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Volgodonsk: 9yearslater
Written by   
, 18 2009
In the years following the powerful explosion, few wanted to know how the city was getting along. Itturns out that it did not survive the terror attack.
1On September 16th, 1999, at 5:58 am, a GAZ-53 truck full of RDX exploded in a residential district of the city of Volgodonsk. Thepower of the explosion was equivalent to 2tons of TNT. Theexplosion damaged 39houses. 15,280 people, every tenth resident of the city, were affected, more than any other terrorist attack on Russian territory. 19were killed. Thedeath toll could have been much greater, but there was some good luck: buildings located in the center of the blast were built according to unique earthquake-resistant designs.
On January 12th, 2004, in a closed trial in Moscow city court, Adam Dekkushev and Yusuf Krymshamkhalov, natives of the North Caucasus, were found guilty of the apartment bombings in Moscow and Volgodonsk, and sentenced to life imprisonment. Theywere the only persons the state brought to trial.
1"They say that it is about time you forgot about this terrorist attack. Buthow can one forget?"
We walk with Nina Kravtsova through the streets of Volgodonsk. Ninastumbles on level ground, and Ibarely have time to catch her. Nowadays Nina often stumbles. After the explosion, atrophy of the optic nerves began, and now Nina only sees 8% of the world.
In what way are Volgodonsk residents similar? Theytalk loudly, because almost all of them have some hearing loss. Theywear glasses. Theyalways have their passports on them. Theyare not ashamed to talk about their illnesses, even with strangers. Every conversation begins with the terror attack. Theyenthusiastically speak about how glass is still coming out of their bodies: First it itches, then there's kind of a pimple, and then a shiny edge comes out. They are easily offended, and easily irritated. Theyare afraid of loud noises. Every day they wake up at six in the morning without an alarm clock.
There is nothing at the site of the explosion. Metal bellows in cheerful colors now cover the apartment buildings were scarred by flying rubble. Themetal hides the seams of the concrete wall panels. Inthe distance, in a little open patch between the buildings, there is a monument to the victims of the terror attack: a man hiding his head between his knees. Nextto it are plastic wreaths. Ithas been a long time since anyone brought fresh flowers here.
The people who survived the terror attack go to asleep and wake up among the scenery of their nightmares. Theblocks that were blown up, blocks V-U and V-16, were a special earthquake-resistant series, and so buildings in the center of the blast did not fall down like a house of cards the support structures stayed up, saving lives. Andmade the surviving occupants hostages. TheVolgodonsk city administration decided to restore the wrecked homes and move the victims back inside. Separating walls were stapled back together, and gaps were pasted over with plasterboard. Theyeven restored Building #35 on the October Highway, which experts had recommend for demolition as soon as possible, before it collapsed.
And you all came back?
Almost everyone. Wehad no choice. Forthe first six months my daughter would on the edge of her bed, like a stone column, waiting for the wall to collapse.
With difficulty, Lyudmila Tutoreva walks up to the wall (her left leg was mangled in the blast), and knocks. There is a dull, wooden sound. This is all that prevents us from falling.
Residents went to rallies and refused to enter the buildings. Theywere made to understand clearly that they would either move back or become homeless. Konstantin Ischenko, who was responsible for the delivery of the buildings, is their number one enemy. Thisbald, pop-eyed man generated a lot of obsessive manias. Psychiatrists say that, after the controversy, victims in the mental hospital had irresistible urges to strike the first passing bald man who looked at them.
Some sections could not be restored. Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov allocated money to build apartment houses for victims. There was almost a fight among the victims for apartments in Luzhkov's House. But, despite the shortage, 45of the 119apartments were given to compete strangers: military servicemen, FSB officers, prosecutors, judges, and nuclear plant workers. Luzhkov's House, however, was built so poorly that one lives no better than he would have in the restored buildings. Thewalls cracked. TheShevtsovs in Apartment 24check the outside temperature by sticking a hand through the wall.
It is evening. NinaKravtsova goes out to buy coffee, while Istay to parse documents. Ninawarns me: do not be afraid.
Her dog barks at the door as soon as it closes behind its mistress. Atfirst it barks hesitantly, then louder and louder. Thebarking changes to a howl. Thedog lies down on the floor, scratching with its paws, as if trying to dig its way out. Suddenly the howl is interrupted by a moaning sound. Itseems to come from the depths of the building. Thewalls creak and crackle. Thenthe dog falls on its side, trembling.
Nina comes back in ten minutes. Thedog by this time is no longer howling it is too hoarse. Ninaleans over and out of habit pets its head. She's crazy. Everyone put their dogs to sleep, but Ijust can't.
In Volgodonsk all the pets that survived the attack went insane.
I heard
That happens here a lot, whenever the wind blows, the cracks in the walls. Thedesign is a bite mobile.
Homeowner's associations came to Volgodonsk earlier than to the rest of Russia. Immediately after the blast, the Volgodonsk city administration asked residents in areas V-U and V-16 to create building committees, and select directors for each building. These were to check lists of victims, monitor repairs, and distribute humanitarian aid.
None of the 39building directors abandoned their tenants. Nineof them now are gathering in the building committee center. Theyare very tired-looking, middle-aged women.
The building committees do a lot of invaluable work. Theyput together food packages, and help people properly apply for medicine. Theybury tenants nothing cheaper than 30,000 is obtained. Social security allocates a thousand, so the rest the building committees gather by going around to apartments.
Funerals occur quite often. Thebuilding committee lists vie with one another:
Avenue Mir #12, the Malozemtsevs, father hanged himself.
October Street #15, woman jumped to her death.
Fedorov, also father of a family jumped out the window. OnOctober Highway #35a.
Gagarin Street # 54, two jumped and two hanged themselves.
We also had a young guy hang himself! AtKirovsk Highway #1!
On October Street #31, suicide attempt.
October Street #35 two.
The official medical diagnosis for ALL victims: died from injuries due to an accident in the home. This verdict does not vary for anyone, even for people who lost arms, legs, and eyes. Theywere disabled from a general disease. Theexplanations by the medical-labor expert committee (VTEK) hammered this verdict like a nail: terror attack is not in the official registry of causes for disability.
Disability from a general disease means a minimum pension of 1,500 to 2,500 rubles (ed: about$60 to$100 per month) and the absence of special medical services. Victims never visited any specialists in barotrauma, even though the diagnosis of barotrauma is in medical records, though in only a very few.
The victims really do suffer frequent heart attacks, psychopathic disorders, diabetes, hypertension, and decreased hearing and vision, acknowledges Viktor Ivanovich, the head physician of Polyclinic #3. But there are no methods to accurately track the relationship between the terrorist attack and disease. Therefore, the diagnosis of barotrauma was not made.
Nor are children born after the attack recognized as victims. ButLyudmila Neznakhina, a midwife in the department of pregnancy pathology at Maternity Hospital #3, says that from her work she knows all the women who live in the blown-up city blocks who had children: Their children are hyperactive and uncontrollable. Disinhibition. Fouryear-olds with strokes. Manyare registered at the PND (ed: psycho-neurological dispensary).
We had no conversation with Marina Vladislavovna Shalneva, deputy head of the Volgodonsk Health Department. Allquestions were interrupted with the laconic reply: Everything is in order.
She said that the attitude towards victims of the terrorist attack is very special, that it is a very friendly, attentive attitude. Thatin Volgodonsk there is a complete program of medical rehabilitation, calculated at 5years: Patients were sent to federal centers and got high-cost care. Ahuge medical database of the victims was created. Eachpatient had an individual program of treatment, a yearly plan, and a monthly report on the implementation of this plan. And since 2002, there have been no formal complaints from patients.
But there was not a single document at the health department to confirm the existence of such a rehabilitation program.
The mental hospital is the only health facility that Volgodonsk residents speak about with gratitude. Immediately after the terror attack, psychiatrists organized emergency aid for victims and worked around the clock. 2,000 people, about 10% of the terror victims, passed through their offices. Evennow the clinic works at maximum capacity.
Chief Psychiatrist for Volgodonsk is Konstantin Galkin. Heis smartly dressed in a pink shirt and purple tie. Heis polite to everyone, is all smiles, and is interested in one and all. Andhe is not afraid to speak these terrible words in Volgodonsk: The consequences of terrorist attack.
Konstantin Yurevich (Galkin) tells how the psyche of Volgodonsk residents changed after the terror attack: Immediately after the blast there was a shock reaction, which lasted for up to three days. People were in shock, and either went into the 'fight' mode by guarding their homes and getting into conflicts, or the 'flight' mode by leaving town or simply hiding in the closet.
Then came acute stress disorder, during first two or three months. Aperson does not eat or live, and their emotions move to a lower scale. Thenthere is post-traumatic stress disorder, which lasts for 1or 2years. There are attacks of instinctive fear, and often there is severe depression. Thevictims are constantly replaying in their heads everything that happened, or it replays all on its own. Theydo not wish to speak with anyone. There is a growing feeling that everybody is against them, and that everything that happened can happen all over again. There are frequent flashbacks extremely realistic hallucinations of the past. Thencomes a change in personality. Anxiety becomes second nature. There is a constant expectation that something bad is going to happen. Lifehas stopped, and people do not believe in the future and even avoid pronouncing the word. Inthis case they are extremely touchy and all are always reading between the lines. Every careless word that a bureaucrat speaks wounds them, and indifference kills. Andthen these people immerse themselves in silence. Thisis Volgodonsk today.
According to Galkin, all that was experienced by tens of thousands of people could have been avoided.
Russia, which suffered Budyonnovsk, the bombings of apartment buildings, 'Nord-Ost', and Beslan, does not have a research center, not a single government program for assisting victims of terrorist attacks. Volgodonsk remembers them once a year, on the anniversary of the terror attack, for three minutes on the morning news. Meanwhile, Buinaksk, Kaspiisk, and Kizlyar are not even remembered."
Every morning at fifteen to seven, Sasha Shalimov heads to a bus stop near his house. Hegets on the first bus that comes by. Ina half-hour he walks back home. Noone knows where he goes, or why.
The rest of the time Sasha was sits at the window, next to the phone. Sasha is waiting for a vehicle with a bomb, and bends over the windowsill, peering at license plates. Sasha is also afraid that at the crucial moment the FSB will disconnect the phone, and the house will be blown up again, and it will be his fault. Therefore, every now and then, Sasha picks up the phone and listens for a dial tone.
Sasha Shalimov is 35years old. Nineyears ago he was a turbine machinist in a factory and had a family: mother, father and older brother. Theexplosion blew his head against a wall. Hehad a closed cranio-cerebral trauma, skull trepanation, and was in a coma for eight days. Nowthere is schizophrenia. Sasha's present job is much more demanding, and the whole family helps him. Theflat paper faces of his family, in black and white photographs, are turned away from the windows, because Sasha is afraid that, once again, shrapnel will hit them, and that, once again, he will have to go through all that funeral nonsense.
On October 5th, (last time, says Sasha) his father, Vitaly Abramovich, was the nineteenth victim found underneath the rubble. Thecasualty list had already been drawn up, so the Shalimov family did not receive any charitable assistance.
His brother, who before the terror attack could only walk with difficulty due to multiple sclerosis, afterwards could only move about in a wheelchair. Hebegan drinking, and in March of 2006he joined his father.
His mother held out longer than the rest, but a year after the death of her son her heart increased by three sizes, and then burst.
Now Sasha and his whole family fit perfectly into the same room of the three-room apartment.
For his hard work he is only paid a pension of 2,700 rubles (ed: about$110). Sometimes Sasha is forced to leave his post and earn money by digging gardens for old women. Hewas offered work with the general laborers, but he cannot do this. Forone thing, the pressure in my head goes up and the fury is such that Ijust drop everything and start running until Ifall down. Old women have greater understanding of this, than do bosses. Andanother, the most important thing, is that he cannot leave his post unattended for so long.
Sasha is very excitable. Hefuriously gesticulates, painfully moving his hands: Nothing will blow up ever again, Ipromise.
No one paid any material or non-pecuniary damages to victims of the terrorist act. According to the law on combating terrorism in effect at the time of Volgodonsk bombing, damages are compensated by the state. Thestate was represented by the local city administration during the early days, but it was the terrorists who were to pay reparations to legal entities and the 16thousand civilian victims. Theterrorists did not have any property, but after several years of trials, some of the victims received a postal money order for 18rubles (ed: about 72cents). Relatives of the terrorists had sent the prisoners money for cigarettes, and juries distributed this among the victims.
Volgodonsk residents tried to find other culprits that could pay. Forexample, traffic cop Lyubichev drove the truck he thought was carrying sugar, but was actually loaded with explosives, past all checkpoints. Thecourt, however, did not establish any connection between the actions of Lyubichev and the subsequent terrorist attack.
But the strangest thing happened with public funds. Immediately after the terrorist attack, the region was sent a huge amount of money: public and private donations, and assistance from international organizations. Itwas immediately organized into two funds regional and municipal. There was no report on the distribution of money, but soon a receipt was found, according to which the Volgodonsk city administration had borrowed for an indefinite period 6million rubles (ed: about$240,000), so the funds were soon disbanded.
Victor Alexandrovich Firsov, the mayor of Volgodonsk, is a man of remarkable charm. Hehas a southern accent, a simple smile, and a candor that is simply amazing for a government official.
The building vibrates you say? Yes, it's easy to say ‘vibrate’! Oh, the horror! Insuch a state are these affected houses! It’s a nightmare! exclaims Victor Aleksandrovich (Firsov), and he smiles, pleased with the effect he has produced.
Viktor Alexandrovich became mayor in 2004, five years after the attack. Buthe shares the needs of the victims in full:
It is humane to say that it was wrong to make them return to those same buildings. Butit was an impoverished time; they put people where they could.
Medicine, of course, yes. Wehave 50% of the physicians that a city like this should have, and in individual specialties there are only 30%. Their workload is two, two and a half times greater, and they've already exhausted their resources. There are instances of rudeness. Heresomeone complained to me about a doctor, so Icall her up and Isay: aren't you ashamed? Andshe says: retire me for God's sake, I’m 62years old, find me a replacement, Ican't take it anymore!
I am for a law on victims of terrorist attacks, said the mayor, once again creating a pause for effect. But Ido not cherish any special illusions. Compensation for victims of the events at Novocherkassk in 1962*, this act wasn’t adopted until just five years ago. Thefew victims of that who are still alive, they’re now in their 70s. I'll write to the regional legislative assembly. Whatelse can Ido?
The next day the Volgodonsk people took me to meet with their only hope.
Yuri Yakovlevich Potogin is the Volgodonsk member of the Rostov regional assembly. Heburns incense in the room in order to improve the energy. Heis in the 'United Russia' party, and the only Member of Parliament ready to seriously promote the law on victims of terror.
By May 1st, 2009, we are to go to the federal level.
Yuri Yakovlevich explains how to solve problems:
Last year the Chernobyl nuclear plant liquidators appealed. For5 years they hadn’t been paid their pensions. Ameeting of the outgoing party was convened and they formally appealed to the governor and to the president. ThenPutin arrived in Rostov and the governor, at our request, again approached him with a packet of documents. Andas a result Putin gave the order and 600million rubles were paid. Theresult of systematic work was achieved.
The favorite word of Yuri Yakovlevich (Potogin) is 'systematic'.
Yuri Yakovlevich seems really not to understand why there is still no law.
On April 19th, 1995, a maniac blew up the FBI (sic) building in Oklahoma City. TheAmericans created the Heartland Program to investigate the consequences of the terrorist attack. Aninstitute of borderline psychiatry was built in the city.
Eleven days after September 11th, the U.S.Congress passed a law on security and stabilization of the air transportation system, which provided a compensation fund for victims of terrorist attacks. Tellingly, the fund was set up at taxpayer expense. Theamount of compensation for disability was equal to the salary of the affected, multiplied by the average life expectancy in the U.S.For each of the deceased, the U.S. government paid about two million dollars.
After a series of terrorist attacks in London on July 7th, 2005, relatives of the slain were designated base compensation of$11 thousand pounds sterling. Children who died were to receive two thousand pounds a year until age 18.
In Russia there is not even the legal concept of 'victim of a terrorist attack'.
Irina Khalai, the redheaded chairwoman of the 'Volga Don' NGO, has for many years been trying to restore Russia's honor in this matter.
At first she tried to draw the attention of the Parliament to this legal case. Shewrote kilograms of letters, and then sued the MPs in court. Thecourt said that legislation is a right, but not an obligation, and so Parliament can spit on victims of terrorist attacks as much as it pleases.
Then Volgodonsk people have written the law themselves. Asa basis they took laws concerning the Chernobyl and Semipalatinsk victims, and European laws protecting victims of terrorism. Theyare not asking a lot: a disability pension, rent subsidies, and free prescription medicines. And, at last, to call victims of terrorist attacks victims.
The conscience of the government is not bothered by us, says Irina. "The government is ashamed of us. "
Irina teaches English, and attends conferences on the development of international standards of assistance to victims of terrorist attacks. Asa rule, Irina is the only participant from Russia. But, in September of 2007, at the International Conference on the Problems of Victims of Terror Attacks, held by the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe, there was a representative from the Russian Foreign Ministry. Henoticed in the audience representatives from the Volgodonsk, Beslan, and 'Nord-Ost' public organizations, and on stage he advised the Europeans to be more careful in the selection of organizations for such high-level meetings, since victims of terrorist attacks are not able to debate and oppose the government. The victims got up and left the hall. Theyexpected a scandal, but there was none.
In 'Novaya Gazeta'.
* The brutally repressed strike at the electro-locomotive factory in Novocherkassk, Rostov district, on June 2nd, 1962. KGBand Interior Ministry troops fired on strikers on ‘Bloody Saturday’, leaving 22dead and 87wounded, 3later dying of their injuries. Manystrikers received severe sentences, including death, while those killed in the incident were secretly buried in various locations. Little was known about the massacre until 1992.

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