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Nord-Ost's Eternal Hostages
Written by MK.ru   
, 27 2010

The effect of harmless gas: 8years later people live on drugs, have become blind, deaf, insane, and given birth to disabled children

Today is the eighth anniversary of the tragedy that is abbreviated as 'Nord-Ost'.

On October 23rd, 2002, gunmen seized the Dubrovka theater complex in Moscow. 912 people became hostages. OnOctober 26th, at 5.30 am, a secret gas was introduced into the theater building. Asa result the terrorists were eliminated and 130hostages were killed.

Years passed.

The Russian people turned another sad page of our history, and happily forgot the tragedy. Soit is with human memory all details, even important events, gradually disappear.

Today the former hostages who were disabled, mothers who lost their children, children who were in an instant deprived of parents, all were left alone with his grief. Tothis day they try to uncover the truth, which, in their opinion, the state buried along with the victims of Nord-Ost.

In their search for truth, survivors of the attack came to the Strasbourg Court.


Tatiana Karpova, mother of slain Alexander Karpov, remembers: After the storming of the auditorium representatives from the headquarters staff came to the polytechnic university to see the relatives (of the hostages). Thehall became deathly silent. The assault went brilliantly! Allthe terrorists were killed! Nocasualties among the hostages! Theentire hall applauded and shouted for joy. Everyone thanked the authorities and state officials for saving the lives of family and friends. Theythanked the Lord God. Atthis point into the room ran some clergy, and a service began. Thehall fell to its knees. Everyone wept with happiness

And then Isaw a group of doctors. Despite the general jubilation, their faces were far from happy. Tanya, it looks the who auditorium is dead!"

We met with the Karpovs Sergey and Nikolai, on the outskirts of Moscow in a quiet, deserted cafe. Theyare two of the founders of the Nord-Ost regional organization that promotes the protection of victims of terrorist acts. Sergei lost his son in the terrorist attack, and Nikolai his brother.

And since then getting to the facts, learning the truth about the terrorist attack has become for them the meaning of life. First they waited for an answer from the Russian justice system. Itnever came. Andso they filed a judicial complaint with Strasbourg. Intheir complaints to the European Court, it states that during the investigation of terrorist attack Russian authorities violated the 2nd, 6th and 13th articles of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantee the right to life, to a fair trial, and effective legal mechanisms. Meanwhile the Karpovs discuss questions that torment them to this day.


Sergey: You know, all of us have long since been forgotten. Brushed aside like annoying flies. Forthe first couple of years the Nord-Ost tragedy was remembered in all the newspapers, and a film on this theme would be shown on television, but now its all silence, but we won’t give up until we find the truth. Imagine it's been 8years and Istill haven't figured out what poisoned my son! Theformula of gas used in the theater center was never made public. Thedata does not appear in any criminal case. Buteverywhere, in black and white, it states that the gas was harmless. Butit's not identified! How do they reach these conclusions? Several years ago, we were able to get a vague response from the FSB. Theyexplained that they used a special preparation based on derivatives of fentanyl. TheHealth Minister added that the drug itself cannot cause death, but in a medical reference we found a different version, that fentanyl is a narcotic analgesic and that an uncontrolled dosage can lead to death. Andso where's the truth? I'll say something else: the Strasbourg Court, where we had to turn, is now examining the Nord-Ost case and they also asked our government about the formula of the gas. Butthey still haven't received a specific reply from Russia.


When will they announce the results of the Strasbourg court?

Nikolai: We're already at the finish line Thefirst statement was sent back in 2004. Forlong time the court was deciding even whether to consider our complaint. Thisprocess took several years. InStrasbourg there are long lines, especially with regard to Russia. Finally our case was taken into consideration. Wesent them 12kilograms of documents on the terrorist attack on Dubrovka, statements of witnesses, video and audio recordings.

What kind of questions did the representatives in Strasbourg have, in addition to the gas?

Nikolai: Unfortunately we cannot divulge this. Thanks to the Russian Federation, our case has been accepted at Strasbourg in closed chambers and not recommended for disclosure. Ican say one thing: the questions at Strasbourg were rather tough, and unpalatable to the (Russian) government. Westill believe that the assault was unnecessary, and that it would've been possible to avoid so many casualties had they planned a competent evacuation and for medical assistance to the hostages.


Nikolai: The Nord-Ost hostage rescue operation consisted of two parts. Thefirst part was combat, where units from Alpha and Vympel worked. Whatthose guys did was unique! Alow bow to them! Thesecond part was evacuation, sorting, and rendering first aid to the hostages. Thispart of the operation was carried out very poorly. Judge for yourself: when the special services and medics entered after the storming of the theater, they saw a room full of corpses. People were sitting and lying unconscious; they were all blue. Thedoctors were confused. After all, they had been warned that Dubrovka would be full of bomb injuries, amputations, and gunshot wounds. Nota word was said about gas.

At some point a doctor was examining a hostage and said that it looks like a narcotic poison, we need to inject naloxone. Thisdrug helps to save drug addicts after an overdose. Onehostage was injected with the medication and looked like he was doing better. Thenthe doctors got on the radio and started calling each other: anyone with naloxone, inject it! Andthen it became a mess. Theydidn't mark who got the medicine and who didn't. It turned out that one victim received two or three doses, and another nothing. Thedrug is very scary an extra injection could lead to heart failure."

Sergey: They didn't sort the living hostages from the dead. People were stacked on the sidewalk in front of the theater. Thenthey were all loaded into buses and vans, thus killing 13-year-old Sasha Letyago. She was simply crushed under a pile of bodies.

From the criminal case materials: testimony of health care provider A.V.Nedoseykina (Vol. 120, page 115): There was bad sorting living hostages were put in the bus interspersed with corpses of the dead hostages. Lackof information about the name of substance used during the raid played a negative role in the provision of medical care (From the book ‘Nord-Ost Unfinished Investigation’, which was published at the expense of the Nord-Ost public organization.)

Nikolai: There are cases known, such as when a man was put into a body bag. Theytook him for dead, but after a while the bag started moving. Onewoman who was mistakenly taken to the mortuary suddenly came to life. Aweek later she died in intensive care.

Sergey: Despite the fact that many victims of the gas attack started vomiting, they were taken out of the theater and laid on their backs. Hostages stuck on the bus with their heads lolling back. People choked on vomit and died. Whenthey unloaded, some were dead. All in all 58died in the buses and hospitals.

From the criminal case materials: testimony of health care provider O.V.Beljakova (Vol. 120, page 130): The bus did not have any medicines or medical instruments. There were 22survivors on the bus, one of whom died. The victims were distributed chaotically some were sitting in the seats, and others lying on the floor. This played a negative role. Ourwork would have been helped by having known the antidote.


Nikolai: There were a lot of ambulances, but for some reason the hostages were evacuated mainly by bus. Andthe ambulances returned empty. Tellme, what was the idea of having buses transport unconscious people? Onedriver said to another: Iknow where the nearest hospital is, we'll convoy. And a number of buses worked their way through traffic jams and trudged over to a nearby hospital where they weren't expected. Thedoctors weren't given any specific guidance by anyone. They didn't know which hospital to go to, where they were ready to accept casualties. Asa result, six buses arrived at City Hospital #13th at the same time. The clinic doctors threw up their hands: we can't process 350all at once! Three buses turned around and went to the Sklifosovsky, but they weren't expected there, either. For15 minutes the gate guard wouldn't let buses full of victims into the grounds.

But City Hospital #15, which was prepared to receive hostages, was empty. Thedoctors at this clinic said: we discharged all of our patients that could move and opened up wards for the hostages, we practically emptied the whole hospital and called in surgeons, critical care specialists, and nurses. But only a few survivors were brought to them.

From the criminal case materials: testimony of G.I.Kruglova (health worker who took part in transporting the hostages): They opened the rear door of the bus and literally threw in two victims in critical condition. Onthe question of where to take them, they said wherever we want.

Sergei: In 60percent of the deaths the autopsy states: no sign that treatment was given. Morethan half the hostages simply did not receive any assistance. Manyhad skinned necks and arms from being dragged on the asphalt.

From the criminal case (vol. 1, page 120): Children in serious condition were not delivered to specialized hospitals, costing the lives of ten children, five of whom received no medical assistance whatsoever.

How did you find out the details of cases involving almost every affected family?

Sergey: “For these 8years we have been very close hostages, victims. We know the problems of each family. Wehave all become one family! Weconstantly call each other, meet up, and support each other not only morally but also financially. Sotoday we are ready to sign for each and every tragedy.”


Nikolai: And then pathologists did their formal autopsies of the victims of the terrorist attack. Allthe documents were compiled in one format, cut and paste. It turned out that the internal organs of a 14-year-old girl and a 31-year-old man were the same, right down to the size and weight.

Sergey: We are still not allowed to review all the case materials. Wewere only allowed to look at the medical examination. Whenwe read this we got the impression that a bunch of disabled and seriously ill people had gathered at Nord-Ost. Allthe hostages, regardless of age, had serious problems with their kidneys, livers, and hearts. Well-documented exacerbations of chronic diseases, which none of them previously had. But regarding gas poisoning, the examination doesn't say a word. The cause of death for one and all was physical inactivity, dehydration, and chronic diseases. Itturns out that 125people died from sitting uncomfortably, and eating and drinking poorly.

According to the official press secretary of the Austrian Embassy, Wolfgang Banja: former hostage and citizen of Austria, Emilia Predova-Uzunova died as a result of the use of gas during the liberation of hostages.

Sergey: “Nord-Ost took my son Alexander. Butfor a few days we didn't know anything about him. Ahundred people went to find him. Hiswife survived, but they wouldn't let us see her. People were looking for their loved ones for days. There weren't any lists. Later, when we decided to create our own organization, we had to drive around to all the cemeteries and see who died and when. Andso we found all the victims' relatives. Also, we had a long fight with authorities to establish a memorial plaque with the names of the dead near Dubrovka. Weweren't allowed to hang pictures of dead, or a complete list of victims.”



The head of the investigation team was Vladimir Kolchuk. Youalso had problems with him?

Sergey: It was problematic just to get in to see him. Normal communication didn't work. Evenin the court he didn't answer questions, and frankly was rude to the judge and to us. Whatcan we say? Now the investigation is complete and Kolchuk got a promotion. He was assigned the investigation of a high-profile case of theft at the Hermitage.

Once we asked him about looting after the assault. Kolchuk sighed and said people are paid meager salaries, so they walk past a sleeping hostage, pick up a purse and keep going. He said it so calmly.

At the trial they raised the issue of looting. Theyfound the guilty party. Everything was blamed on a man who died in a car accident a month before the trial. Caseclosed. Noother names appeared in the case.

There were rumors that the terrorists get away?

Sergey: According to the results of the investigation, everything checks out, no one got away, everyone was killed during the assault. Butwe have one video that was made from the window of a building opposite the theater. Itrecorded that after the assault they pulled a handcuffed man out. Theythrew him down by the porch. Awoman walked up and shot him. Thecorpse was dragged back into the building. Wepresented the film to the investigator. Later he denied our speculation that perhaps the surviving terrorists were shot. Hesaid that there was no sound of a shot on the film, that the sound was from breaking glass.

Three people who were not hostages managed to get through all the cordons and enter the building on Dubrovka. Terrorists shot all of them. Howcould they have managed to enter the building?

Sergey: First to be killed was a young girl, Olga Romanova. Shewent through the cordon during the first hours after the capture when there was chaos everywhere. Buthow did Vasilyev and Vlakh get by? Thethird man Gennady Vlakh went to the theater looking for his son, Roman. And somehow he also got by all the checkpoints. Hisson was not in the auditorium and so Vlakh was shot. Andthen his body was cremated by mistake along with the terrorists. Galina, the wife of the deceased, couldn't find her dead husband for 8months. Theydidn't even give her his ashes. Into a grave Vlakh’s wife and mother put an ordinary ceramic vase with a Gennady's t-shirt, a packet of tea, and some sweets. Noone apologized to the family of the deceased.

We tried to call Galina Vlakh. Wewere warned, however, that after all that happened the woman has never been able to recover. Today she flatly refuses to think about the events. Galina never comes to commemorative events dedicated to the tragedy at Dubrovka."

You've been accused in the fact that you have filed suits against the government for a million dollars?

Sergey: That was a PR campaign to get attention and unite people affected by the attacks. Andmoney? Whatdo you mean? Weknew that we wouldn't see a cent.


Nikolai: Not all the hostages wish to communicate with us after the incident. Manywithdrew from everything; some still don't want to stir up the past. Thebackbone of our organization: relatives of those killed, and those who need serious medical care. Youcan't even imagine how many people after swallowing an allegedly harmless gas became disabled.

Sergey: Almost all the illnesses are associated with brain hostage. After people swallowed the poison gas, they had disrupted blood circulation and respiratory function. 12are completely deaf. Manyhave severely decreased vision. Hostages are diagnosed with memory loss. Aperson may go to the store and buy a kilo of salt three times. Virtually all have seriously impaired renal, liver, and digestive function. Somegot sores right away, while others later. People were discharged after 2to 4days, but then there were repeat hospitalizations, which they don't write about much.

In private the doctors admitted: what you want, you inhaled poison gas! Buton paper they didn't write this diagnosis. Theydidn't specify any symptoms. Although in the investigation, in the testimony of the paramedics, there was talk of opiate poisoning, the physicians didn't hide the fact that they smelled nerve agent. Butsuch evidence was carefully erased."


You are fighting for former Nord-Ost hostages to be released from army service.

Sergei: There is a law that people who during their military obligation were in captivity are allowed to be released from their service. But this is not the case with Nord-Ost hostages. Ourchildren are subject to the draft. Butwe demand the government adopt a law on the status of victim of a terrorist act. We've no benefits, aren't offered free treatment and there is no system of rehabilitation and compensation. And what about families who lost a breadwinner? Wehave 69children orphaned, who need to be raised and receive treatment. A vivid example is one family. During the terror act the mother and father of two boys, ages 4and 6, were killed. The kids are raised on their grandparents' miserable pension. Whenthey appealed in court for a raise to their pension, due to the loss of a breadwinner, the court took pity on them, and added another 250rubles (about$10) each.

Nikolai: A terrorist attack takes place and people are alone with their wounds and sores, no one helps them. People are disabled, and are unwanted. Manyhostages were unable to cope. There are instances when some of our women met each other in psychiatric hospitals. Relatives of the victims were also on the brink. Onewoman after the death of her son went to say goodbye to him in the morgue. Thenshe took a cab to a high bridge and threw herself off.

Sergey: Some women said that after the assault they signed something saying that they shouldn't have children for at least five years. Butone hostage at that time was already pregnant. Thebaby was born heavy. In addition to a diagnosis of cerebral palsy, she had a whole bunch of other diseases. Thewoman is raising the child by herself. Over and above this sick child, her two parents were disabled at Chernobyl. Every cent she earns she spends on treating her loved ones.



Sergey: Now they pay (relatives of) the deceased a million rubles. Back then they gave 100thousand (about$4,000). Victims were paid 50thousand, And 14,200 rubles (about$560) were for the burial it wasn't given out, but allotted for ritual services a poor wreath, a little sheet, slippers, and the least expensive coffin. Onewoman at Nord-Ost lost her son. Shewas given a coffin made out of hardboard, and stapled together. Shesaid: my son is big; this coffin is going to fall apart. Sothey told her: take two. Manywere forced to refuse the state funeral services.

The authorities hoped that the Russian people would swallow the tragedy and not check things out. But we began to dig. Itwas stated at the inquest that the forensic examinations had many inconsistencies. Butinvestigators just dismissed it, everything's fine they said. Theparents of 14year-old Kristina Kurbatova are still trying to find the person who signed the death certificate of their daughter. Theplace of death was unspecified. Someone just came and looked and said that Kristina was dead."

Nikolai: Also, many employees at Dubrovka noted the fact that among the terrorists they saw people who worked with them in the same building. Inthis case they were talking about workers who were renovating a nightclub. Inthe theatrical center there was a nightclub.

From the criminal case (volume 1, page 93): Employee of the theater was taken hostage and among the terrorists he recognized one of the employees from the gay club. Inthe auditorium he was not masked, and slept on seats in the immediate vicinity.

Nikolai: At first there was a version going around that the theater building had pre-positioned weapons and explosives. Butthe prosecutors wouldn't allow the issue to be raised. Then there was the terrorist attack in Beslan. There was also talk about the attack being prepared in advance. Theyfound that the stage in the assembly hall of the school had been broken into, as well as the library floor. The terrorists probably hid weapons under there. Butjust as soon as they stated looking at this the assembly hall unexpectedly burnt down.

Sergey: When we had the money we often held an event, called 'No Terror', and organized music festivals. TheWest and some Russian organizations sponsored us. Weorganized a memorable event at the railroad worker palace of culture, in the Cosmos Hotel. But then they pulled the plug on us. Nowwe can't rent space for our meetings. Whenthey hear the word 'Nord-Ost' they just say: goodbye, our jobs are dear to us. There is pressure on anyone involved in the terrorist attack. Among the hostages there was an injured woman. Shelost half her spleen and half of her liver, and she became disabled. Butwhen she tried to sue the government her disability was revoked.

Did Nord-Ost cease performances?

Nikolai: Nord-Ost went on for exactly a year, but people wouldn't go see it. Many of the hostages after Nord-Ost are afraid to go to any theater.

It is true that the Hero of Russia medal was awarded to the chemist responsible for the use of gas during the assault?

Sergei: Yes, we received this official information from the prosecution. Fivepeople were awarded Hero of Russia: FSB First Deputy Director General Vladimir Pronichev, who led the hostage rescue headquarters staff, General Alexander Tikhonov, the head of the Special Forces Center, the chemist responsible for the gas used during the assault, and two officers from the Alpha and Vympel elite special forces units. Andthe fact of the matter is not that they used this gas during assault. What’s frightening is that no antidote was developed against the gas. Incidentally, the name of the professor responsible for the gas was not disclosed.

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