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Nord-Ost: The Story of Sandy Booker
Written by - ()   
, 15 2002
‘Nord-Ost’ has forever linked America and Russia. Linked horribly. American Sandy Alan Booker, who survived the 1995terrorist attack in his hometown of Oklahoma City, came in Moscow to bring his future wife Svetlana Gubareva and her 13-year-old daughter Sasha Letyago back to America.They had flown to Russia’s capital city from Kazakhstan, and it was almost by accident that the trio went to the musical. Theyhad decided to cap off a good day marked by successfully receiving their visas to the U.S. by celebrating that night.
- Mallory Sturua, ‘Izvestiya’
I was forced to write this article because of the abundance of misinformation published in the American and Russian press, as well as on the Internet, concerning the life and tragic death of my friend, Sandy Booker, whom, in October of this year, destiny willed to be taken hostage in Moscow by terrorists.
One winter three years ago, at a ski resort in the Colorado town of Crested Butte, a man approached me from our Oklahoma City Ski Club: “Hi! Iam Sandy Booker. Theytell me you’re Russian! Isthis true?”
And we struck up a conversation. About the ‘Iron Curtain’, presidents, Russian traditions and culture. Asthey say here, ‘easy going’ Sandy immediately endeared himself to me. Itturned out that his life was interesting in many ways. Hewas a great skier, had a good command of judo, and worked in Oklahoma City for several years as an instructor teaching teenagers the art of self-defense. Since his youth he had tried many professions, and was even a gold prospector once. Outin the desert of Arizona he had a piece of land where there were only the thorns, rocks and rattlesnakes, and there he went and dug. Eighteen years ago, he became interested in electronics and stopped prospecting. Heworked at a GM factory as an electrician responsible for assembly-line robots. Hewas fond of computers and collected them.
The following year, we were together again on a bus carrying ski fanatics to the Colorado slopes. Weskied in a group, waiting for each other on the steep slopes. Sandy was always in the lead, and full of energy. Heflew like a bird down the hillocks, and fearlessly challenged the ‘double-black diamonds’, the most difficult ski trails. Hesaid he loved extreme sports. Thattime he asked me: “Will you help me with Russian? Iwant to learn it,” but he would not say why. Hementioned that he spoke Spanish and Japanese, and knew some German and French phrases. Withlanguages he was training his mind, and he said that in general he was inquisitive. Itold him: “Okay, I’ll help!”
Sandy phoned a few months later, and we began. Heseized the Russian language on the fly, and all the while searched for analogies in other languages. Hewould note: “This word is consonant with Japanese, while this one with Spanish.” He was very fond of talking about different topics, and could talk for hours. Inaddition, he liked to teach me about computers, local life, and even politics. Gradually we became friends and began to share lessons learned. Itaught him Russian, and he gave me ‘lessons in American life’ and other information. Imarveled at his performance, memory, and level of activity. Hewas constantly perfecting himself. Heeven studied language at work, during breaks and when it was a slow shift. Hesaid he was interested in Russian literature and had read Turgenev, Tolstoy, and Solzhenitsyn, and that he loved music, especially classical.
Our lessons were on weekends, because Sandy worked evening shifts. Sometimes he came to my home, and sometimes Iwent to his. Helived in an old district near the center of town. Hishouse looked unusually picturesque: from ground to roof it was entwined with green ivy and stood between the huge trees. Inside, there were only the necessities of life, and striped cat named ‘Tiger’.
On Saturdays, we met halfway, at in his favorite cafe, ‘Panera Bread’. There we had lessons with a coffee theme, and he was terribly pleased. Heloved to pronounce aloud the names of dishes in Russian. Sometimes he went there with his daughter Debra, a slim, beautiful girl, a teenager who lived with her mother: Sandy’s ex-wife. OnFridays, Sandy would keep Debra for the weekend.
In addition to working at the factory, he had other occupations. Hebought and rented out houses, and so he was kept busy with repairs. Sometimes he came to lessons all smeared with paint and in work clothes.
At one of the lessons, Sandy said he wanted to marry a Russian. Theysay that Filipino and Russian women make the best wives in the world. Hewas attracted to Russia, and in deference to his future wife he had decided to learn the language of her country. Hesaid that he was in correspondence with an inhabitant of the Crimea, to whom he was introduced by the Russian wife of a friend from a neighboring state. Sandy planned to go to the Crimea to meet his potential bride, a woman with two daughters, 15-year-old twins. Sandy dreamed of a big family.
After returning from the Black Sea coast, Sandy said that they got along and had asked the immigration service for a bridal visa, but in the process of further correspondence with this Crimean woman, he found out that for some reason the woman had sought advice from a fortune-teller and shown her all Sandy's letters. Shethought it over, and a few months later changed her mind about getting married.
Oklahoma City is a deserted town. People here can only be found in stores or gas stations. Sandy’s evening schedule did not allow him to go to places where there was a chance of finding a future spouse. Inaddition, after his main job, he was constantly busy with his rental houses: something always needed to be repaired, changed, or redone. Onlythe Internet remained.
I got Sandy to promise me that he would introduce me to his next choice. Later he called up and said: “Listen, it takes so much time to search on the Internet! CanI place an ad in Russia? Idon’t want to go through any American agencies.” Irecommended the Moscow newspaper ‘Hand in Hand’, the most widely circulated.
The result exceeded all expectations. Inthe first week, Sandy got more than two hundred letters from the former USSR, including Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. Thushe found Svetlana Gubareva, and in time it turned out that Sandy had made a wonderful choice.

Svetlana worked as an engineer in a large factory in Kazakhstan and lived in the city of Karaganda with her 13-year-old daughter, Sasha. Atthe beginning of their correspondence, she had difficulty with English, and Sandy with Russian, but both progressed rapidly in their studies. Atthe outset they used translator programs on the Internet, and said it gave them indescribable pleasure, since the computer sometimes gave funny translations. Theywrote each other every day. Sandy admired Svetlana, her intelligence, tact, and humor. Healso liked her daughter Sasha, who also studied English and was good at drawing. During their correspondence, we spoke several times with Svetlana over the phone, all three of us at once.
In May of this year, Sandy was planning on going to Russia to see his future wife ‘in the flesh’. Theydecided to meet halfway, in Moscow. Sandy asked Svetlana to bring her daughter.
Sandy returned to Oklahoma City a happy man. Hisintuition did not fail him, and all three got along very well. Heimmediately set about getting Svetlana a fiancée visa. Hehoped that his new family could come later this year, for Christmas. Hewas excited, and said that now he would work even harder: “I’ll have two daughters, and Ineed to save up money for their educations!”
That was in June, and since then Ibarely saw Sandy, only a couple of times when he was showing off another house he was repairing. Evensmeared with paint, plaster, and all sweaty, he would manage to squeeze in a Russian lesson!
We exchanged occasional phone calls and short emails. Iasked how things were going with the visa for Svetlana, and Sandy replied that he was still waiting. Ourlast conversation was at the end of September.
On the eleventh of October, Iwent on vacation to New York. There Ilearned about the tragedy in Moscow, but Inever could have guessed that one of the hostages was Sandy! WhenI got back, friends asked if he was my friend, and Ireplied: “As far as Iknow he wasn’t planning on going to Moscow. Thename must be a coincidence.” The next day, however, the radio reported: “Sandy Booker from Oklahoma is one of Moscow hostages,” and Irealized: it was Sandy. Could it be that Svetlana was invited for an interview at the American embassy, and Sandy went to support her? AsI later learned, that is what happened.
It always best not to take the press to heart. Thepapers cut Sandy down for finding a mail-order bride, and Svetlana was slandered: “she dragged Sandy to the concert.” Iwas reminded of all the bad stories about Princess Diana after her death.
On the first of November, Iwas asked to translate a videotape of an interview Svetlana gave for Moscow television. After watching it, Icould not refrain from tears.
The first scene was footage from the 1995Oklahoma City bombing, and the voice of the anchorman: “This story began seven years ago in Oklahoma City, when a government building was blown up in the center to the city, killing 168and injuring over 500. Sandy Booker happened to be nearby, but was not hurt. Hehelped the injured. Backthen fate would grant him a gift: he would live another seven years.
“Svetlana Gubareva watched the tragedy of Oklahoma City on television from her city in Kazakhstan. InOctober of this year, she and her daughter Sasha came to Moscow for an interview at the American Embassy, in order to marry Sandy Booker.”
Svetlana said that, before the embassy interview, Sandy would say: “You’re my Russian woman,” while afterwards he started to say: “You’re my Russian wife.” Sandy and Sasha during their first visit had hit it off well. Thatday they were all in a wonderful mood, a feeling that it was like a holiday. Theinterview went well, and all three were happy. Theywent into downtown Moscow, had lunch at a small cafe, and strolled about. Nearthe ‘Okhotny Ryad’ metro station, they stopped at a theater kiosk and bought tickets for the popular musical ‘Nord-Ost’.
In the television interview, Svetlana told how, when the terrorists took everyone at the play hostage, the three of them were so happy that they simply could not believe that this was happening to them.
On the last night before the assault, a small hope appeared. Theterrorists had agreed to release the American hostages, and had allowed Sandy to call the embassy. Thenext morning at 8o’clock, representatives were to come get them. Theconversation took place at one and two in the morning. Svetlana said that those six hours before their release seemed short in comparison with those hours they had already spent waiting. Theysat and asked time to hurry up, and then fell asleep. During the night, Svetlana woke up and looked at her watch: half past three in the morning. Svetlana thought: “Another four hours of waiting! Better get to sleep so that time passes more quickly.” Sandy and Sasha were asleep at the time.
The anchorman’s voice: “Thirteen-year-old Sasha was buried today in Moscow at the Troekurov cemetery. Sandy will be buried in Oklahoma. Noneof his relatives knew that he had flown to his bride in Moscow. Hewanted to make it a surprise by bringing home his wife and new daughter. Sasha, however, did not make it to Oklahoma, nor did she return to her city of Karaganda.”
Interview: “Svetlana, why didn’t you take your daughter’s body back to Kazakhstan? Whydid you decide to bury her in Moscow?”
Svetlana Gubareva: “Three years ago we came to Moscow to see the capital: Ilove this city and wanted to show it to my daughter. Moscow made an enormous impression on Sasha, and she exclaimed: Mom, Iwant to live in this city!”
The videotape frame freezes on Sasha’s eyes.
When Igot back home, Isent Svetlana an email, never hoping for a reply. Three days later, a familiar address leapt onto my monitor! Svetlana wrote that she was still in Moscow, in the hospital, but sometimes she could use a computer to check her mail. Shethanked me for the letter, and said she wanted to come to Oklahoma to meet Sandy’s relatives, but her desires did not coincide with her capabilities, as she had no money for the trip.
*
I just left the funeral. Svetlana was not there.
December 28th will be Sandy’s birthday. Hewould be fifty.
Written by Lyudmila Shropshire-Rusakova (Oklahoma)
In ‘Chaika’ # 22(38), November 15th, 2002


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Comments (1)
1. Written by website, on 09-06-200900:53
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