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, 06 2008

It is not hard to understand how difficult it was for Svetlana Gubareva to find meaning in life afterwards, to resist the terrible blow fate dealt her. Afew months after the slaying of her fiancé Sandy Booker, his relatives invited her to the United States. While in Washington, the former hostage testified in court about the circumstances of Sandy Booker's death.

Svetlana has traveled to the United States several times. Nowshe has friends there, and has became close to Booker's relatives. Making overseas trips problematic, however, are communication difficulties due to the language barrier, as well as financial constraints. Several times a year she travels to Moscow.

Svetlana Gubareva believes that the important thing now is to preserve the memory of those who died at Dubrovka, and do everything possible so that it cannot happen again. Former hostages and relatives of the victims created the 'Nord-Ost' public organization, which united with victims of the terrorist attacks in Volgodonsk, Beslan, and Moscow. Svetlana Gubareva is an active member of this public organization, and is the owner and administrator of the website, 'In memory of Nord-Ost'.

The 'Nord-Ost' organization is a necessary measure. Thegovernment and the police refused to honestly investigate, or even admit, how the mass hostage crisis was even possible in the center of Moscow. Mostof the slain died from lack of medical care after the use of a highly toxic gas during the assault. Svetlana believes that her daughter died because she was suffocated beneath the bodies of other hostages. 32victims were tossed into a bus, one on top of the other, while the authorities concluded that they had died of chronic illnesses.

There were several appeals to the Moscow public prosecutor's, and to the courts, but the authorities paid no attention to the arguments of the Nor'easters. Sothe investigation materials were then sent to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

Svetlana Gubareva petitioned the monuments commission for a memorial plaque to be placed at Grammar School No. 38, were her daughter Sasha had attended school from first grade and until her death (Karaganda residents killed in Afghanistan have similar plaques installed on apartment buildings they used to live editor). Inside the petition it was clearly spelled out: a Karaganda family had been among the hostages in the theater on Dubrovka in Moscow from October 23rd to the 26th, 2003. During the hostage rescue operation her 13-year-old daughter had been killed.

A month later came a response letter. Notunderstanding the essence of the petition, officials from the city Akimat (ed: the Kazakhstan version of the mayor's office) asked Gubareva for a number of documents: a petition and a protocol from a general meeting of an organization in accordance with paragraphs 1.2 of Article 16of the law on administrative-territorial structures in the Republic of Kazakhstan, in two languages, though it is not exactly clear how a plaque on a school building could affect an administrative-territorial unit.

The officials caused further emotional distress to the mother by obliging her to send other documents pertaining to her daughter: a copy of Sasha's employment record and materials relating to the girl's special services to the Republic.

Ivans who do not remember their kinships

The end of last week was the deadline for former 'Nord-Ost' hostage and Karaganda resident Svetlana Gubareva to respond to questions posed by the European Court. Shesent her objections to a memorandum provided by the respondent in the case, the government of the Russian Federation. Onthe same date Gubareva received another refusal from her application to the Karaganda monuments commission.

Svetlana Gubareva phoned our office, not to complain about life, and not to ask for help or sympathy. Sheis a strong person, and is able to endure the grief that has befallen her.

The Karaganda schoolgirl was buried at Troekurovsky Cemetery in Moscow. Themother always comes here on anniversaries, and girls who survived the terrorist attack in the theater on Dubrovka bring flowers. Backat Karaganda Grammar School No. 38, a lot has changed. Sasha's classmates have already entered adulthood, and not every student understands what the rallies commemorating the black date of the October 23rd terrorist attack are about. Itis not Sasha or Svetlana Gubareva who need this plaque on the school building, which recalls that here studied Sasha Letyago, who died during the 'Nord-Ost' terrorist attack.

It must never happen again, said the slain girl's mother. We are not Ivans who do not remember their kinships.

So when Svetlana went to the monuments commission last summer requesting a commemorative plaque, it was mostly for the younger generation. Officials, however, refused it a third time, stating dryly and harshly: Your application is rejected. Without comment. WhenGubareva asked them to explain on what they based their decision, once again she was given the runaround. Monuments commission members considered it impossible to put a memorial plague on School No. 38. Thefirst to reach such a decision was the famous journalist from the previous generation, Dmitry Zinchuk, and Karaganda Maslikhat (Kazakhstan city parliament ed) Alexander Parshenko. Other members of the commission supported them.

A decision by the commission is only advisory in nature, but, nonetheless, they did not come to a decision for ten months. Svetlana Gubareva would like to look into the eyes of these people and hear their arguments on their refusal. Sasha's death was not an accident, or as a result of illness: she died alongside other 'Nord-Ost' hostages, never understanding who was to blame for the tragedy.

Here is one eyewitness account: A khaki-colored UAZ minibus pulled up to the door of Moscow City Hospital No. 1. Whenthe doors were opened, even for worldly-wise physicians their hair stood on end. Inside the twelve-seat vehicle were stacked, one on top of the other, 32victims. Theywere not moving. There were no gunshot wounds. PhysicianS.B.Sukhov recalled that four of the victims were in serious condition. Among them was Alexandra Letyago. The13-year-old girl from Kazakhstan was not killed by the gas, but because she was crushed under the bodies. Fromhe victims' garments there was a smell of sweet almonds, the smell of fentanyl. Injections of a secret 'antidote' saved the lives of most of the victims, but those who were on the bottom died. Among them was Alexandra Letyago.

Who will tell the truth?

Iremember conversations with Svetlana Gubareva during the first years following the tragedy. Itseemed that she would never get escape from a hopeless state of altered reality. Herlife was divided into the time before the tragedy, and after it. After 'Nord-Ost', however, life had stopped. Nowthe only point of her life is to tell the truth about this terrorist attack, and to ensure that a fair assessment is made of what happened in the theater on Dubrovka.

For several years Gubareva was not able to achieve any additional investigative actions to determine the truth. Thiscaused her to appeal to the Strasbourg court. Theplaintiffs are truly an international team: the mother of a deceased girl from Kazakhstan, Muscovite Igor Finogenov, whose brother Pavel was killed in the attack, and Lubov and Mark Burban from the U.S., whose son Gregory Burban was from Odessa. TheCourt was their last hope to find the truth.

On April 26, 2003, the letter was sent to Strasbourg, and the investigation went on, very slowly. Gubareva showed me a list of questions that she was asked by the Court:

Was hostage Gubareva's right to life violated at 'Nord-Ost'? Didthe Russian authorities try to end the crisis through persuasion and negotiations with the terrorists? Wasit absolutely necessary to use lethal means? Didthe authorities take appropriate precautions?

The Court asked the following question on Gubareva's behalf: Was it possible to establish the identities of those who used the lethal drug and had treated the hostages during the rescue operation in so cruel and degrading a manner?

The Court wants to know whether the Russian authorities took all necessary measures to minimize suffering during the rescue operation. Didthe actions of the special services commandos affect the health of the hostages of the theatrical center?
Representatives of the government sent their answers and objections to Strasbourg.

The last 'i' in this tragedy has not yet been dotted. Svetlana Gubareva believes that, for the sake of the memory of the victims, she and her supporters must achieve justice and a proper assessment of what happened during those three terrible days on Dubrovka in Moscow.

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