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6.1. Description of the events by former female hostage S.N.Gubareva
Written by Administrator   
, 21 2006
On October 23rd, 2002, I, Svetlana Gubareva, and my family: my 13-year-old daughter Alexandra Letyago, and fiancé Sandy Alan Booker, went to see the musical, 'Nord-Ost'. Thesecond act of the musical had just begun.

The so-called 'dance of the pilots' had ended, and suddenly Iheard automatic weapons fire. Aman with a mask on his face was on the stage, and was shooting in the air. ThenI looked to the side. Ifocused my attention on the aisle to my left (we sat at the end of row 17, in seats 24, 25, and 26). Agroup of men and women was walking by. Thewomen were dressed all in black. Someof the men were either completely dressed in camouflage, while some wore camouflage trousers and civilian sweaters, or were in civilian clothing.

The men had assault rifles, while the women carried pistols and grenades in their hands. Themen went first, and the women followed. Periodically a few women would stop by a row, while the remaining women would continue on to the stage. ThenI looked to the right women were also standing there. Icounted 9women on either side of the theater hall. Theystood up fairly often. Theydrove the actors off the stage, and chased away the orchestra musicians, putting them in the hall with us. Thenthey drove the ushers into the audience as well. Idid not see what was happening on the balcony, but it was probably something similar. Aman in military uniform on the stage (later Ilearned his name was Barayev) declared that we had been taken prisoner.

I cannot recall his words verbatim, because we were a long way off, and he was barely audible. Hedeclared that we were prisoners and that they wanted to stop the war in Chechnya. Those who had cell phones, he said, could call their loved ones and friends, but not the police, and tell them what was going on. Ithought at first that it was a bad joke, but Sandy immediately understood what was going on that these were dangerous people. Hesaid that if they started shooting, then we had to keep our headsdown.

The reaction in the hall when the Chechens entered: some remained calm, while others became hysterical or even fainted. TheChechen women had Valerian, a mild sedative, and they gave it to some hostages to calm them down. After Barayev made his declaration, he walked past our row and sat down two rows behind us, in row 19. Those sitting near him were able to speak tohim.

Naturally, the first question was: why us? Hestated that the war in Chechnya had already gone on for many years; people were dying every day. Their demand was a stop to the war in Chechnya. Somepeople began to say that they sympathized with the Chechens, and that they were also against the war. Barayev answered them: But you don't go to rallies demanding a stop to the war! Hereyou are going to the theater while they are killing us there. Women asked: But why us, the weak? Whydon't you seize the Duma (parliament)? Barayev replied that the Duma is well guarded, but they would agree to exchange ten hostages for each deputy of parliament, if someone expressed such a desire. Alittle while after this conversation, a woman in the parquet (theater stalls) stood up and said: Our government is in no hurry to save us, we have to do this ourselves. Let's call our relatives and friends. Havethem hold a rally on Red Square to demand an end to the war in Chechnya! Barayev answered: You can call if you want, and ordered his subordinates to give back cell phones that had been taken. People called their relatives on these cell phones, and told them (to hold the rally). TheChechens demanded nothing from the hostages, except obedience.

Sandy prayed a lot, and at those moments his expression looked as if he was renounced to his fate. AChechen woman standing by our row asked if he was doing poorly. Itried to work with this, and said: Yes, he's filling ill, he's going to have a heart attack. He's going to die if you don't let us out.

The Chechen women had a radio, and they were listening to the news, going from one station to another. Icould hear some of it. There were a lot of lies about killing, bodies lying in the aisles, rivers of blood, and this angered the Chechens. Barayev could not hold his anger and said: Do you hear how they lie? That's just how they fool you about Chechnya!

Later, Movsar Barayev said that they had no fight with foreigners, and whoever could show a passport from another country would be released. Later Ihead something on the radio that the police and military headquarters were against letting foreigners go. Theywanted women and children released first. These words sounded monstrous to me, because there were women and children among the foreigners! TheRussian government was hiding its inaction behind the back of mychild!

Our problem was that Sandy Booker's passport was back at the hotel, while my daughter's and my passport were at the American embassy so that they could grant us a visa. Sandy had his driver's license with him. Whenthe hall quieted down a little, Iasked the Chechen woman standing near us to tell her leader that we were foreign citizens, and showed her Sandy's driver's license. Shedid not go to Barayev (the Chechen women would not leave their positions), but sent a message down the chain. Barayev walked over to us, and Ishowed him Sandy's American driver's license. Heapparently had never seen one before, because he examined it with great interest, then said: We'll get to the bottom of it, tomorrow we'll get to the bottom of it. Wewon't let you go today, because your own people would shoot you and say later that we killed you. That's what happened at Budenovsk. Tomorrow you'll leave.

Later, on Barayev's orders, they segregated the hostages into the foreigners and Russians, and thanks to Sandys driver's license we were put with the foreigners.

When they let people phone, Icalled a friend in Moscow and told her that we had been taken hostage.

I had a feeling that the Chechens had come there with equipment that was only half ready for use. TheScotch tape around the 'martyrs' belts' was always tearing, and one Chechen man went around to all the Chechen women and helped them to fasten their suicide belts, giving them batteries and showing them how to connect the contacts. Atfirst the Chechen women stood along the rows, but later they were brought chairs so they could sit down. Theymostly kept their faces hidden, but sometimes they dropped their veils. Fromthe second day on they were mostly unveiled. Iasked one of them why they covered their faces, was it because they did not want us to learn their identity? She replied: No. Thisis simply our national tradition the face must be hidden from all except the husband.

Besides the Chechen women in their explosive belts standing along the theater hall's perimeter, on the stage, and in several seats, there were explosives taped to chairs in two or three places. Later they set up a bomb in the center of the hall, in the ninth row. Alongside this bomb sat a Chechenwoman.

Some of the men were in masks, and some had uncovered faces. AsI understood, Barayev had two assistants who responded to the names 'Yassir' and 'Abu-Bakar'.

People in the hall, the hostages, feared an assault more than they did Chechens. Theywhispered behind the Chechens' back fairly freely.

I had the feeling that the Chechens had no plan about what to do with us, i.e.: they had seized the theater, but did not know what else to do. Theyhad not figured on the hostages having any personal needs to have to go to the toilet, to eat, drink, and sleep. Atfirst they conducted hostages to the light operator's area. I understood that the first hostage to ask to use the restroom was one of the 'Nord-Ost' employees. Thenothers began to ask, and then Sasha and Iwent as well. Sasha did not immediately understand that this was just a room, and looked for the commode. There were a lot of people, and things quickly began to 'run from the shores'. Toget to the normal restrooms, one had to cross the foyer, and that was under the sights of the snipers. Later they began to go somewhere on the stairway, then still later they adapted the orchestral pit for thisuse.

I know that some children up to 12years of age were let go in the first hours after the theater's seizure, but Ido not know the details.

When they brought Olga Romanova into the hall, we were still in row 17. Wewere in the same row as Barayev at that moment, only we were at one end, and he was at the other. Shecame through the main entrance; somehow she got past the cordon. Theybrought her over and sat her down next to Barayev. Hestarted to talk with her, but she was abrupt and aggressive. Barayev asked her how and why she got there. Sheanswered excitedly. Thehostages in the hall yelled at her: Quiet, quiet. Don't talk like that! This excited her all the more. Someone shouted from the balcony: Shoot her! Barayev said that she was a provocateur, and that there had been some of those at Budenovsk, so therefore they would now shoot her. Theytook the girl out the side doors and shot her after that. Obviously, Idid not see her killed, but the shots were audible. Thehall was silent in horror. Wenow understood that they were capable of killing.

They reseated the foreigners to the left of the parquet (facing the stage). Whether they first emptied those seats, or they were already empty, Ido not know. Barayev said that there would be no precedents; they would only release people to representatives from their embassies. Theybegan to write a list. There were 76on the list. Since my documents were at the American embassy, we were identified as Americans. Sandy called the embassy; periodically we were allowed to use the cell phones. Ido not know with whom he spoke there, he explained that in such and such a hotel, in room number such and such, his passport was in his bag in a side pocket. Someone from the embassy security staff went to the hotel and got his passport.

The Chechens did not allow the hostages to move around as much as they wanted, at least on the first day. Bythe second day we could pretty much move around. Iasked a Chechen woman: Can Igo there? and she said: "Go ahead.

The Chechens broke into the theater buffet, and distributed all the drinks, candy, cookies, and chocolates throughout the hall. Theybrought a box of cash onto the stage. Ilater understood that this was the money from the snack bar. Theyasked the hall: Who needs money? The people remained silent, and the Chechens threw the box on the floor. Later Isaw some of this money in the orchestra pit (when Iwent to the toilet there). TheChechen men distributed food, because the women were, as a rule, standing at their posts, while the men were moving about the hall. TheChechens took a few men from the hall, and these men brought juices and other drinks from the snack bar and placed them along the back wall in several spots, and some was set on the stage. Weunderstood that we could drink if we were thirsty. Iusually grabbed a pack of drinks. I would give one to my daughter and pass the rest down the aisle. Weate ice cream, chocolate, and pastries, but Idid not eat much, since Ihad no appetite, but drank juice, milk, and other beverages (Fanta, cola, mineral water, and the like). Whenthe juices ran out, the Chechens found buckets and brought tap water from the restroom, and handed out single-use containers to hostages. TheChechens brought the water, because it was dangerous to leave the hall and go into the foyer, because of the snipers. OnOctober 25th, however, when Anna Politkovskaya entered the hall, she brought a large quantity of juices and beverages, and so we did not really suffer from thirst.

Thus it came about, that we reseated in the parquet. After they divided the hostages into foreigners and non-foreigners (Russians), we were sitting in the first three seats by the side doors. Whenever this door was opened, Icould the dead girl (Olga Romanova), until she was taken away on the second day. Awoman sat down next to us, and she was swearing under her breath. Iasked: Are you one of us? She said: Yes, one of us. I've been sitting here since the beginning. TheChechens every now and then peek out those doors, and once they saw something like a gas canister there. Something colored red. Clearly, it couldn't have come from nowhere. The Chechens, therefore, would periodically open the doors and shoot in that direction.

When they were talking on the radio about how many Chechens had seized the theater, Barayev was walking by, and said: Twenty, thirty, forty they don't even know how many of us came to the theater! There's fifty-four of us here, fifty-four!

I heard and saw the conversation of two Chechens. Onetook money from his pocket and showed it to the other, and said: This is all that's left. Ihad to give the rest to cops on the way some of them fifty, some a hundred rubles.

Barayev left the hall and returned, but there were always some Chechen men and women in the hall. Itseemed to me that the women were not relieved, that it was the same ones at all times. There were 19 in the parquet, and some more on the balcony (I could not say how many exactly, but Isaw at least 4). Themen moved around the hall; they came and went. Therefore, it is difficult for me to say if these were the same people, or differentones.

There was a broken window in the foyer on the side where we sat, and it provided good ventilation. People that found it drafty were brought coats from the cloakroom. Itdid not feel especially stuffy where we were, but in the center of the hall it stank from the toilet in the orchestra pit. After awhile, the Chechens reseated all the people in the first row to places farther back. Later they had us change places as well if shooting starts outside the hall, the Chechens said, it would be dangerous to sit on the outside edges.

The only empty seats were in the center of the hall, next to the bomb (it stood in an arm chair in the 9th row). Idid not have the nerve to sit right next to it, so we sat in row 11. Idid not like this bomb; it was a dangerous thing. Ikept squinting at it, and a Chechen woman seated next to it said: Are you afraid of it? Ianswered: Yes, I'm afraid. Don't be afraid. Don't worry that it will hurt you more than the others. There's enough here for 3buildings. This calmed me down to some degree, since Icould just forget about looking for shelter. Periodically, one or two Chechen women came by to relieve the woman by the bomb. Shekept matches at hand next to the igniter, and a candle was tied to the armrest. Atthe first opportunity, we moved to the end of therow.

Whenever there was shooting, the entire theater hall hid under their seats. Within the hall, the Chechens would shoot short bursts (3 or 4shots) toward the side doors, or at someone up in the rafters. Later Iread that one could walk up there. Every now and then we could hear shooting from outside.

The Chechens exercised some control over the hall. Theydid not allow loud conversation, and they limited our movements. Theyintimidated the hall with their shooting, but sometimes did the opposite: Barayev one time said that when the shooting started, they would hide the hostages in a safe place (the gymnasium, for example) and protect us to the last bullet.

There was a pipe leaking somewhere, but the Chechens would let no one in to fix it. Something started on fire later, some kind of a short circuit, and the smell of burning filled the hall. They handed out women's sanitary napkins to use as respirators.

At one point Movsar decided to release some little children who were sitting on the balcony with their mother. Theywere reseated to the parquet at first (like we were, to be closer to the exit). Atfirst they wanted to let the children go without their mother. Thewoman appealed to 'Yassir' for help. Isaw how the woman was crying, telling 'Yassir' that they were little, they would get lost, they could not remember their home address. Yassir' went to Movsar and they talked about something, then decided to let the woman leave with her children.

There was even some outside pressure. Ido not know exactly, but it seemed so to me. Thelast hostages released were from Azerbaijan. Thiswas in the evening of October 25th.

I did not see Dr. Roschal because he was on the balcony. They would not let him go down to the parquet. Isaw that he had brought some boxes of medicine, but that was near the exit. Wewere in row 11, and none of the medicine made it past the 17th or 18throw.

The Chechens at one point found some military identification cards, and tried to find their owners in the hall. Theyfound a general up on the balcony, but Icould not see what happened there. Ionly heard how Barayev said gladly: I've always dreamed of catching a general!

On October 25th, Barayev walked down the aisle next to us, and was talking on the cell phone. Judging by the tone, he was talking with some boss. Iheard him speak apologetically: Yes, we made a bit of a mess here in the hall, but well pick it all up before we leave. After this, black plastic bags turned up, and the hostages had to pick up thetrash.

At that time practically everyone in our section could talk on the cell phone. AChechen woman of about 45stood next to us, and gave anyone who wanted a cell phone, in spite of the prohibition. Shetold me how her husband had been killed, and her brothers, and how they had taken her 12-year-old son from school, never to be seen again. Thewoman told how she could not live this way anymore, and so she left her 5-year-old daughter with her sister, and came to the theater. There were two sisters, one 16and the other 18. Their relatives had no idea where they had gone, they just decided on the spur of the moment. Theradio broadcasts stated that the theater hall was full of the widows of dead Chechen fighters. Thiswas not so: there were a lot of young girls, 1618years old, who had never been married. Theywere amused at the fact that they were being called widows.

As far as Iknow the Chechens killed no hostages. OlgaRomanova, the girl they shot, was not a hostage.

On the evening of October 25th a man came in from the street. Justlike Olga Romanova, they dragged him into the hall and brought him to Barayev, who asked: What are you trying to do? Whydid you come? The man answered: I came because there is no information. I'm worried. Myson Roma is here. 'Yassir' said that there was a 10-year-old on the balcony named Roma. Theman answered that that wasn't his son, that his was older. Thenthey were shouting in the hall, looking for Roma. Theysaid his surname, but Ido not remember it. Since no one answered, the man was taken out of the hall. Iguess that they shot him, because there were shots heard rightaway.

At that time they moved the bomb right under the balcony. There was another bomb on the balcony, and they put them on the same fuse. TwoChechen women were sitting by the explosives. Itwas quiet in thehall.

On the evening of the 25th a young man, whose nerves apparently had given out, got up and started to jump over the backs of the seats. He was holding a bottle of Coca Cola. Iwould guess that he was about 25years old, maybe even 29. Hewas in a thin, gray sweater, and wore glasses. Hehad been sitting in the last rows. Isaw a Chechen who was sitting in a chair on the stage jump up and start shooting. Iturned and looked in the direction he was firing. Isaw the young man dragged down by his legs, but the gunfire had wounded a man and woman. Thewoman was with her husband and daughter. Herhusband gave a blood-curdling shriek: They killed her! Theykilled her! Liza, daughter, they killed Mommy! The Chechens had already caught the young man, and they bent him over. Theydid not beat him, but they pushed him around.

Barayev, almost in a sob, asked: Why did you do this? The young man replied: I wanted to be a hero, to save everyone. Barayev asked: What should we do with him? Later he added: At dawn he will be judged according to Sharia law. The young man was taken from the hall, but there was no shooting.

Afterwards, Barayev called the Red Cross, and the police and military headquarters. Noone would answer. Heasked if anyone in the hall had relatives who could call representatives of the Red Cross. Agirl sitting two rows below me said: Yes, my husband works there. He told her: Give me the number. She dictated it to him, and Barayev dialed it himself. He said to the phone: Hey, get the Red Cross here. Weneed a surgeon.

There was a doctor among the hostages; Ionly remember his first name: Igor. Hedid as much as he could, but said that a neurosurgeon was needed, because the wounded man had been hit in thehead.

The girl who gave Barayev her husband's number yelled to him while he was talking: Tell him that it was an accident! Tellhim it was an accident, or they'll start to storm the building! Later she took the phone from Barayev and repeated everything, that it was an accident, and not to let them try to do anything foolish, they just needed some doctors. After the call, we waited a long time for the physicians tocome.

Barayev calmed down a little afterwards, and said that they would release the Americans the next day. Heasked: Who here is American? Sandy raised his hand. Theygave him a phone so that he could call the American embassy, and get them to send a representative from the embassy the next day. Sandy started to call, but the phone shut off, so Iwent looking for another one. Igorhad the other phone, but he was busy trying to persuade the Red Cross doctors to come andhelp.

A woman journalist finally got through, and repeated Igor's words that they needed a neurosurgeon. Theydemanded to know information on the state of the patient. Igortook the phone and explained that the woman had penetrating injuries, which probably did not hit any internal organs, but the man, if Iam not mistaken, had been shot through the left side of the head and needed an immediate operation. After some time he finished his conversation, and they gave the phone tome.

I called the embassy; so Iknow exactly what Iam talking about. Itwas not right before the assault on the theater. Wetalked after 1 A.M, and then sometime around 2 A.M. right up to the moment of the assault.

When we called the embassy back, Sandy at first talked to an embassy representative named Barbara. Later they asked him to give me the phone. Hehanded it over, and someone named Andrey talked with me. Thiswas on the night of October 2526. Itold him that Barayev wanted to release the American hostages, and wanted an embassy representative to come. Andrey asked me: What time? Iwent to Barayev and gave him the phone. Theyagreed to 8 in the morning. After this conversation, Barayev gave the phone back to me, and Andrey started asking questions, but all around me the other hostages started yelling: That's enough, you've been talking a long time. Later they asked for Sandy again, Igave him the phone, but the people shouted: Shut up! That's enough! You've been talking a long time already. The phone was taken from us after this, and we never talked with anyone after that. Thepublic was worried about any kind of provocation. People from the Kazakhstan embassy told me later that our ambassador had talked to Barayev, and had agreed to our release at 8 A.M. on October 26th, 2002.

Barayev then quieted the hall down, and said that the next day, on October 26th, that they would finally begin negotiations with General Kazantsev, who had been authorized by the government to do so. Talks were to begin at 10or 11 in the morning. Barayev said that everyone could relax until then, because there would be no assault until negotiations began, but their further actions would depend on the results of the talks with Kazantsev. Relaxed people then began to settle themselves in tosleep.

The last time Ilooked at my watch, it was 3:20 A.M.One of the Chechens said: It's boring in your Moscow, I'm going to go do some shooting. He left the hall, and Iheard some shots. Ithought that Ishould get some sleep, so that morning would arrive more quickly. Sasha and Sandy were asleep in each other's arms. Ifell asleep, and woke up in the intensive care section of the cardiology ward of Hospital No. 7.

I learned about Sasha's death from the radio on October 27th, 2002. Thecircumstances of her death, how she had been crushed under a pile of bodies during transport to the hospital, Ilearned this from the news, and from people who at been present at her identification. Ilearned of Sandy's death from workers from the American embassy on October 28th, 2002. WhenI went to the morgue to identify him on the 29th, Ilearned that he had received no medical assistance whatsoever.

I am frequently accused of not being objective; they say that Isuffer from 'Stockholm syndrome'. Ireally have no reason to side with the Chechens: they set up the situation that resulted in the death of my entire family. Iunderstand clearly that even in spite of the Chechens' acts my loved ones could have been saved had the authorities not undertaken this senseless, illogical assault, which could protect no one, and could have led the Chechens to blow everyone up. Theassault itself was the cause of my loved ones' deaths.


I wrote the above text personally.

 
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