Russian Deputies in Parliament: In the End We Were Hostages
Rebels tell of being uninformed by their leaders and intimidated by armed radicals
THE building was shaking all over. Shots were hitting it continuously. It was terrible.''Skip to next paragraph
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Ivan Rybkin was one of about 600 people huddled in the dark and stifling hall of the Council of Nationalities, the parliament's upper chamber, as the Russian Army pounded the White House into submission Oct. 4. Along with some 230 of his fellow parliament deputies, there were members of the parliament staff, including many women, some with their children, even some teenage boys who had snuck into the building seeking excitement.
``Somebody sometimes read poetry, especially when people were getting hysterical,'' Mr. Rybkin told the Monitor. ``There was a priest among us. He stood up and sang memorial hymns. Women were calmer than some of the men.''
According to accounts of the White House siege from the inside provided by Rybkin and two other parliament deputies, the lawmakers were politically as well as literally in the dark. During the long hours of the fighting, which began around 7 a.m., they were told nothing about what was going on, even about the government's attempts to negotiate their surrender.
Vice President Alexander Rutskoi, who was leading the armed band defending the White House, never appeared in their chamber. Ruslan Khasbulatov, the parliament chairman, came several times, looking ashen and shaken, but offered no information.
Deputy Sergei Mikhailov, a thick-fingered, burly former factory director from Sakhalin, was moving through the building during the fighting, traveling from floor to floor and sometimes to the offices where the leaders were holed up. ``Khasbulatov was sitting in an armchair on the fifth floor in an office facing the inner courtyard of the building,'' he reports. ``He was in a state of depression. His nerves were on the brink of collapse. Of course, he didn't believe this would happen.''
Meanwhile, armed militants would periodically come through the halls. The deputies say that they had increasingly felt intimidated by these men, many of them members of extremist groups.
``There was talk in the corridors that if we tried to leave or demand that they lay down their arms, they wouldn't let us out,'' says a deputy who, fearing continued reprisal from the government, asks to remain anonymous. ``Finally at the very end, we turned out to be hostages.''
The parliament deputies are bewildered as well by the chain of events that led to Monday's battle. Rybkin was involved in the attempts to negotiate an end to the armed standoff, through mediation by the Russian Orthodox Church. He says the deputies hoped a deal would be struck within a couple of days.
On Sunday, when the demonstrators broke through the government's barricades around the White House, the deputies were overjoyed at first, certain the political tide had swung in their favor.
``We thought all the people believed in the White House,'' the anonymous deputy recounts. ``People were hugging each other, kissing. It was a little celebration.... Not one of us could understand why Rutskoi at that moment went out to the balcony and called for seizing the Mayor's office and Ostankino [the television broadcast center].''