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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Comecon Building in Ruins

Ivan Gorbatenko is worried about the weather, and with good reason.

Caretaker of the building, the former Comecon headquarters, he is engaged in a race to board up shot-out windows and repair a defunct heating system before the winter weather returns.

Parliamentarian loyalists on Oct. 3 occupied the blue skyscraper, jointly owned by the Moscow city government and the real estate management company Olymp. Government forces blasted them out with heavy weaponry early Oct. 4.

What they left behind was a smoking, shattered glass shell of what had once been one of the priciest office locations in the city, with striking vistas of Novy Arbat on one side, the Hotel Ukraina, the Moscow River and the White House on the other. Today those views are dangerous, windowless cliffs that make crazy wind tunnels out of the halls in the H-shaped structure.

The dozens of Russian and foreign firms housed there found varying degrees of damage when they returned on Oct. 6. Some, like the Orthodox Church's fund-raising offices and Olymp's technical facilities, lost absolutely everything to fire. Others, like the offices of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, were able to return with relatively minor cleaning and repairs.

The cost of the damage has not yet been fully estimated, Gorbatenko said, but individual companies report losses of tens of thousands of dollars, and say their insurance companies are unwilling to cover "war damage".

There is much work to be done, and Gorbatenko is counting on the unseasonably warm October weather to help him for another week.

"First we must put in new windows, provide electricity, gas and heating before the beginning of the cold", Gorbatenko says. "We have a very tough schedule and must finish this before Oct. 20".

The ringing of saws and pounding of nails echo throughout the building, but it appears that Gorbatenko will not make his deadline. Besides the broken glass scattered about, floors and walls are warped with water damage from the fires, and plywood boards cover most windows on the lower floors.

Evidence of the occupation is most dramatic in the 14th floor offices of LeBoeuf, Lamb, Leiby & MacRae. The floor above these offices is a charred mess. The soot and water from above blackens the law firm's walls and floors.

After assessing the damage Oct. 6, the firm decided it had to find emergency office space, said Laura Bernier, office administrator, working in temporary offices donated by a client.

The firm paid rent of $1, 000 per square meter per year and had about 100 square meters for its offices, she said, adding that the company had not yet decided whether to return to the building.

When the law firm's workmen first entered, she said, they found that the rebels had emptied the safe of petty cash; cheese, yoghurt and bread had disappeared from the refrigerator; bottles of cognac and beer had been emptied, and candle wax was dripped everywhere. The firm's files, however, were not disrupted.

"Apparently they were hanging out in our office for a long time", Bernier said.

The managers of Bank Communication Systems Ltd. were more distressed. Distributors for two-way radio systems, scanners and walkie-talkies, they had almost $70, 000 worth of equipment stolen, said Vasily Zaushitsin, an engineer, sitting in one of the firm's least damaged offices, marred by a single golf-ball sized bullet hole in the window.