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Not Stockholm Syndrome
Written by /Anna Rudnitskaya   
, 22 2004

Moscow News

Two years ago several hundred people the 'Nord-Ost' hostages were subjected to an unknown gas. Someof them died, the rest were hospitalized. Thecomposition of the secret substance was declared a state secret (for greater detail, see the dossier). Allthat is officially known is that the gas was harmless: President Putin stated this personally for an American television network.

But there are other opinions onthis.

To remember everything

Witness Aleksey Minyaev was very disappointing for the investigator.

Tell me everything that you saw and remember, asked the man from the distict attorney's office, who was questioning the liberated 'Nord-Ost' hostages.

I worked there as a coat checker, answered Aleksey. Hedoes not remember anything more about the hostage taking, or the storming of the building. Hisloved ones discovered him in intensive care at Hospital no. 13on the third day following the assault. Where am I? he asked his mother. Sheexplained. Heasked about friends. Shestarted to tell him that some had died, some were in the hospital, some were already home. Heinterrupted her, and asked again: But why am Iin the hospital?

The physicians at first explained the memory loss as part of the body's defense mechanisms, but Aleksey had not just forgotten about that which happened in the Dubrovka theater building, he was forgetting what was still happening to him. Amonth and a half later, when he was discharged from Hospital no. 13, his medical records contained a clinical diagnosis of his being 'a victim of crime and terrorism'. Farther in the report, his loss of memory was said to be due to a 'post-hypoxic state induced by the use of a substance with narcotic actions'.

Retrograde amnesia, these are the words of Antonina Ivanovna, Aleksey's mother, who pronounces them without hesitation. I remember, because once Isaw a program, something like the television show 'Obviously Improbable', and they talked about this disease. The improbable has quickly become the obvious: Antonina Ivanovna had to remind her son, where and at what time, he would meet his friends, where he had laid his textbook. After Hospital no. 13, Aleksey spent another six months in the Center for Speech Pathology, and only later could he return to his studies he is studying ecology at the Moscow Social University.

In the regional polyclinic, as at the university, Aleksey's story is known to all: the words 'Nord-Ost' are written right on the top of his medical charts in capital letters. There are only three such charts in the polyclinic. Besides himself, Aleksey knows Tamara Yusupova. Sheused to work at 'Nord-Ost', but now she is retired, feels poorly and has been categorized a group IIIinvalid. Aleksey and his mother are also getting ready to do this: the therapist told them that the handicap is a given, but the head of the VTEhO did not receive them very cordially. We should really continue treatment, she said. How are you fixed with money?

We got the impression that if there was money, then he must be treated, but if not, then it wasn't necessary, Antonina puzzled. She yelled at me, she said that he is functional, 'leave the office, I'll talk to him'.

I just can't stand to see anymore doctors Alekseyadds.

According to information from Hospital no. 13's consultation office, which was opened for the victims of 'Nord-Ost', there are about 30patients such as Aleksey. 'Hypoxic encephalopathy with complications' is the streamlined version of their conditions in the language of medical documents.

What did the doctors say? Isthe gas to blame?

They say, perhaps, Aleksey answers.

But what else could it be from? his mother asks. He lived for twenty years before this, only ever had colds. Youdon't lose your memory from a cold.

To forget everything

Oksana is 17. Shesits by the window, looking straight ahead, quietly answering questions. Twoyears ago, she was still in school and was at 'Nord-Ost' with a friend. Theunstated question hangs in the air. Oksana nods her head slowly:

He died.

She does not cry. Shejust stops for awhile, and then continues. Shespeaks about how, when she came to in Municipal Hospital no. 1a few hours after the assauat, she surprised the physicians, who had thought her to be beyond hope: They brought me in, in very grave condition, Ididn't react to anything. Theycarried me in like a dead body. She talks about how she was released after a week, and felt normal until last year, when her nerves began to give out. LastSpring, when she caught the flu, the cough would not pass, and it was thought that she had pneumonia, but it turned out to be bronchial asthma. Now, every spring, she has to spend a few weeks in the hospital.

Whether the gas is to blame or not, Oksana Matashenkova does not know for certain. Thedoctor at the polyclinic said that it is a possibility: none of her relatives has suffered from asthma, and it is not one of the possible complications of influenza. Another physician told her to not say anything to anyone in the hospital about 'Nord-Ost': they would discontinue her treatment.

She does not communicate with her former comrades in misfortune: It only gets worse when Iremember all that She does not go to theaters and cinemas, either. Onceshe decided to go to the premier of Pushkinskiy, but when she saw the red theater seats, she dashed out in horror. Ofall her former entertainments, her only remaining musical is 'Notre Dame'.

I went to see it four times. Notbecause Ilike it so much It's just that sometimes Ilike to feel as if I'm there. ThenI go to the musical.

She is afraid to ride on the subway, is afraid of dark streets, and scared to watch the television: After Beslan it got worse. Iunderstand that it's best not to watch the news, but Ijust can't, Iwatch anyway. Italways seems to me, though, that they're going to blow me up now, that they're after me, that someone wants to kill me. No psychologists have examined her. Shenever sought them out: Oksana is studying psychology and knows all too well what they mightsay.

Do you know what irritates me? Whenthey talk about Stockholm syndrome. Idon't have Stockholm syndrome, Idon't justify those terrorists. ButI can understand them. Somegirls were sitting with us, 1617years old, and they talked about how hard it was to live in Chechnya. Ihave more malice towards our government, than Ido for the Chechens. Myfriend suffocated. Theydidn't even take him to the hospital. Whydid it happen like this?

Oksana wipes shining eyes. Sheis not looking at me, but what could Isay anyway?

Is everyone healthy?

Many of the former hostages would not meet with the reporter: they wish to forget, they do not want to discuss the state of their health. Among those with whom Isucceeded in speaking is Elena Vinogradova. After 'Nord-Ost' she discovered an enlargement of her thyroid. Nowshe needs an operation which costs 17thousand rubles. There is the former usher from 'Nord-Ost', Lyubov Sviridova, who has been declared a group IIIinvalid. Shehas problems with her blood vessels, and constant headaches. Hermedicines cost 15thousand rubles a month, but she is retired and cannot work. There is a woman who asked that Inot use her name, who was in an early stage of pregnancy during the terror act. Herchild was born with grave pathologies. Noone will undertake to say what the cause is for sure there are dozens of potential risk factors to account for it, but all of this woman's friends who told me of her misfortune were certain: it is 'Nord-Ost'. Buthow can one not come to this conclusion, when all that concerns the health of the former hostages and the after-effects of the gas are surrounded by such secrecy?

The press director for the Moscow public health committee, Lyubov Zhomova, answered our questions brusquely: All of the former hostages are assigned to regional polyclinics near their places of residency. Noneare seriously ill. Wedo not specifically deal with them, but they are tracked as to why they came in. Nothing was known there about Tamara Yusupova and Lyubov Sviridova as well (since there are surely more such people). There are no invalids among the former hostages, the press service cheerfully answered.

A few children were at 'Nord-Ost', and a diagnostic office was opened for them at our filial hospital. Our business is to cure, not to investigate, head physician Vladimir Popov stated to the 'MN' news correspondent. In order to state that specific diseases are caused by use of the gas, we would need to compare all these children with a different group. Itis very interesting, but someone else should occupy themselves with it. For two years, no one else has been interested.

At the request of the 'MN' correspondent, Hospital no. 13's consultation office made a census: 82former hostages were diagnosed with hepatopathies (disruption of liver function), 41with myocardiopathies (heart problems), and 16with nephropathies (kidney problems). Several men complained of hearing loss; they were sent to the Center for speech pathology. Chief physician of the hospital, Leonid Aronov, when asked whether these diagnoses could be connected with the after-effects of the gas's application, answered with an already well-known phrase: No direct connection. Thegas contained no toxic substances.

In surviving 'Nord-Ost', the former hostages are now held prisoner by low-grade, unfriendly medicine, with lines at the regional polyclinics, shouting managers, and prescriptions for free medicines which are not supplied by any pharmacies. Youcannot, of course, envy them. Noone envies them, except perhaps for the relatives of the 129who did not survive the effects of the 'harmless' gas."

The living and the dead are brought together by one thing the diagnosis. Death certificates given to relatives of hostage family members read the same as the medical charts of the survivors: 'Victim of Terrorism'. Heremedicine, of course, is powerless.

MN Dossier

What they said about the 'harmless' gas

Public health minister Yuri Shevchenko four days after the assault declared that the gas that was applied was a derivative of Fentanyl, which is used as an analgesic in anesthesia. (Overdose can cause death in some patients, as a result of cessation of breathing and blood circulation). Later, in reply to an official request by the public health committee of the Russian parliament to disclose the composition of the gas, Shevchenko stated that this information relates to a government secret.

The deputy chief of staff of the Russian catastrophic medical service, Boris Grebenyuk presented his version. Defending the physicians who were accused of delaying medical assistance by acting chief of the interior ministry, Vladimir Vasilyev, Grebenyuk declared: In the course of the operation at 'Nord-Ost' the special services applied Tri-methyl-Fentanyl, a most toxic gas. There is simply no antidote. Thephysicians acted on the situation.

Foreign experts guess that, during the assault on 'Nord-Ost', strong-acting toxic substances may have been used. Twoyears ago, chemist Vil Mirzayanov in an interview with 'MN' offered that it could be the gas BZ, which was tested in the Burdenko hospital. Those who survive will have health problems. Thesubstance has a delayed action, the scientist warned.


27 October 2002

Two hostages died from gunfire, another 116from the after-effects of the usage of special substances.

28 October 2002

People did not die strictly from application of the gas. Itwas from the application of the gas under such non-standard conditions.

30 October 2002

We are not seeing the influence of the special substances on the patients; these are the consequences of the terrorists' cruelty.

(From the public speechs of chairman of the Moscow city public health committee, Andrey Seltsovskiy)

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