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Written by   
, 24 2002

Survivors of ‘Nord-Ost’ and relatives of slain hostages are unnecessary burdens on the government

In late November the federal parliament passed a law on it third reading, which would allocate to he firm Link, Inc. monetary support in the amount of 13, 252,000 rubles (~$500 thousand). Asthe explanatory note for the law states, it is “to maintain the artistic team as well as provide social support for employees of the ‘Nord-Ost’ project injured as a result of the terrorist act.”

Labor minister A.Pochinok, who introduced the law, did not explain why he requested exactly this sum and not a ruble less. Hedid state, however, that this gesture on the part of the government is in no way an admission of guilt with respect to the victims.

He was also modestly silent about other salary arrears in Russia, which now exceed 35billion rubles and which the state is loath to collect from debtor companies.
Thus ended this saga of extortion on the part of the bankrupt organizers of the musical. Theshow’s chief producer, G.Vasilyev, artfully carried this out in the media all month long, and tried to dislodge many tears from us. Itbecame rare case: the government is to cover the losses of a private enterprise at the expense of the taxpayers.

A preliminary shelling, conducted with all artillery at Mr. Vasiliev’s disposal, softened up public opinion. Itbegan with Mr. Vasiliev and a group of actors arranging a meeting with Vladimir Putin, followed by Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko and Culture Minister Mikhail Shvydkoi stating that there would certainly have to be a revival of the musical in the very same theater, and promising assistance. Money flowed as if from a horn of plenty.

The Open Russia Fund, under oligarch Khodorkovsky, has allocated two million dollars to create a road version of the musical, and Moscow city hall has begun repairing the theatrical center using money from the capital city’s own budget. Forsome reason, however, no one from the Kremlin, or the government, has asked the owners of Link, Inc.: Why are the taxpayers responsible for your commercial risk? Youare a private company and should have insured your business, and besides: do you not consider that this ‘revival’ of your musical is starting to look a lot like dancing on the victims’ blood? Isthis not making a mockery of the victims, including your own actors? Would it not be better to just make another show?

The logic of the owners of Link, Inc. is as simple as a stick: they want to get back the money they expended. Asthe newspapers trumpeted in October of last year, ‘Nord-Ost’ was “Russia’s first musical, and created using classic Broadway technology.” They heaped praise on its creators, the two bards, Ivashchenko and Vasiliev, known for their hit lyrics, such as: “Come to me, Glafira, Iam pining alone, and bring me a hunk of cheese” ‘Ivasi’ (Ivashchenko-Vasiliev) are presented not just as the creators of music and libretto based on the novel ‘Two Captains’, but also as world-class producers. Soonwell-known former ‘academician’ A.Tsekalo joined them.

Things really started to swing, just like on Broadway, with 4million dollars to be spent on special effects, which they are to receive this October. So, it was not simply “a hunk of cheese,” but millions of dollars that the duo was fighting for while portraying themselves as poor as a Kazan orphan. Inthis regard, Mr. Vasiliev responded with much hypocrisy and servility to the Kremlin when he told a reporter: “I heard that Parliament is trying to put together a commission to investigate the causes of the terrorist attack. Itseems to me that it’d be much better for the country if they’d put together a parliamentary committee on a revival of ‘Nord-Ost’. Thiswould be a really constructive idea.”

Ask, you shall receive, but from out of our pockets. Tsekalo, in turn, has joyfully declared that the musical has planned pleasant tours abroad in the future, and in particular, it expects to go on stage in New York on September 11th, 2003. Thatis, to organize another dance on victims’ blood, especially if you are someone who believes that the Americans themselves staged these air raids.

And really, why form a commission to investigate the causes of the terrorist attack? Itmight end up finding out some things that could be very unpleasant for the president. Forexample: his refusal to personally participate in resolving the crisis. Orthe gullibility and irresponsibility of the security ministers, starting with FSB DirectorN.Patrushev. Orthe murder of the musical’s spectators with an unknown gas the use of which they try to cover up using every weapon at their disposal. Orthe universal disorder during the rescue of the survivors, for which other St. Petersburg friends of Putin are responsible: Health Minister Yuri Shevchenko and Minister of Emergency Situations Sergei Shoigu. Andwe will not even mention PremierV.Kasyanov, who was drifting rootless abroad during the days of tragedy. Therefore, it is ridiculous to say that such terrorist attacks will never happen again. Thepromise voiced three years ago about “dunking terrorists in the outhouse” has turned into an endless war, which already goes on according to its own rules.


Meanwhile, what about the surviving victims who are not favored by the sovereign’s care? Howare they doing these days? Theyhave it rough. Everywhere they turn, they are received as pesky petitioners. Neither the government, nor the Parliament have written any laws which would define treatment for former hostages and relatives of the victims, or allocate and pay for additional trips to sanatoriums, or medicine and improved housing. Thatis why many victims of the “hostage rescue” feel that Putin and his ministers have used the 100- or 50-thousand rubles of “one-time financial aid” to allow ignoring them in the future.

Dr. Liana Akhapkina works at the Vishnevsky military hospital in Krasnogorsk. Her19-year-old daughter ‘Zhenya’ (Yevgeniya) was killed at ‘Nord-Ost’. Shewas a beautiful, cheerful girl, and a junior at Moscow Social University. Inorder to help pay for school, in the evenings she worked at the theatrical center checking tickets. Thatevening, despite requests from her mother to come home early, she stayed to watch the show with her boyfriend, who worked in the cloakroom.

Her fellow physicians at the hospital are bothered that, after Zhenya’s death, no one came to Liana with words of consolation: neither the hospital chief, nor the local government, nor Mr. Vasiliev, the owner ‘Nord-Ost’. Thedoctors ask: “Maybe you journalists can talk about the these unfortunates, and summon the power of conscience?” Although the deceased girl’s family did not refuse to meet with this reporter, they did not see any particular use in doing so.

Iwent to meet them at their apartment, a Khrushchev-era five-floor dormitory belonging to the military hospital. Liana Georgiyevna Akhapkina is an endoscopic physician, and her husband Andrei is a driver. Liana’s mother, a war veteran, greets me from her easy chair, while 7-year-old Masha plays nearby. Zhenya was 19.

We go sit in the kitchen and use hot tea to warm ourselves. Theradiators on the first floor of this building work very poorly, so they always have to keep electric space heaters switched on. Itcertainly leads to high electrical bills, but at least they do not freeze to death. Itis perhaps because of this cold and damp that they suspect Masha to have tuberculosis. Uponlearning that a journalist had come to visit, we are soon joined in conversation by Svetlana, the wife of Liana’s late brother. Svetlana, together with Liana and Andrei, spent all 58terrible hours of the hostage crisis in the gym at the PTU where the government had assembled families of the hostages.

“Just look at how tight they are packed in here,” says the sister-in-law. “Five people on 28square meters. Grandma had a stroke and needs peace and quiet, and they have to care for her. They’ve been stuck like this for more than 20years. Liana, by law, was supposed to be in adequate housing a long time ago, not in this dorm.”

“Did you contact the hospital chief about an apartment?” Iask the hostess.

“A hundred times,” answers Liana. “"He’d write on the form: ‘To the housing commission’, and it would disappear over there, and so on every year. Iwent to him the other day and said: Yuri Viktorovich, you know Ican’t stay here any longer. Everything reminds me of Zhenya. Andwithout raising his head from his desk he replied: ‘I don’t have anything for you’. Ireminded him that there was a new building for rent in Archangelsk, and he said that they only had two or three apartments set aside for us and they’ve all been allocated, so Ileft with nothing. Whodo we need to see? Andhere they talk about “care on behalf of the president and the government.”


A visit by Liana Georgiyevna to district head B.Rasskazov also proved fruitless. Hedid not refuse, and his assistant, P.Kravchuk, offered to write up a statement and make some calls. Perhaps something could be found, but using pull from her mother, the veteran of the frontlines.

“Did the young man who watched the play with your daughter remember how it all started?” Iask.

“Yes, Ivan told me,” answers Liana. “At around 4:50 am he and Zhenya noticed the gas. Helaid her head on his shoulder and assured her: ‘Sleep, everything will be fine’. Shedied on his shoulder. ‘Vanya’ (Ivan) work up in the hospital. Ataround 5:50 am the assault began, so Zhenya and all the hostages were under the influence of gas for about an hour. Later in the morgue they showed us her picture. Shewas sitting in a chair, dead, and Vanya was already gone. Thatmeans the security services had time to take pictures. Sotell me this: why did they shoot the sleeping Chechen women? Couldn’t they have taken pity on them and at least ‘leave’ a few for questioning?”

A short, elderly woman enters the kitchen, one hand on a cane and the other against the wall. Sheis Liana’s mother. Shesits down on a stool and is barely able to say through her sobs: “The fascists at Auschwitz killed people with gas, but these did it right there in a theater hall.”

Iask: “They told me that Zhenya and her young man were going to get married.”
Andrei nods, and once again Liana sighs: “When they were taken hostage, they agreed that if they got out of there alive they’d go to the marriage registry office. Zhenya called me about it, and Andrei and Igave our blessing and prayed for them. Atthe hospital, first somebody from the FSB talks with Vanya, then an investigator from the prosecutor’s office comes and records everything. Later some doctor worked with him. Wethink he was a hypnotist. Vanya somehow became very closed about it, and his memories have changed. Hekeeps repeating that had it not been for the assault, he wouldn’t be alive. He’s already separated himself from Zhenya somehow, and he didn’t recognize their friend at the hospital. Whatis this, the fentanyl?”


“Perhaps you can you tell me why those who were killed by the gas were all cut open from the chin down?” asks Svetlana, perplexed. “Why did they cut up our Zhenya? Thedoctor at the morgue said it was at the request of the prosecutor’s office, something about a criminal case, and they had to establish the cause of death. Wethink they were testing a new chemical weapon and wanted to see how it acted on the heart, lungs, and brain. Theyeven did cranial trepanation on them. Theykept them on water and juice for two day in order to prepare for the effect of the gas, and so that fewer of them would choke on vomit in their sleep.”

These are not questions for a journalist. If, indeed, there had been an autopsy, then it is not clear why the death certificate of Yevgeniya Anatolyevna Usvalieva states: cause of death is established victim of terrorism. Theanswer is clear: in giving such a diagnosis to the dead, this absolves the Kremlin of any accusation of deliberately murdering these people.

“It’s a terrible thing,” says the sister-in-law, “and now it’s even harder for Liana to get an apartment. Theyalready hinted that it wasn’t their fault her daughter was at ‘Nord-Ost’, and so she should be more patient now that there’s one less around here.”

Gradually the conversation turns to the 100thousand rubles (~$3800) of ‘material assistance’ for her poisoned daughter, something akin to mockery. Yes, some money could and should have been set aside, but in last place, after words of sympathy and concern for the fate of the heartbroken families. Warmwords and participation never appeared.

Why have these families, in contrast to relatives of the crew of the submarine Kursk, still not met with the president, or received any words of comfort, even though the government is a hundred times guiltier in this latest tragedy? Whyall this government concern for the play ‘Nord-Ost’, but not for the suffering mothers, fathers and children of the slain hostages? Herenow is a question that is entirely ‘mercantile’: what can a family in dire need of housing buy at current prices with money left over from a funeral? Three to five square meters. Whatthis means is that they must sue the government to demand compensation so that they can buy a normal apartment.

Liana and Andrei heard that some of the ‘Nord-Ost’ hostages and relatives of the slain hostages have already filed claims against the Moscow city government, asking for compensation for non-pecuniary damages, but the couple is shy. Theyconsider a lawsuit against the government to be an insult to the memory of their ‘Zhenechka’. TheAkhapkins still hope that the consciences of high-level officials will awaken all on their own.

These are simple people, and they behave honorably in the face of the grief that has befallen them, in contrast to those nosy “muses of the public servants,” who for the sake of profits sing hymns to the government that murdered their fellow minstrels, and perform joyful dances on the blood.

Alexander Golovenko, in zavtra.ru

December 24th, 2002

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