The forgotten victims of 'Russia's 9/11'
Those injured or who lost loved ones in a wave of Sept. 1999 bombings in Russia feel that they have been abandoned by the Russian public, media, and government.
They are Russia's forgotten and abandoned victims of terror.Skip to next paragraph
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A small, forlorn-looking knot of people gathered on Moscow's Kashirskoye Shosse this morning, as they do every year at this time, to mark and mourn the anniversary of the wave of devastating apartment bombings that are widely referred to as "Russia's 9/11."
In September 1999, terrorists struck four times in three Russian cities, blowing up almost 300 people as they slept in their beds. The tragedies sowed panic across urban Russia, galvanized the nation, consolidated political forces behind a tough-talking new leader named Vladimir Putin, and were the primary reason given for a fresh Russian military invasion of the rebellious southern republic of Chechnya.
Though the 1999 bombings led to vast upheaval and changed Russia fundamentally, not a single politician was on hand Tuesday to show solidarity with those who survived or lost loved ones in the 5 a.m., Sept. 13 blast on Kashirskoye Shosse, which killed 119 people and injured 200. No major Russian media covered their brief, tear-filled memorial service.
"We were abandoned and forgotten," says Sergei Kalinchenko, a businessman who lost his daughter when the eight-story building collapsed after a powerful bomb exploded in the basement. "We still have no clear answers as to how it happened, and probably we never will. It's as if our sorrow doesn't concern anyone at all."
Many of the families say they received little or no state assistance in the wake of the tragedy. But what hurts the most, many add, is the complete lack of public solidarity with them, for what they endured at the hands of terrorists as fellow Russians.
"After it happened, I had no strength to do anything or go anywhere," says Valentina Gudkova, a pensioner who lost her son, daughter-in-law, and little grandson in the attack. "Friends took me around to offices where I had to get all sorts of documents (to deal with the final formalities), and officials treated me so coldly. I had to pay for everything. Eventually some bank sent me a letter to say that I'd been awarded 6,000 roubles (about $200) in compensation."
'Here we have very short memories'
Mr. Kalinchenko says he was astonished to see extensive Russian TV coverage of the tenth anniversary of 9/11 in the US last weekend.
"Of course we feel compassion and grief for what they went through; we went through it ourselves," he says. "But it was surprising to see how people are respected in the US, and what a big public ceremony they had to commemorate the tragedy. They named every single victim!"
The people of Kashirskoye Shosse waited seven years before the government permitted a small monument to be erected on the site, including a stone engraved with the names of the dead.
"I watched the coverage of the 9/11 anniversary in the US, and saw how everybody treated the grief of those affected as their own grief," says Vadim Rudnev, a construction worker who lives next door to the destroyed building in this working-class neighborhood. "I think Americans must be a much more consolidated nation than we are. Here we have very short memories, and we're distracted by a screen of everyday worries."
The still largely unexplained wave of bombings hit during a volatile political season in Russia, as the regime of then-President Boris Yeltsin was winding down amid charges of incompetence and corruption, and a major challenge by opposition politicians was gathering steam. On Aug. 31, a powerful blast hit a shopping mall under Moscow's downtown Pushkin Square, injuring 40 people.