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A secret covered inashes
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‘MK’ investigation: Unidentified remains from the Guryanov Street apartment building blast are still at the morgue 11years later

September 9th, 1999: the bombing of the apartment building on Guryanov Street.

We have gotten used to thinking about high-profile terrorist attacks only on even dates.

Today is not even date. Itis not even the same month, and there is no new information.

So why have we decided to resurrect this forgotten topic? Itis simple a little while ago we got a phone call here at the ‘MK’ editorial offices:
“People still remember ‘Nord-Ost’ and Beslan, but they forgot about the very first terrorist attack, the one on Guryanov Street. It’s as if it never happened at all. Butthere are people who still can’t bury their loved ones who died in the tragedy. Eventhough it’s been 11years! There are 90-plus remains still in a special freezer while the state has no money to do DNA testing”

The woman on the line never introduced herself. Shesimply hung up.
She was used to no one playing attention to her words.

It was her cry of despair. Acry, it seemed to her, in the wilderness.

We tracked down the very same people who, after the blast on Guryanov, were unable to bury their loved ones. After 11years of waiting, they finally agreed to tell us what they had kept silent about for so manyyears.

Lyudmila Knutova: “The state never paid for DNA tests”

It is the grave of 31-year old Sergei Knutov at the Rogozhskoe cemetery. There is a gravestone, wreaths, and a small fence, all the required attributes, but the earth empty. Knutov’s body was never given back to the earth. After the terrorist attack on Guryanov Street, the fellow was not among the living, nor the dead.

A short line on his death certificate reads: ‘missing’.

Eleven years have passed. “No one cared about us back then, and even less nowadays,” sighs Lyudmila Knutova, mother of Sergei. “For a few years Iwent from office to office, begging for help in at least finding the remains of my son, but in response Iwould hear: ‘You're really getting on our nerves! We’re not made out of rubber, how much more can we do?’”

The events of September 1999gradually disappeared from Moscow memories, like a boring composition in a school program: read once, and forgotten.

Only those who lost loved ones in the terror attack remember that day. Theyremember even the minutest detail.

They have not forgotten how just two weeks later, the destroyed building was demolished and just as quickly the scene of the tragedy was cleared away, along with the remains of the slain.

People had still not been buried when a trench was dug at the site and stone was laid for a new facility. Inthe stony debris that remained after the blast, however, people found scraps of clothing, photographs, documents, and even human remains.

At the 40th-day memorial ceremony, families of victims gathered at the scene.

“We thought we’d lay flowers, but there was nowhere to put them. Thescene of the tragedy was behind a tall fence, and guarded. Onthe holidays we put up a Christmas tree, and lit candles and laid flowers nearby. Ourtree stood for a few days, but then someone removed it.”

By the anniversary of the bombing, construction of a new high-rise was in full swing.

“We tearfully begged them to put in a little square, so that people could come back at any time to commemorate the dead. Theydidn’t listen. Theyonly put up a little stele, which today nobody takes cares of. Inthe autumn the mud there is impassable. Asmall chapel was built nearby, but it’s only open on holidays.”

Lyudmila has not come to the scene for 10years. Shedoes not keep in contact with any of her former neighbors from the bombed building on No. 19Guryanov Street. Smashed to smithereens by common grief were long-standing friendships of the former AZLK employees living in the apartment house.

“None of my old neighbors responded to my plight. Mycolleagues at the institute, where Iworked for twenty-five years, they didn’t even give me a ruble. Thestate also turned its back on us, because Ihad to pay for the DNA tests myself. There was virtually no money allocated for identifying the remains, and as a result more than 10people from our bombed apartment house are still unaccounted for to this day. Friends of my dead son helped me collect money for a DNA test. Ipaid for a molecular examination of the remains, but there were no results: Istill haven’t found Seryozha.”

On the night of the blast, Knutova saw with her own eyes the body of her son, and so she quickly began preparing for a funeral: she bought a suit and ordered the coffin. Butwhen she went to the morgue Sergei’s body was not there. Sheviewed the videotape of the blast site made by the Emergencies Ministry over and over again, and once again she identified her son among the dead bodies filmed on camera. Theytried to persuade her that she had been incorrect, however, but how could a mother not recognize her own child?

Now Lyudmila Knutova is disabled. Through the court system she fought for a stipend due to the loss of her breadwinner. Sherequested compensation for non-pecuniary damages, but the judge refused: “There are no such laws, and you are not the victim!” But her friend in adversity, Tamara Gorbyleva did not give up: she sued for a million rubles in damages. Thisamount was sought from the terrorists who were condemned to life in prison.

But Lyudmila Knutova is still lucky in one respect: she got an apartment, though the worst of the bunch. While she was out searching for her son, all the decent housing was snatched up. Major repairs cost the woman a large sum, and she never managed to get any furniture from the state.

“Many who lost children in the autumn of 1999became disabled and died shortly thereafter. Butnobody talks or writes about that. Onthe anniversary of terrorist attack, the journalists do a small scene from the blast site, and that’s about it. Youknow, Idon’t need anything anymore. I’m tired”

My conversation with Lyudmila Knutova took place over the phone. Sheflatly refused to meet with me.

“It doesn't matter, because you can’t change a thing,” said the woman in closing.

Tamara Gorbyleva: “I wept myself blind”

“On the eve of attack Idreamed of my late mother: ‘My little daughter, you just sent me a telegram that I’d be getting guests, but you didn’t give me their names’.” Tamara Gorbyleva buries her face in her hands. “Try not to believe in prophetic dreams after that. Thebombing took my daughter Yuliya, my son-in-law, and my 4-year-old grandson Artyom.”

Tamara Dmitrievna (Gorbyleva) learned about the bombing of the apartment building on Guryanov Street from the evening news.

“I ran outside, grabbed a taxi, and started to wail. Icouldn’t even give the driver the address. Heturned on the radio and it was full of endless reports about the attack. Thetaxi driver understood and nodded silently. Icame to only when he stopped near the bombed house.”

“This is Hell!” screamed Gorbyleva on seeing the destroyed building, but at the time the woman had no idea that a living hell for her was just beginning.

“It was the first major terrorist act in Moscow, and we didn’t know what to do. Wehad no idea where to look for the bodies of our loved ones. There were no lists of the dead, and no one to help us. Iwas given a piece of paper with the addresses of six morgues: ‘Go look’. Ididn’t even know if my children were dead or alive Andthen Ifound out what Hell was! Fora week Iwent around to all the city morgues. I’ll never forget the mountains of corpses! Ididn’t find him. ThenI was sent to Lianozovo cold storage, where they receive unidentified corpses. It’s a scary place. Ratsthe size of cats scurried around the building. Atthe front entrance a drunk greeted me: ‘Did you bring me a bottle?’ Itold him: ‘My dear, here’s 500rubles, enough for 5bottles, just look for my children, a 4-year-old boy and my daughter and son-in-law’. Wedescended deep underground into a room where, apparently, new corpses are brought. Howlong Ispent down there, Idon’t know. Iremember Iwas whispering: ‘Not them, not them’ And at some point the man with me laid his hand on my shoulder and said: ‘Rejoice, it means that they’re alive!’ Iwas in tears: ‘No, dear, my heart tells me that they are dead’. Wewent into another hall. Theman opened one chamber after another, where he kept the bodies of the dead, and he opened black bags God, so many dead people flash before my eyes! ButI didn’t find my children.”

The next day Gorbyleva decided once again to go around to all the morgues. Could she have missed her daughter in her confusion, could she have been made a mistake?

“Every morning Igot ready to go to morgue, just as if Iwere going to work. Iremember in some mortuaries Ihad to literally rake through bodies that had been dumped in a heap on the floor. Ilooked at the dead and prayed: ‘Lord, help me find the children’. Ninedays later Iidentified Yuliya, and Ifelt better. Ithought: ‘Here, Iwill bury my daughter and continue the search’.”

The day after her daughter’s funeral, friends called up Tamara Dmitrievna (Gorbyleva): “Your grandson is alive! OnTV they showed Emergency Ministries officers pulling him out.”

“They were mistaken. Itwas not Artyom who was saved, but Dima Ageyev, a boy from next door. After some time Ionce again got word that they saw my grandson begging in the subway. Andonce again Ihad hope: perhaps he really was alive? ThenI turned to the TV show ‘I am looking for you’ and showed a photograph of little Artyom. Awoman called up and said she allegedly saw the boy at the ‘Sklif’ (Sklifosovsky medical institute in Moscow ed). Irushed there, but they don’t even have a pediatric department. Later in the program they started getting calls from various people who claimed that he is alive. Oneman said he saw him get into a car and get driven away, another claimed to have seen the child in a reception center, and a third said that my grandson was at the train station with a sign that said: ‘I’m hungry’. AndI continued to search for my grandson among the living Looking for a long time, until Imet a gypsy. Helooked at my palm and said: ‘Tamara Dmitrievna, don’t look for the boy. Yourloved ones were all lost’. Iwent home after this, and had a stroke.”

Misfortunes never come alone. Formore than six months, Tamara Dmitrievna did not recover. Herhusband and disabled son supported her as best they could.

“I couldn’t sleep. Icouldn’t eat. Iwas crying night and day. Handkerchiefs didn’t help. Icut a terry cloth towel into pieces, blotted my eyes and then wrung out the soaked piece of terry cloth. Andone morning Iwoke up and Iwas blind. Inmedicine there is the term ‘to cry out the eyes’. Sohere Ihad cried them out. NowI can’t see out of my left eye, and only 10% out of my right. WhenI saw my sister after the tragedy, she was numb: ‘Tamusenka, you’re all white’. Itturned out that I’d gone completely gray, but all the mirrors in my apartment were curtained (Orthodox mourning tradition ed) so Ididn’t see how much I’d changed.”

Though blind, Tamara Dmitrievna did not lose hope: if she could not find a body, then at least she would try to find the remains of her grandson and son-in-law. Sheknew that there were 95sets of human remains from the terrorist attack at the Lianozovo cold storage.

“The results of the free DNA examination were a disappointment. Theyoffered to repeat the procedure more thoroughly, but at my own expense. AsI explained, the state didn’t allocate money for the complicated cellular test that gives more accurate results. Ihad 25thousand rubles in the bank, but this wasn’t enough. Iremember the medical examiner looked at me and said: ‘Get rid of your mink coat and do the DNA test, and there’ll still be enough for a marker’.”

According to rumor, so far Lianozovo special storage facility still has those same 95sets of human remains.

As to why people lost their loved ones, Tamara Gorbyleva has a theory:
“I talked with the investigator in charge of the case. Hesaid that when he arrived at the scene of the bombing at 6am, none of the bodies were numbered. Theywere all taken away in bags. Atthe number 11and number 6morgues they showed me some body parts that had no numbering. Andmore Thefact is, many were mistakenly buried. Theyeven had to rebury some bodies. There were cases where people went to the morgue that allegedly rented apartments in our building, and they took bodies to get the funeral money. Noone kept tabs on who actually lived in the apartments. Thechief medical examiner clutched his head when one family identified the DNA of their child, and other people had buried him a long time ago. Suchis life. Butis it really possible to write about this? Also, no one has even talked about the looters who swooped down on the scene like locusts. Theystripped the dead of earrings and cut chains Bythe way, my daughter left behind a lot of jewelry. Ididn’t pick it up and Itold our prefect to take the gold to the bank to be assessed and I’ll give the money to children orphaned in the terror attack.”

At Kuntsevo cemetery, Tamara Gorbyleva put up a small marker to her daughter, grandson, and son-in-law. Nearby rests her husband, who died seven years ago.

“You know, Istill can’t stand the thought that little Artyom is dead. Ioften see him in dreams, and according to popular belief people can only frequently dream about the living”

Anna Pakhomova: “We buried Papa symbolically, as did many others”

Anna Pakhomova is the heroine of the television spots. Ateach new anniversary of the terror attack, reporters call her up. Shenever refuses to give interviews.

“They ask me to talk a little bit about how it all happened, and who Ihad die,” begins Anna. “But for some reason, they never asked what Ihad to go through while Iwas looking for my dead parents. Ifound Mom quickly, but my father is still listed as missing. Nowadays people know how to act after a terrorist attack. Everything’s all worked out, but back then we were left to own devices. Atthe time we had to go looking for the bodies of our relatives in the morgues, while our neighbors who were fortunate enough to survive chose their new apartments and staged rallies.”

The first shock Anna received was when she understood that her father was neither among the living, nor the dead. Theman had just disappeared.

“I still can’t understand, how could he disappear? Myhusband and Iwrote to the city council, the prefecture, and city hall. Wewaited a long time for the results of the DNA tests. Thefact is, only a year after the tragedy did the state provide a little money for this procedure, but the results of the test came back unexpectedly fast in two weeks. Itusually it takes at least six. Myfather’s remains weren’t detected, but Ithink that it was a form letter. TheDNA tests were done carelessly, if even done at all. Theresults often didn’t coincide with reality. Someof the documents had phony forensics results that were even withdrawn, so we turned to the prosecutor’s office, but there Iwas once again shown a piece of paper with the DNA chemical formulas and the brief conclusion: not found.”

For five years Anna looked for her father’s remains, and in the end

“We buried Papa symbolically, as did many others whose relatives ‘disappeared’. Acarpenter made a little box in which we put some of father’s things, and the keys to the bombed apartment. Istill can’t get a death certificate for my father. Ionly have a certificate from the police: ‘missing since September 9th, 1999’. Backthen they didn’t use the phrase: ‘missing as a result of a terrorist attack’.

Anna is still tormented by one question: why are only those who lost property recognized as victims? Those who lost relatives in the terror attack do not appear on any lists.

“After the incident Iwas in a neurosis clinic. Myhusband back then appealed to the prefecture and asked for money for my treatment. Hewas told: ‘Your wife is not a victim and cannot be provided with free hospital treatment’. Iwas given a thousand dollars and 70thousand rubles for the loss of my father's apartment, but we had to do some deception. Whenthey were issuing out the warrants, my husband went to the council and said that we were the Runovs, my parents’ last name. Wewere issued a warrant for a tiny apartment. Thecouncil staff understood that we were lying, but didn’t say anything.”

Long ago, Anna lost contact with all the former residents of the bombed apartment house.

“Almost everyone who buried their loved ones died of grief. Sodid Tatiana Rozhkova, she didn’t hold out but a year and a half after the death of her daughter-in-law and grandson, and there are a bunch of examples like this people dying of grief and loneliness. Butthose who are living and doing well are those who were lucky enough to survive and move into new apartments. Theystill thank the government for the housing with the spacious kitchens and free furniture and appliances. Ijust can’t forget a speech one old man at a rally gave: ‘Had it not been for the blast, Iwouldn’t be spending my old age in such a nice apartment with luxurious furnishings’.”

Anna is one of the few who comes back every year to the scene of the tragedy.

“Those who come here are only those who lost loved ones in the terrorist attack. Every year there are less and less of us. Butthose who got an apartment and live happily never come back to this damn place. Yetthey often ask me if Iknow how the people living in the apartments at the site of the blast are doing. Yes, they live fine, though perhaps when we come back every September 9th and light our candles it bothers them a little. Maybe some of them sympathize with us, but no one can understand us. OnceI couldn’t understand how someone could scream out of grief, but now Iunderstand this better, because Iknow how the brain and all consciousness shuts down from the grief”

Of all the people who lost loved ones in the terrorist attack on Guryanov Street, only one woman did not go looking for her loved ones. Fivefrom her family were killed in the bombing: her mother, daughter, husband, and two children. Shenever found anyone. After the incident she got religion into her head and now teaches at the Orthodox school in Pechatniki. Onlyonce did she speak about the missing: “The remains are not the most important thing. Themost important thing is that they went home to our Creator. Theyare now well.” Every year on September 9th she comes to a service in the small chapel that was put up opposite the blast site. Sheflatly refuses to speak with journalists.

P.S.We got in touch with one of the employees of Morgue No. 4at the Russian bureau of forensics, and asked for a comment on the situation: “Often, finding out to whom belongs one or another body part is impossible. After heavy fire, water, and other disasters, DNA is not preserved. These days the number arriving at the morgues in Moscow who are impossible to identify under any circumstances is about 15percent.”


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