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26 Oct, 2008 18:53

‘That was a nightmare’ – survivors remember Moscow theatre siege

Six years ago almost a thousand children and adults went to watch a musical performance at a Moscow theatre only to be held hostage for two and a half days. The siege eventually claimed 130 lives, including those of 51 children. Some of the survivors are

One hundred and thirty white balloons – one for each victim – have been released into the sky on Sunday near the theatre where the tragedy happened.

It was the beginning of the second act of the Nord Ost musical performance. The Moscow theatre was crowded with people enjoying the drama based on a romantic novel. But romance turned to horror when a group of armed men and women appeared on the stage.

Many in the audience thought the terrorists were just part of the show. But when shots were fired, they realised they'd all been taken hostage.

Forty-five terrorists held people inside the theatre with no food and water for three days.

Nine hundred people were in the audience. One hundred and thirty died in the tragedy which ended after 56 hours when the auditorium was stormed by government forces.

Six years later many of the victims' families still cannot recover from the tragic events.

Honouring the victims

Svetlana Gubayeva was in the theatre with her fiancé and daughter. She saw them for the last time when she went to sleep, just hours before the rescue operation. Svetlana lost consciousness during the rescue mission. Waking up in hospital, she heard the names of her child and fiancé on the radio among the dead.

She now seeks solace from the pain by keeping alive the memories of the victims. Speaking to relatives and friends of those who died, she has begun collecting the stories of the lives of each one, young and old. These will form a book a dedicated to the victims of the tragic events of October 2002.

“Those three days were a complete nightmare for me,” Svetlana said. “The mood of the terrorists was changing all the time, and the hostages of course were feeling these changes.”

She remembers that the hostages understood how serious it was when the terrorists shot the first victim.

“I can never forget these events, I’m living with them every day,” she said.

Financial compensation

Legal expert Igor Trunov is still pursuing the issue of financial compensation for those who survived. The lawyer, who has represented the victims of a number of terrorist acts, says he's taken on over one hundred legal actions for compensation. He says they’ve won about forty cases so far.

“These covered families who lost the head of the family or breadwinners, or children who became orphans. However, I still think the amount of compensation we won was not enough,” he said.

United in sorrow

The Nord Ost drama shocked Russia and the whole world. No one in the country was untouched by the tragedy, from ordinary citizens to famous public figures. Paediatrician Leonid Roshal and singer Joseph Kobzon negotiated with the terrorists during the siege, trying to save children before the horrific end.

And even six years later, Kobzon says he remembers every minute he spent at the theatre, and how people were desperate to save the children trapped inside.

“Thousands of people, politicians, deputies and famous actors were ready to replace children being kept in the theatre. This grief and sorrow has united all people,” he said.

Dozens of children were left orphaned. The lives of thousands of friends and relatives were changed forever when they lost their loved ones.