Nord Ost hostages never forget three days of hell in 2002

Russia marks the tenth anniversary of the hostage crisis at the Moscow music theater. On October 23, 2002 an armed group of terrorists broke into the building of the theater where a popular musical "Nord-Ost" was being performed. The group with Movsar Barayev at the head took 916 people hostage - artists and spectators. The building was stormed in nearly three days. The terrorists were killed, and most of the hostages were released. However, the number of victims was quite large - 130 people.

Russian mass media widely discussed the impact of the sleeping gas, which was used during the storm, on the health of the hostages. The gas was emitted into the ventilation system of the building prior to the storm.  

Moscow's Chief Doctor Andrei Seltsovsky said that the poisoning showed no significant influence on the death rate among the former hostages. Russian President Vladimir Putin officially announced the same in 2003.

The formula of the gas still remains unknown - the authorities do not disclose it. It was only established that its main component was fentanyl - a strong opioid analgesic, used in anesthesia, and most often in neurosurgery during highly complicated operations on the brain, when it is required the patient should remain conscious.

The negotiations continued for three days - on October 23-26. Only on October 25th the terrorists allowed to give hostages water and juices. Politician Irina Khakamada and singer Iosif Kobzon tried to negotiate with terrorists to free the hostages. Deputy of the State Duma, Aslambek Aslakhanov, addressed the Chechens too. In the evening of October 25th, the terrorists announced that they would no longer conduct any negotiations.

During the three days of the crisis, the terrorists shot several spectators and killed two relatives, who sought the release of their loved ones. The decision to storm the building was made at night of October 26th.

Late last year, the European Court of Human Rights ordered Russia to pay 1.3 million euros to Nord-Ost victims. The panel of seven judges unanimously recognized that there was a real threat of mass deaths during the hostage crisis, and that the Russian authorities had every reason to break off the negotiations with the terrorists and storm the building. The court also ruled, though, that the use of gas was justified.

However, according to the court, the rescue operation after the storm was not prepared well. The victims of the tragedy did not receive adequate medical care after the use of the unknown gas. The actions of various services were poorly coordinated, the evacuation of victims came late, there was a lack of medical equipment, the transportation was organized poorly.

There were many children - both small children and teens - among the hostages. Ten years later, they shared their memories of hell that they had to experience. Ksenia Zharkova told NTV that she and her classmate, who died, were sitting right underneath the air vents, where the gas came from. "For a few hours I had a terrible headache, and the doctor, who was sitting on the balcony, put me on another row to make me an injection. Perhaps I am still alive because of that," she said.

Olga Protas remembers that the worst moment for her was when the terrorists said they would choose ten people from the audience and shoot them right on stage. "During the last day, I lost hope that I would see my loved ones. I wrote my phone number and my name on my hand so that my parents would be able to recognize me in a morgue," confessed the former hostage.

The terrorists broke into the building and went up on stage, where they announced their requirement to withdraw federal forces from Chechnya.

At first, many did not even understand what was happening. Choreographer of "Nord-Ost" Galina Delyatitskaya told the Rossiyskaya Gazeta newspaper: "When the second act began, I went up to the balcony to see the quality of the dance of pilots. I saw a camouflaged man with a gun climbing on stage. I thought that he had drunk too much at the buffet during the intermission. The audience thought it was a part of the spectacle and they cheered."

The Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper wrote that those who lost their loved ones in the hostage crisis still remember the words that they heard from them in a few phone calls. Many hostages tried to calm their relatives down: "It's okay, no need to panic," "They are placing bombs in the auditorium, but it's nothing really..."

Actions in memory of the victims of the terrorist attack are held at the Moscow music theater in Dubrovka every year. The ceremony to lay flowers and hold a moment of silence will take place on October 26. In 2003, a seven-meter stele of white granite was erected on the square in front of the theater: "In memory of the victims of terrorism." In April 2011, a stone was placed in the foundation of the church in memory of the hostages. The construction of the church is about to end. The consecration of the church is to be held on 26 October, during the anniversary of the terrorist attack.

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Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov