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Interview with former 'Nord-Ost' hostage Svetlana Gubareva
Written by   
, 31 2003
Yuri Zhigalkin, New York correspondent for Radio Svoboda, talks with former 'Nord-Ost' hostage Svetlana Gubareva.

Yuri Zhigalkin: We will give the following ten minutes of our program over to a talk with an unexpected guest here in New York. Kazakhstan citizen Svetlana Gubareva was among the hostages taken prisoner in the theater at Dubrovka. After a Russian special forces operation, her 13-year-old-daugher, Sasha, and American fiancé, Sandy Booker, died before receiving medical assistance. Several of Svetlana's days here in New York will be spent in interviews with agents from the FBI, who are looking into the reasons for the deaths of several American citizens. Thestory has also become the basis of a book by Eduard Topol. Sheis now in our studio. Svetlana, why did you come to America?
Svetlana Gubareva: Icame to America to see the city where Sandy lived, and to visit hisgrave.

Yuri Zhigalkin: But how did it happen that you were to meet with theFBI?

Svetlana Gubareva: They asked to interview me immediately after Sandy's death, but they never got around to a specific time due to some bureaucratic delays. Now, while I'm here in the US, they decided to use this moment.

Yuri Zhigalkin: Do you have any idea what they will ask youabout?

Svetlana Gubareva: Iguess, since there are investigating what happened, I'll just be a witness. I'll tell them how itwas.

Yuri Zhigalkin: And, what you do intend to describe to the FBI agents?

Svetlana Gubareva: The truth, that which Isaw, that which Iknow.

Yuri Zhigalkin: Does this truth differ from that which weknow?

Svetlana Gubareva: Without a doubt. I'll start with the fact that immediately after seizure they kept saying that blood was flowing, heads were rolling, but in reality it was more or less peaceful, as much as such a situation can be considered peaceful. There was no torture or violence of any kind. Well, there were, naturally, threats. Theyalways threatened that, if the authorities did not negotiated, then they start shooting people, or, if the authorities tried to storm the building, then they'd blow up everyone. Theres no doubt that there were threats. I think that controlling such as mass of people, almost a thousand, it was probably only possible by making us afraid. Butmy feelings differed from many of the Russians, because they kept saying: 'we're not at war with foreigners, we won't touch you, we'll let out soon'.

Yuri Zhigalkin: You lost your daughter and your fiancé during this tragedy. It's already been more than a year. How do you feelnow?

Svetlana Gubareva: Inever noticed how this year passed, because every night I've been at 'Nord-Ost', always trying to do something to change it all, and every morning Iremember, and Iunderstand that Ican't change a thing, and what happened, happened. Howcan Ilive with this, knowing that they simply killed my daughter? Theyreally killed her, because she was on the floor of a bus under a pile of unconscious people. Theysimply crushedher.

Yuri Zhigalkin: Svetlana, are you trying to get some kind of compensation? And in whatway?

Svetlana Gubareva: A number of other foreigners and Ihave filed suit against the Russian government, for violating our loved ones' basic right the right to thelife.

Yuri Zhigalkin: And the result?

Svetlana Gubareva: Thus far refusal. Butwe won't give up. Wewill obtain justice. There's no use counting on Russian justice. I have a feeling that the Russian government will use all its power to suppress the 'Nord-Ost' case. We'll rely on the European Court of Human Rights.

Yuri Zhigalkin: As Iunderstand it, compensation is not just a rhetorical question for you. Ifyou did get some money, could you get on with your life, do things a little differently?

Svetlana Gubareva: Well, people help me out, and it struck me as so surprising, Inever expected that most of them come from America. Maybe this really is a country that is worth living in. Glenand Victoria Hagen, they set up a fund especially designed to help me morally and materially. Andrey Mogilyanski in Philadelphia also set up a fund to help the hostages from 'Nord-Ost', and we are all very grateful to him. Ishould mention that Eduard Topol has also had a hand in my fate, and, only because of him, was Iable get admitted to the hospital, since the Russian officials refused to treat me. 'Get back to your Kazakhstan quickly, because if anything happens to you here, I'll be stuck with your transportation'. Nicely put, yes? Later Topol came to the hospital, he brought books for the whole crowd of us former hostages, and he brought us presents. We'd gather in our room in the evenings, we'd eat, and remember him with kindwords.

Yuri Zhigalkin: Ihave a question. Here you are telling us your pain. Is there any spite in you, a desire for retribution?

Svetlana Gubareva: Ihave a desire to obtain justice. Everyone should answer for what he hasdone.

Yuri Zhigalkin: Good. If you are arent able to obtain justice in Russia, which is how it's looking right now, you'll turn next to the EuropeanCourt?

Svetlana Gubareva: My hope is strictly with the European Court. Anumber of other hostages and Ifiled suits against the Russian government, and they rejected them, of course, so we are united. Iunderstand very well that one soldier in the field isn't enough, we have to join together to resist the power of the government machine. Anorganization for the 'Nord-Ost' hostages was created. Ithink that, together, we'll be able to do something. Youunderstand, that, in the great scheme of things, that which we are now doing is more needed by others, than by me personally. Ive nothing left to lose, Ilost everything that was valuable in life. You all have families, children, friends, relatives, and the children of friends who go to Moscow, and go to Russia. 'Nord-Ost' won't be the last terror attack. Atany moment one of our loved ones can find themselves in a situation like Iwas in. Ithink that if you all would support us, then it would be wonderful.

Yuri Zhigalkin: Your situation became the central theme in a novel by EduardTopol.

Svetlana Gubareva: Ishould say that my story is no better or worse than any other, it's just that Topol selected me. Youknow, Lena Baranovskaya lost her husband and son, and that was also a rather romantic story. Sheknew her husband 30years, and he waited 30years for her to agree to marry him, but they only managed to live together one year before 'Nord-Ost' happened.

Yuri Zhigalkin: In Topol's work there is a rather interesting subject your correspondence with Barayev's girlfriend. Itthis reallytrue?

Svetlana Gubareva: She was the woman who loved him. A young girl. I found a message from her on the internet site created by the parents of Grigori Burban, who was another hostage who died at 'Nord-Ost'. Itseemed to me that this girl was pierced by the same pain that Iwas experiencing. Isimply wrote to her, and she answered me, and that was our correspondence.

Yuri Zhigalkin: And what you did get from this correspondence? Doesthis person seem kindred toyou?

Svetlana Gubareva: This person suffers as Ido. Itseems to me that any grief deserves sympathy.

Yuri Zhigalkin: Ialready know how you feel about the authorities and those who made decision to assault the theater. Buthow do you, if you would allow me this question, how do you feel about those who took you hostage?

Svetlana Gubareva: Iunderstand that their acts were impermissible. There is no way to justify threatening the lives of innocent civilians, those men, women, and children who would go to the theater that night. There is simply no justification for any reason. ButI understand why those women went there. Really, one had to really push these women hard so that they reached such a state that they were ready to forget their fear of death and to go there with a weapon in order to kill, or let us say, maybe to kill. Sitting there in the hall, Italked with many of them. Thelast woman whom Italked to was about my age. She told a terrible story, about how her home was destroyed it in the first Chechen war. Her husband built another, but the Russians destroyed it again. Then one day they came to the school, and took away her 12-year-old son. He disappeared forever, she knows nothing about his fate. Theykilled her husband, they killed her brother. She left her 5-year-old daughter with her sister and went to 'Nord-Ost'. Iunderstand, she was driven to it by desperation. Iwas only in the theater hall for 57hours, but Iwas seized by the same desperation. Theonly thought that stopped me was that violence was a dead-end.
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