much that it could end tragically for everyone in a single minute, therefore you've got to report the data correctly, and only verified data. Yesthe Chechens came here to demonstrate in some way their protest against the war this is so. Thisfact, against which simply, yes, these terrible methods, this is awful, what they've done, it's awful, in fact, simply, Ithink, the most tragic thing that's ever happened in the lives of all the people who are right now in the theater. Idon't think that any of them could even imagine that they would ever end up in such a situation. Thepeople are good, they're holding on, and God grant them patience, because it's dragging on, this situation. Donot fall into despair, simply keep believing, really a whole lot of people are exerting themselves rightnow.

KSENIYA LARINA: You know, as an eyewitness, and spectator and a participant, and a victim. Whatwords do the people need right now, the people in the theater? Whatwords could help them hold on, to stand up tothis?

MARIA SHKOLNIKOVA: They can be helped by only one phrase that something is being done, and that it's being done to get them freed. Theywant to know that something's being done. Theterrorists have put forward some kinds of demands, and something's being done. It's completely clear that in order to start to get peopled released these demands need to be met. It's completely clear at what stage the demands are, everyone knows, but here everyone is silent. Butto do something so that they let people go, so that the people inside felt that the government was working, that they understood, that they felt, and heard that we support them, it's very important for them to hear, for example, the president's support this is very important. It's important that they know what actions the government is taking right now, because these actions can summon a reaction, and in general, a very undiplomatic one. Butthey have to know this, and then people will at least have a bit of hope that things will go well and they'll be released.

KSENIYA LARINA: You're a physician and all that, have you in any way had to use your professional duties in this situation? Didyou help someone, were there any times when a doctor's help was needed?

MARIA SHKOLNIKOVA: Certainly, it's just that the question is so I'd have to say, yes, a lot, a very lot, and there are many more people for whom Iwas a psychologist, not a cardiologist. There were a lot of people who needed help, from a little to a lot. There are doctors other than myself. There is a dentist, and there is a physician-therapist, and we came to a consensus and acted and used the medicines that the Red Cross brought in. Youknow, this all seems too insignificant to discuss, compared to what's goingon.

KSENIYA LARINA: No, why? Youare now a free person, you have freedom, and therefore we certainly would like to return to the beginning of our discussion.

MARIA SHKOLNIKOVA: I'm not a free person. Idisagree with you. I'm not free, because Ifeel like I'm still with them, and every minute it's as if what happened is still continuing because Isee them, Iremember them, Ihearthem.

KSENIYA LARINA: Tell us, were there any conditions set on your release?

MARIA SHKOLNIKOVA: No, there were no conditions. Ileft so that Icould speak for the people who were in the theater, they asked me to tell everyone what was really going on in there. Thatthey have it very bad, that's it's very terrible.

KSENIYA LARINA: Tell us, you left there as sort of an envoy, yes?

MARIA SHKOLNIKOVA: No, not an envoy, no it wouldn't be something quite like that, it was really a coincidence because we kept asking the whole time that they release people, that they would start, firstly, to hold talks of any kind. Theyhad to make some kind of concessions. Theysimply needed to build any bridges possible to freedom.

KSENIYA LARINA: Is it possible to talk tothem?

MARIA SHKOLNIKOVA: Ithink so, and when there was the first attempt, right after the seizure, they let several children go, and some sick people, but it all stopped later because it was apparent that the DK was surrounded, and afterwards there was no precedent. It's terrible, because the situation has come to a halt it's frozen. Itcan only get worse. Therefore we've got to try to get someone released, and for people to come out and talk about what's going on inside, because a lack of information is also terrible. Buta lack of information from the outside about what's going on inside, this is even more terrible for those on the inside. Sowhen they let a woman with three children go, this is good, it is some kind of a beginning. Later the Englishman left, and we agreed that they should let a woman who was close to having a baby go. Herwater had broken. She was on the second floor, on the balcony. I don't only know this information from the inside, they told me. Andthere was an Englishman, an elderly man, who was sick and didn't understand any Russian, and we didn't understand Chechen, and for him it was, of course, frightening, he was in very bad shape, and we managed to get him turned over to an English journalist (Mark Franchetti). We talked them into letting him inside. Wehad to keep trying the whole time, and all the people kept asking them to let in journalists, let in the Red Cross, let anyone in. Itis very important that people could go inside and take out the sick, so that humanitarian steps could be taken, because you can't allow, in general you can't allow people to die. You've got to get out as many of the most vulnerable as possible. There are a lot of pregnant women. I know of three who were right by me, and there are other pregnant women. Theyreleased the pregnant women who were starting labor, that is, those who were obvious to the nakedeye.

KSENIYA LARINA: How many children?

MARIA SHKOLNIKOVA: There are a lot of pregnant women and children, there are a lot. Theytold me that you couldn't look anywhere in the theater and not see them, and even when we would stand up, we would stand up for a reason, not just to look at the hall, but for another purpose.

KSENIYA LARINA: They assure us that there are no children younger than 10. Isthis reallytrue?

MARIA SHKOLNIKOVA: It's possible, because they let the woman with three kids go because she had small children, but there are a lot of children. Forme a child is up to 18, according to the law of our country.

KSENIYA LARINA: Or at least until 16.

MARIA SHKOLNIKOVA: Until 18, before it used to 14, now it's up to 18that we pediatricians treat children.

KSENIYA LARINA: Do you know have any kind of a link with you comrades?

MARIA SHKOLNIKOVA: I'd like, if they hear me right now, I'd like for people to provide communications. A link is needed, is needed by everyone because we need information. I'd like for the communications see the batteries on the cell phones are going dead over there, and we need to try and charge these batteries so the phones will still work, at least for some of the people inside, those with whom we held talks, because it's absolutely impossible without information, after a little while we will simple lose any feel for what's really going on inside. Soboys, you definitely have to try and fix the communications, do everything so that you have a phone so we can call you. Thelast time Ispoke with the people inside, yesterday evening, they wanted me to pass on that they are very scared, and with their last bit of strength they are hoping that everything gets settled, and your mission, and ours, especially since your mission, as far as the mass media is today trying to do things, is not to heat up things, but to truthfully and correctly and honestly tell about what's going on there, and to try in some way to make people on all sides hold talks, so that there can be some kind of dialogue, because this dialogue can develop step by step and somehow solve this situation. The people who are there, they asked me to pass on, they asked my to pass on that they don't support the war in Chechnya, that they don't want to pay for this war with their lives, and they hope that people on the outside support them. Such tragedies shouldn't happen wars are the cause of so much human suffering, and God forbid that this somehow is a reflection on a peaceful people, God forbid that there are wars in general. Themost important thing now is to find a compromise, to find a solution and try with all our might, Irepeat, to force some kind of discussion with anyone who'll listen. Hereit seems to me that Ryzhkov could listen and hear, because he speaks so persuasively and he speaks so that you can understand him and doesn't let slip any incorrect expressions and incorrect pronouncements. Excuse me I'm just tired. Here and he can, it seems to me, such a person could stand up for us. I also liked very much how Ruslan Aushev spoke yesterday.

KSENIYA LARINA: Excuse me, Maria, but tonight, at the request of the Chechen representatives, there is to be a visit by Grigory Yavlinsky to the theatrical center. Whatdo you think, why did they ask for Grigory Alexeevich?

MARIA SHKOLNIKOVA: It's very simple. Theywant, or more likely, they could, as they say, that is, they don't say we want or we only want this one, their aim is clear, they stated their demands. Later it was we can talk with someone, hold negotiations, if this person has some definite position in society, if people will listen to him, and we don't have a pronounced antipathy, a pronounced negativism towards this person. Yavlinsky doesn't summon negativism, and his name is in the news. So Ithink that this situation came up, which required him. Weoffered him, we named him, everyone asked with whom they'd like to speak, who would do for them. Asa rule, there'd be a pause, and afterwards we simply have to offer someone, have to name someone, because the situation is changing again and no one will hear anything anymore.

KSENIYA LARINA: That is, at first they didn't give any names? Youofferedsome?

MARIA SHKOLNIKOVA: They gave the name of only one Chechen member of the Russian parliament, with whom they talked by telephone.

KSENIYA LARINA: Aslanhova, right?

MARIA SHKOLNIKOVA: Yes, the name Aslanhova was the only one they gave, all the rest came from the hostages. Wemade an offer and said that in our opinion this person can, and that person can, and put forward any candidate. Andalso people who call over there, who can get through, they offer themselves. Thesituation here is apparently supported by the Chechen leaders who are in the theater, because they feel the initiative, the fight for their people. Whena person breaks through, when he calls, when he says: I want to talk with you, then they weigh whether this person is worthy or not from their standpoint. Andthey agree or refuse to accept him. Insuch a way, Josef Davydovich Kobzon showed up, he called, he actively went to us, and not just once, but many, many times we said to invite this man, here he's calling. Atfirst it was no, no, no, but later it was well okay, let him in. Andhe came, and now there is this contact. Itis very important that he is here. Ithink that if Yavlinsky went there and talked with them, then there probably would also be a contact. Ihad hoped very much that Grigory Alexeevich would call me from Tomsk. Yes, there was another whom they wanted to see: Politkovskaya.

KSENIYA LARINA: Yes, you said so. She's in America.

MARIA SHKOLNIKOVA: Yes, unfortunately.

KSENIYA LARINA: This was their initiative?

MARIA SHKOLNIKOVA: It was their initiative, absolutely theirs. Idon't know, we didn't have television, we didn't see what was going on, but one time they showed up and said that a person had just talked who said everything right, and to let her come. We started to do everything so that she'd come, but later it turned out that she wasn't here. So later they said, all right, let Yavlinsky come, but it turned out that he was in Tomsk, you understand, and everything was starting to look suspicious: every person they were allowing to come turned out to be somewhere else. Soit's bad. We don't need to allow such a situation.

KSENIYA LARINA: Ialso wanted to ask you, Maria, about the identity of the Chechen leaders, as you call them, and Iwould have called them, these Chechen representatives, because to us the leader more than anyone would be the president of Ichkeriya, right?

MARIA SHKOLNIKOVA: Yes, earlier Imade a slip of the tongue and said the leaders were in the theater.

KSENIYA LARINA: But look here, when it all happened we spoke about some sort of faceless mass, there was talk about how people were shooting up with narcotics, that these were zombies doing these things.

MARIA SHKOLNIKOVA: Ididn't hear anything aboutthis.

KSENIYA LARINA: I'll say that all this was rubbish that was hovering about the mass media then. Whennobody knows anything, what can you do? Judging from your tales, Iunderstand that these are fully professional people who know the Russian language and understand the political situation in Russia. Howindependent are they? How did it seem to you, what was your impression?

MARIA SHKOLNIKOVA: Do you mean, are they able to make independent decisions?


MARIA SHKOLNIKOVA: They are absolutely independent in making decisions. Theycan make this decision, the decision that we are all afraid of they can do it. You noticed correctly that Idon't know what to call them. I call them Chechens because when they call them gunmen it makes them very angry, and they yell why do they call us gunmen? There's no reason to irritate them, no reason to use such insulting terms, no reason to heat things up even more. We need to call them and try to conduct ourselves correctly in this situation, because they are independent. Inany case, their representatives, who sort of act as the leaders of this capture group, they speak competently enough, but the message that the people gave me, that Iread when Ileft yesterday they couldn't have put that together. Theytalk well, but they themselves said, when we were talking, that we needed to invite in the television stations, we definitely needed to invite in the television people. Firstly, they are worried that special forces could come in pretending to be a television crew, and secondly, they say that they can't hold a dialogue on the required level corresponding to the needed level of persuasiveness. Their method of fighting is terror, not diplomacy, and this doesn't suit them. Sonow I'm talking with you, for example, because they want the information to get out that people are doing poorly, that the situation is really very tense, that it is extremely menacing. This is how it is this is how it really is, and Ithink that they should let in the television crews anyway. If they are listening to me right now in the theater auditorium, they have to allow in the television stations, perhaps at least to try and let in RenTV, Idon't know, if NTV was theretoday.

KSENIYA LARINA: NTV was there. I saw them early in the morning. They already showed, when they were showing their clips, the man showed his face, the leader of the group, and there werewomen.

MARIA SHKOLNIKOVA: Did he show his face without amask?

KSENIYA LARINA: Without amask.

MARIA SHKOLNIKOVA: In general they go around the whole time wearingmasks.

KSENIYA LARINA: Do the womentalk?

MARIA SHKOLNIKOVA: The woman talk, yes, they say that they left small children at home, they came there as an act of self-sacrifice. Theyare fully prepared to give up their lives, no one there is bluffing, and they're extremely serious. It's a very real and terrible danger threatening our people.

KSENIYA LARINA: Maria, thank you. Iunderstand that we'll probably be seeing you here again soon. Onewishes that this all ends quickly, and ends successfully. Thank you for your visit, we are always ready to have you here in the studio of 'Echo of Moscow'.


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