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The gas saved, and killed
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, 29 2002
In the newspaper ‘Trud’

It is a rainy morning. Immediately after the assault, ambulances, intensive car vehicles, and buses carry hostages to city hospitals. Their relatives, distraught from grief, waiting, and worry, try to find out whether their parents, children, brothers and sisters, are still alive. There are still no lists. Soonthey begin hanging these at the vo-tech school out on #1 Dubrovsky, not far from the ill-fated theater. Notall the names are on the list, of course, only a few. Relatives of the former hostages leave straight from here to go out and search city hospitals.
The 13th Municipal Hospital is on Velozavodskaya Street. About 100were admitted to the surgical department, and on the order of 250casualties are in the cardiology ward. Two13-year-old boys are in the toxicology department. Theysay that there is no one with gunshot wounds. Manyare in serious condition, but they are still on the mend. Physicians believe that this, the first stage of rehabilitation after the severe stress, may take at least a week.

“We will provide sufficiently serious psychological support to these people,” says Russian Interior Ministry psychologist Irina Sakhno. “It will be dynamic support, and we will keep track of them after six months, and after a year.”

The doctors ask everyone present to go home, but the relatives of the ‘Nord-Ost’ audience on the other side of the hospital walls crave meetings. Someyoung people tried to climb over the hospital fence, but policemen drove them back.

“They’re being held hostage again, only this time by doctors and the police,” shouts an elderly woman by the entrance. “Why can’t you let us in? Iwant to see my son! Hejust called me and said he’s lying here in your hospital.”

As if in proof, she shows the guards her mobile phone. Perplexed, they look at one another, and afterwards say that they were told not to let anyone in until there are lists. Manyhospital staff that, for whatever reason, did not have their work IDs on them, also found themselves in this strange predicament.

Student trainees, on their way home after their shift, say that police and a lot of strangers in civilian clothes staff each floor.

“Since somewhere around 7in the morning they started bring us, at the 13th, people from theater center,” says a medical student named Dmitry, who asks that his last name not be used because he fears that his training might not be counted. “Right away the police lined up around the hospital. Ambulances started arriving, and buses with people lying on the seats and on the floor. Wehelped the doctors unload the victims. Fewof them could stand on their own two feet. Wehad to literally carry them. Noneof them had any coats. Their outer clothing is probably still in the theater cloakroom. Thepeople told us nothing: they were simply physically unable to do this. They’re in very dizzy state. Somedon’t remember what happened to them. Somepeople are saying that the security forces used some gas called ‘Kolokol’ (Bell).”

A member of resuscitation team told me, with undisguised malice, about how he did not assist hostages, but bandits. According to the paramedic, they brought two wounded militants into the 13th Hospital. Themen in civilian clothes at the clinic took charge of these right away.

According to our guardians of law and order, there may be, among the casualties brought to the Moscow hospitals, accomplices of the terrorists. Atthe 13th Hospital only four have been identified. Itis possible that for this reason a strong police cordon was set up.

Olga Chernyak is also at the 13th. Sheis the ‘Interfax’ correspondent that first reported the attack to the media. Onlytelevision journalists were allowed in to see her. Atabout 3o’clock the first girl left the hospital. Later, at intervals of several minutes, others came out, in parties of five.

Katya Yerokhina is waiting by the fence for a meeting with her husband Sergei. Hecalled her on the cell phone and said that he already feels well. Together with Katya, we talk with Sergei. Shekeeps trying to find out about his health, while we wish to know about what went on inside the theater. Hereis his story:

According to Sergey, shortly before the assault the militants started shooting the hostages. Theykilled a man who somehow managed to break through the police cordons and get into the building. Theman claimed that his son was among the audience. Theycould not find his son, so the terrorists severely beat the man and took him out of the auditorium. Shots rang out. Theyoung girl whom the terrorists killed, Olga Romanova, was taken for an FSB agent planted by the security forces. Theterrorists, according to Sergei, taunted the hostages. Theydid not allowed them to sleep, and wore them out with bright lights and loud music they brought with them recordings of their folk songs especially for this. Theyconfiscated a lot of people’s mobile phones. After awhile they stopped letting them go to the bathroom, and made them use the orchestra pit. Thehostages had to jump in and then climb back out. Thestuffiness, stench, humiliation, and constant fear hundreds of people were forced to endure it all.

“When the gas came, we could sense it,” says Sergey. “And we knew that the security forces were going to take the theater by storm. Someof us were very afraid of this, though everyone knew that without an assault none of us were going to get out of there alive. Those crazy Chechens told us repeatedly that all of us were going to Allah, and yet they were convinced that the Russian authorities didn’t intend to get us out of there, that they could care less about the hostages.”

In the hospital ward with Sergei is Dmitry, who was with his wife Lena at the theatrical center. Sheis also in this hospital, they tell him. Dmitry says that investigators are talking with them. Itis difficult for him to go through the horror of the last few days once again. Hisonly desire is to get back home, together with Lena.

But for now they have not been able to find each other.

“I’m looking for my son,” a man with a photo asks everyone. Inthe photograph is a handsome 13-year-old fellow named Arseny Kurylenko. Heis blond, and affable. “Help us. Wecan’t find him anywhere.”

Arseny’s dad is one of the many tearful people who do not know where to find their loved ones.

“I don’t know where my mom is, she’s not in any hospital,” says a girl with a haggard face and dark circles under her eyes. Sheleaves her hood down, despite the heavy rain, and water drips from her hair down her face. “Dad and Ialready called the morgues, but they won’t give us any information.”

A little more about Olga Romanova: we managed to find out some details about the deed that so surprised everyone that night, the first victim of terrorists, this girl from one of the nearby homes on Dubrovka who so dispassionately and calmly entered the terrorist-infested theatrical center before our very eyes. Herclose friend Natasha told me how that night Olga had quarreled with her boyfriend and parents, and late in the evening she left home. Natasha said that 26-year-old Olga was a person of balanced character and did not have problems with alcohol. Whather true reason was for carrying out such an act remains anyone’s guess.

We stayed by the hospital gates almost until ten at night, after the discharging of victims was long over. Inall, relatives took home about 150victims. Thevast majority were very young people, mostly girls. Theywere cute, and with more or less calm, happy faces. Some, however, were evidently in a depressed state, and shut up inside, as if the tragedy were still scrolling through their memory. There are tears, smiles, and hugs, but almost no words, and, of course, no stories. Especially since their loved ones tried to protect them from the journalists as much as possible, waving their hands or umbrellas at us. Theysat their children (on Sunday, we repeat, these were almost all young people) in their cars right away, and drive off. Somewhere around nine-thirty a woman with a baby came out the gate. Shehad just been visiting her husband.

“He’s in intensive care. Hebreathed the gas,” said Yulia. "But he’s trying to stay energetic. Everything seems okay. He’s already walking about, though unsteadily. Ithink his head was affected, his nervous system.”

“What does he do for a living?”

“He’s in the military. Iwas so very worried about for him: he could’ve suddenly tried to escape on his own.”

“What did you bring him? Whatdid do allow?” we ask Yulia.

“Water. Theysaid that he could only have mineral water. Ialso brought him an icon, but before that he was his dad. Hebrought him his favorite tracksuit, and he put it on. Thething is all the victims, as Ilearned, have to get rid of their old clothes right away. They’re saturated with gas. Thiscontributes to poor health. Thegas, which made possible people’s release, at the same time has injured them.”

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