Former American Hostage Seeks Way Home

An American woman of Russian origin survives the hostage crisis in Moscow

An American woman from the Russian city of Khabarovsk, Irina Hiarrell was felling very fine after the hostages of the Nord Ost musical were released. She was ready to fly to Khabarovsk at once. However, Irina was planning to do something in her homeland. First of all, she wanted to exchange her Soviet passport for a Russian one. Irina also wanted to deal with her apartment problem.

When she was leaving for Russia from Portland, she put all the documents in her bag. Then she suggested that her daughter copy them all and left the copies in Portland. On October 23, she was going to see the Nord Ost musical. She decided to take her valuable things along with her – documents, money, and her ticket to America. On October 28, she woke up in a suit of a governmental hotel. She had neither her documents, nor her ticket to the United States with her. She felt absolutely lost.

The Russian government helped Irina: she was given 50 thousand rubles. This money was good to purchase warm clothes and a ticket to Khabarovsk. However, she had a very serious problem: she could not purchase a ticket, because she had no documents with her. The only thing that she had left after the hostage crisis was a medical certificate, which said that she suffered from poisoning. However, this medical piece of paper did not solve the ticket problem.

Later, she managed to retrieve her ticket to America. She was going to fly back to the States in ten days. For the time being, she was staying in Khabarovsk. It was the beginning of November – a series of holidays in Russia. She rushed to the passport and visa service, but was not lucky enough to get there in time: the office had a short working day, due to the Police Day holiday.

Nevertheless, Irina did not give way to despair. She still believes that everything will be just fine. She believes that there are kindhearted people living in her homeland. It would be completely absurd for her to become a hostage of bureaucracy.

“The second act of the musical was just opening. The spectators were watching the show, and the music was playing. A man appeared on the stage, wearing a military uniform and a black hat. He asked the actors to get off the stage, but no one thought that something like that was possible. Everybody thought it was a joke or a part of the show. However, things changed immediately after that man fired his gun at the ceiling. Other people wearing black appeared in other parts of the hall as well.

“The terrorists did not rush to kill anyone. They announced their requirements, took away our cameras, ordered us to get down on the floor, and then stand up again. Then they started separating Russians from foreigners. I came up to the stage, holding my Greencard in my hand. I did not know if they would realize that it was just a card and that I was actually Russian. I did not know what they were going to do with foreigners. Maybe, they were going to kill them? Fortunately, they ordered us to sit in the front rows and allowed us to call our relatives and embassies.

“We were the first, who smelled burning plastic. The lamps of the theatre were about to blow up. If it happened, the whole building would have exploded, as there were so many bombs there. We were waiting for several ours, but nothing like that happened, fortunately. Needless to mention, it was so hard and so boring to sit there. I tried to read a book that a friend of mine had, but I could not do it. I could not listen to his reading either. The only thing that we could do was to sleep. It is strange, but I could sleep soundly.

“I could easily find out the time of a day: terrorists were going to a corner of the stage to say their prayers there. All of a sudden we heard some noise and then everyone saw the terrorists pushing a girl in the hall. They did not know, how she got in the building. They thought that she was sent by someone, so they decided to shoot her. They took the girl out of the hall, and then there was a gunshot and a scream. We could not even believe that she was killed. We hoped that it was some kind of performance. However, the terrorists did not allow us to go to the bathroom anymore.

“Then we could see that the terrorists were getting excited. We understood from their remarks that there was a major general of police in the hall. They told him that he was their captive. The major said that he came to the theatre with his family; he was off duty. He remained sitting on the armchair with his wife and daughter. His 12-year-old daughter died during the siege.

“I remember there was an American man sitting not far from me. I found out that he had already witnessed an act of terrorism in the USA, in Oklahoma. He was doing alright, but his girlfriend was horrified about everything that was going on.

“Then there was something in the air. I had a strong wish to pull the collar of my sweater up to my nose, to wrap a scarf around my face. I do not remember what happened next. I just woke up on the floor of the theatre. I could see the legs of the armchairs, people were lying around. There was a man lying next to me. His eyes were shut, his face was pale. It seemed to me that he was not breathing. Then I heard someone saying: “Is there anyone alive out there?” I could not utter a word, so I just mumbled something. The man heard me.

“I came to my senses in a Moscow hospital. It is amazing, but the doctors said that my analyses were alright. They said that there were no changes registered in my organism. I was feeling fine in contrast to other people in my ward. Then the doctors brought me a note from a friend of mine in Moscow: “The embassy knows about what happened. Your daughter is coming to Moscow today.” I wanted to live; I wanted to fly. A warm shower brought me back to life completely.

“The personnel of the hospital talked to the people, who recovered. Nurses told us that all the doctors of the hospital rushed to save the people from the music theater.

“A day later, I was told that I could leave the hospital and go. It was good news, but where could I go? I was alone in a huge city with no documents and no money. I said that I did not want to leave the hospital. My daughter did not show up until evening. I was getting more and more depressed, but then I suddenly saw her. She came to me with some people from the embassy.

Based on the material of the Molodoy Dalnevostochnik newspaper

Translated by Dmitry Sudakov

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