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Someday you will have to answer for Nord-Ost
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, 20 2003

She walks in. Atall, well-built blonde and Ithought that her American fiancé had good taste in women.

Had

I can allow myself this word, but Svetlana Gubareva is still learning how to speak of Sandy in the past tense. Ican sense that her nerves are stretched to the limit, and she is like a cocked pistol, ready to go off at any moment.

She starts crying as she remembers 'Nord-Ost', those terrible 57hours, and the man she came to meet in Moscow, traveling all the way from Karaganda with her daughterSasha.

Will you excuse me, Svetlana asks, all but falling into the editor's armchair. Let me catch my breath. Thefentanyl

What she is going through, remembering time after time what went on this is worse than fentanyl.

Would you like some tea? Iask Svetlana.

If possible, a strong coffee, without sugar, she answers instantly, as if to extinguish inconsolable grief with a bitter beverage.

Shall we begin the interview?

Certainly, I'm ready. Askaway.

******

Svetlana, are you someone's guest, or here on business?

My trip is personal. Iwant to see the city where Sandy lived.

Did you find the money for the trip yourself?

Money? Americans helpedme.

His friends?

No, they were just people who learned about what happened and decided to helpme.

How did they find you?

In contrast to the many journalists who wanted, but couldn't seem to find me, these people one day just rang me up. Istill don't know how they got my Moscow number.


These are Sandy's compatriots?

No, Sandy's from Oklahoma City, while these live in Sacramento, in California. Glenn and Victoria Hegel. Victoria was born in the Ukraine, and probably knows the well the realities of the former empire. Theycalled me two or three times a week, and they opened a site on the Internet and got letters from people wanting to helpme.

You read those letters?

Yes, Glenn and Victoria sent me them by email. Theowner of matchmaking Internet site in Texas also helped me, as did a fund in Philadelphia for aiding victims of 'Nord-Ost'. Thesum, slowly collected, was enough for me to take a trip to Sandy's city. Andthe government of Kazakhstan helped, too: they city allocated forty dollars and the school where Sasha went collected twenty.

Were you ever in the US before?

No, this is my first trip. I'm always ready to tell about what happened at 'Nord-Ost', it's myduty.

In this regards did you decided to give testimony to the FBI?

It was their initiative. Imet with FBI agents in Moscow, and we had a preliminary interview about what happened.

Does that mean that you'll be going to Washington?

Yes, the hearings are scheduled for November 10th to the 14th. Fromthere I'll be returning to New York.

When you come back, will you tell us what it was like there?

Without fail.

Where are you going after New York?

To Oklahoma. After that, who knows? Since 'Nord-Ost' Ican't think three days in advance.

Sveta, what do you expect from your trip to Oklahoma?


Sandy has a friend there, Lyudmila. She's from Moscow. Thefirst time Italked to Sandy, she helped us on the telephone. She'd translate his questions to me, and my answers tohim.

The 'third wheel' wasn't superfluous?

No, she wasn't unneeded. They met at some mountain resort, and Sandy started taking Russian lessons fromher.

From where did he get this enthusiasm for Russia?

In Oklahoma, Sandy has a lot of friends who have Russian wives. Forsome reason he liked the way they did things, how they treated their husbands, and he decided that he just had to marry a Russian woman. WhenI wrote that Iwasn't Russian, but a Kazakh, he was astonished, and said 'what's the difference, you speak Russian'.

How did youmeet?

I was on the Internet, and somehow Istrayed to the server of a Moscow 'lonely hearts' club. Isaw Sandy's ad. Normally Idon't try to get acquainted with foreigners who don't speak Russian. Butthen Ithought of the sad experience of my first marriage, we spoke the same language, but never understood each other. SoI'm convinced that if don't even speak the same language, then it would be complicated to agree to anything atall.

So, what drove you to write to him?

Well, firstly, Iread that he was studying Russian, and secondly, reading his ad Ithought that in his case he was a person looking for another person, and not some ornament for his home. Heonly indicated a general age range he was interested in, and didn't care about the weight, height, hair color oreyes.

He answered your letter?

Yes, the very same day. Heanswered in English, after writing that he still didn't know enough Russian to write it, while Istudied German in college. After getting his letter, Idecided: since he's learning Russian, Ishould learn English. Mywork was connected with computers, and so my first letter was with the help of a computer program.

When did you first start corresponding?

The end of February last year. Atfirst it was one letter a day, then morning and in the evening, and then three or four everyday.

Svetlana, your correspondence from Sandy, almost seven hundred letters, became the basis of Eduard Topol's book. Yougave him all those letters?

I don't want to talk aboutit.

What do you think about his book?

I didn't readit.

When and how did you and Sandy decide to meet?

I was in June. Sandy took the initiative. Iwas so happy when he proposed flying my daughter and me to Moscow. Ineeded to know if he would accept my child, especially since Sasha has a complex character. Sheis a thing unto itself. Iwas flying from Kazakhstan on the plane, and Ithought: You idiot, what are you heading for this time? Writing letters is one thing, but to do this in real life, that's something else entirely.

And Sandy?

He arrived in Moscow a day earlier, and settled in at the Hotel Ukraine, and had a room reserved for usthere.

Did he meet you in the airport?

No, he didn't know Moscow, of all the capital's airports, he only knew of Sheremetevo, and that city isn't the easiest one for a foreigner who doesn't speak Russian to get around. Sowe decided well, it's more accurate to say that Imade it all a joke, Itold him: Meet us in the hotel, so that, God grant, you don't get grabbed by some other lonely woman.

How was it in the 'Ukraine'?

With heavy bags and heavy thoughts Iwas rushing into the foyer of the hotel and suddenly Ihear: someone is hailing me. Ithappens sometimes, you see something or someone and Iknow that they are yours. Soit was withme.

How about Sasha?

She was very reserved at first, and stood to the side, and watched everything. After a day or two, she and Sandy found something in common. Sandy studied judo for many years, and Sasha adored martial arts, at every opportunity she'd swish her hands or feet in front of me. Sheloved climbing mountains, and Sandy was a hobby climber. Bothliked to swim, both loved computers Hejoked that their hair color was hair identical, and their eyes, and that she looked more like his daughter than mine. Somehow we strayed into a dolphin zoo in Moscow, and decided to pose for a photograph there. Hereit is. Noneof the photographers had any doubt, that we were a family. Oneeven ordered: Tell your daughter to turn her head just a little, so that she doesn't block her father.

How long did you stay in Moscow?

A week. Wesaw Sandy off at the airport, and right away we flew back to Karaganda. Before his flight, he proposed to me, and somehow Iimmediately agreed right away. When we got home, right away we started getting the necessary documents together for making an application to the immigration service. We did all the documentation long and thoroughly, and Sandy sent in the packet of the documents in August, or to be more precise, on August 28th. I was astonished and gratified that we got a positive reply so rapidly, only in three weeks. We figured that the invitation for the immigration interview wouldnt come until November. A packet from the American embassy in Moscow came to my apartment on October 12th or 13th, with the invitation to be interviewed on October 23rd. Sasha and Iflew to Moscow to go through a mandatory medical commission, and went straight from the clinic to meet Sandy at the airport. All three of us went to the embassy on the morning of the 23rd. We left there in good spirits, and just by chance bought some tickets to the play Nord-Ost.

Was it your idea, going to the theater?

Mine.

Where were your seats during the play?

Well, it turned out we roamed the hall. When the attack happened, we were at the end of row 17, seats 2426. Later, we moved to the 11th row.

What was Sandys reaction when the terrorists took over?

He was the first to figure out the situation, and he said we needed to be very careful. When the gunmen started shooting out the video cameras on the ceiling, and ordering the hostages to climb under their seats, out of a childs stubbornness Idecided to resist, but Sandy grabbed me and pushed me down under the chairs. And Iunderstood this was no game.

Was it awful?

Yes bitterness and uncertainty, and a sense of doom from all sides.

One of the local journalists in an interview with you on Narodnaya Volna said: Id have died of boredom in 57hours.

Boredom, this doesnt describe Nord-Ost. No one died from it there.

Did the Chechens want to see your papers?

We didnt have any with us. The day before wed turned in our passports to the embassy, they had to give me a so-called bridal visa.

Did they give one?

I got my passport back from the embassy after Sandy had already died. And theyd opened the visa on the 23rd, on the day of Nord-Ost.

Did they revoke the visa then?

Naturally. They used the usual formula for such cases: In view of the impossibility of carrying out the conditions of the visa.

What do you remember from the last hours before they released the gas into the hall?

The last thing that Iremember, was talking to Barayev about how they had to let us out. He asked if there were any Americans, and gave us a cell phone and said: Call up the embassy, and well let you go tomorrow. We called, and talked, but the phone shut itself off. I told Barayev: It doesnt work. He pointed to these women journalists who were constantly on the phone, and said: Take theirs. Sandy talked with someone from the embassy first, then they asked to speak with me, and Italked to them so that we could agree to a specific time. I went to Barayev and gave him the phone.

What time did they agree to?

At eight in the morning. We were happy, and decided to get some rest, and settled down early. But at five in the morning they released the gas.

Were did you come to?

In City Hospital #7. I was lucky, because they didnt get as many people as #13. My condition was very serious, and Ithink that if Id been taken to #13, Imay have died.

What was the diagnosis?

If we are to believe the disease history, Iwoke up a half-hour after Iwas brought in. Naturally, Idont remember that. I came to when it was light out and felt my hands tied to the bed.

Why?

My left arm had an IV, and my right one was on a monitor, which was following my heart signs. Apparently my heart had stopped, because Ifelt a severe pain in my left side. Theyd probably intubated me, because my lip was swollen and my throat hurt theyd damaged the mucous membrane.

So, you remember everything in as apparently and probably. Did the doctors there really not tell you anything?

What do you mean, Leonid? Theyre such dependable people.

You came to and right away you didnt know what had happened?

The doctors knew that Iwasnt alone at the play, and they tried to calm down me. They indicated that Ididnt need to worry, and there were no children or foreigners among the dead.


This was a lie?

Yes. I learned of my daughters death from the radio, on October 27th. One hostage, a German, was behind the partition from me, but they took him from the hospital right away, and sent him to Germany. In his place came another man, not a hostage, and he had a radio. I was in my little corner and suddenly Iheard on the radio: Unfortunately, there are some fatalities among the Kazakhstan citizens. Yesterday, 13year-old Alexandra Letyago passed away in the 1st Metropolitan Hospital. That was her fathers surname.

Did they tell you how Sasha died?

I learned about it by chance. She turned out to be the child who was put on the floor of a bus, and unconscious adults were piled on top of her.

More coffee?

Yes. Strong, without sugar.


Its been a year since Nord-Ost. Have you been able to forget anything?

The pain is even sharper. This year, on October 24th, a group of us who were hostages, and some of the relatives of those who perished at Nord-Ost, we gathered at Dubrovka, not far from the monument. Some woman walked by and said: Youre ignoring the monument, it was built with love. Her words literally exploded inside me, and Ibegan to shout: Better that they saved us with love!

Didnt they really save you?

They didnt save us. This was not a hostage rescue operation, but one to destroy the terrorists.

Didnt the planners realize that hostages would die with the two-dozen or so terrorists?

Unambiguously they knew. Look: first they said that there were no children at all in the audience, and only later, it was Roshal who reported to the authorities and the press that there were a large number of children.

What do you think of Dr. Leonid Roshal?

Its complicated. Thathe came to the theater, this of course was an act of bravery. But how he conducted himself later, simply struck me as odd. Indeed, this physician, who knew that there were sick children there, he would know for sure that they would be the first to die. There was this small girl, Kristina Kurbatova, who had very bad bronchitis. Dr. Roshal assumed it was pneumonia. This means, that he who decided to use the gas sentenced her to death. She died right away. They took her to a hospital, only a formality, then straight to the morgue. And for him to say that Putin deserves a medal, well, that is very strange for a physician.

Did you take Sasha back to Karaganda?

No. I decided to leave her in Moscow. She liked Moscow so. We buried her in the Troyekurovskoye cemetery. There are five others from Dubrovka there.

And Sandy?

They told me at the embassy that hed died. They said that theyd found a man, similar to Sandy, and asked me to go to the morgue to identify him. Grigory was there, the son of Luba Burban from Los Angeles.

Were you at Sandys funeral?

Unfortunately, Icouldnt fly. I was in the hospital again. They buried him on November 3rd, in Oklahoma. But now Iwill finally visit his grave.

Dont you think that it wont be very pleasant for his mother, having you visit? Have you spoken with her since it happened?

Yes, Icalled her from the embassy. But as far as pleasant unpleasant These thoughts, of course, keep coming to me. I dont know. No one can condemn me more than Ialready condemn myself. And no one can speak words more terrible than the words Isay to myself. I never thought that my love for the theater would lead to this finale


Svetlana, perhaps we can continue this tomorrow?

No. No, the worst is already behind me. Lets go on.

You are a citizen of which country?

Im officially a citizen of Kazakhstan. I was in such a hurry to get to Moscow for the visa, that Ihadnt quit my job or sold my apartment.

Does someone help you? The authorities in Moscow, for example? Or Kazakhstan?

They kick me back and forth between them. In Moscow they say Im not a citizen of Russia, while in Kazakhstan they say that Iwasnt poisoned in Astana.

Sveta, knowing that you are now in America, Irecently talked about you with the press secretary of the president of the Eurasian Jewish Congress, Alexander Mashkevich. He is well known in this country, and around the world, an important businessman with an income in the millions. Their headquarters is right in Kazakhstan. They are ready to help, but they want to know exactly what do you need?

You know, if someone wants to help, he never asks. He just does it. What does a person need, who has endured poisoning with fentanyl and no one wants to treat? What does a person, who hasnt worked in a year, who only survives thanks to some tenderhearted people from Sacramento, what do they require? How specifically to help me? A strange question. (President) Nazarbayev also promised to support me in any way possible. My sister flew to Moscow to Sashas burial, and they promised to pay for the trip. But when Igot back to Karaganda and my sister called the local authorities, they told her that they could only help my closest relatives, for example, my mother. But my mother died ten years ago. My sister asked: But, really, Im Svetlanas blood sister, am Inot a relative? They told her: No, for us that is not a relative.

Svetlana, how about (Moscow Mayor) Luzhkov? Indeed, he is always for the people.

Luzhkov was speaking at the ceremony dedicating the monument at Dubrovka. He said he felt the pain, but for some reason he didnt say that he felt guilt on what went on in Moscow. He is, after all, the city boss! Why do Ifeel guilty for those who died in the nation that was once my own?

At the conclusion of this interview Iwill give you the opportunity to tell Putin and the Russian authorities everything that you feel necessary to tell them. Well publish it verbatim.

Together with a number of other foreigners, Ibrought a lawsuit against the government of Russia. And the words of the responder struck me: Russia did at Dubrovka everything that it could. If everything that could be done was to was leaving a child on a bus under a pile of bodies, if everything that could was to go look after Sandy three hours after the gas attack Its my great fortune that Im not a citizen of Russia.


Putin and his Russian and local apologists will not be please with your words, for sure.

Your question caught me off guard. I never thought about this. If, as the physicians assert, that a human is 80% water, then after receiving that completely harmless gas, Im made up of brake fluid. Give me until tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, and Ill send you the continuation of my answer in the mail.

******


Svetlana Gubareva kept her promise she sent an answer byemail.


Here is the text of her appeal to Vladimir Putin:
Until midnight Iwas arguing with myself, until Icame the thought came that though, at first, we were hostages of the Chechen gunmen; later we became hostages of politics. I have little hope of seeing justice in your country, but sooner or later each of us will have to answer for everything he did in this life, before the

Highest Court
(also called the Lords Judgment). It is a court without governments, impartial, incorruptible, and inevitable. Someday you will have to answer for Nord-Ost.

I believe Svetlana each and every word. I went through the death of my 8-year-old daughter. I understand Svetlanas pain. But when do you remember Iproposed that we interrupt the interview and continue it the next day, she replied: No. No, the worst is already behind. I think she is mistaken: the worst is yet tocome.

Leonid Shkolnik

Russian.forward.com


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