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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Patrolling Residents Guard Buildings

Unnerved by the apartment bombings and unconvinced that the police can prevent terrorists from striking again, people across Moscow are taking action to protect themselves and their homes.

Residents are organizing defense committees and taking turns patrolling their buildings and courtyards through the night, to keep an eye on all comings and goings.

"I was scared and felt like I had to do something," said Irina Zayachkina, who helped organize the defense committee at 3 Dubninskaya Ulitsa, Building 3, in northern Moscow.

"I'm desperately worried, not only for myself, but also for my children," Zayachkina, 31, said Wednesday.

She said the fear and feeling of vulnerability hit her and her neighbors after the second explosion, which leveled an eight-story building on Kashirskoye Shosse and killed at least 119 people Monday.

Most of the people who live in her building responded enthusiastically to calls to organize their own self-defense, Zayachkina said. They agreed that each floor in the nine-story apartment block would be responsible for guarding the building for one hour during the night, and shifts were assigned from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.

Residents began the patrols Monday night.

"We are looking for anything suspicious. We checked and sealed the cellar and the attic of our building. During the day, those who are at home make an effort to look out the window as often as reasonably possible," Zayachkina said.

Police also have been checking basements and attics for stores of explosives or other suspicious materials. Even though police have greatly increased their patrols, and even have officers standing guard in some courtyards around the city, they say they welcome the citizen patrols.

Alexander Veldyayev, deputy police chief in Moscow, said Wednesday that the residents of more than 100 apartment buildings in the city have reported organizing their own guard system in recent days. The real number was likely to be much higher and appeared to be growing steadily.

Although both explosions took place in remote residential areas, residents of central Moscow also have taken the danger seriously.

An urgent meeting of residents was called Wednesday evening at 2 Ulitsa Fadeyeva, near Mayakovskaya metro, to discuss how to make their sprawling 60-year-old building more secure. The building has 26 entrances and can be approached from three directions.

After over an hour of heated discussion, which included a number of arguments over issues not related to security, they decided to lock one of the gates into the courtyard between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. They also decided not to allow visitors to drive into the courtyard unless residents had given the guards a written request.

The residents decided against patrolling the area themselves, but were considering hiring a night guard.

"I suppose on the level of courtyards and houses such measures could be helpful," said Mikhail Fomichyov, who led Wednesday's meeting.

"It's like fitting a car with all possible anti-theft devices. We all know that a real professional will still be able to steal the car, but it will stop some and bring the feeling that everything that could have been done was done," he said.

Residents' actions to protect their buildings also could help give Muscovites a sense of togetherness in the face of danger. "It could give Moscow the push to become a real community," Fomichyov said.

Alexander Ashmarov, head of the municipal administration of the East Degunino district, where Zayachkina's building is located, said residents had organized patrols at about 15 buildings, "but we are getting calls all the time from people who say they are planning similar actions."

Zayachkina said her building's defense committee notified the police and municipal authorities of their plans, and in return were given basic instructions on how to detect explosives.

"They told us that the explosives also can be in liquid form and could be injected into watermelons. They suggested that if we see more than five watermelons carried into the building we should alert the police," Zayachkina said.

Vladimir Vershkov, the head of the Moscow police press office, said the warning against watermelons was a slight exaggeration.

"They were probably told not to fix their attention only on sacks, but to watch out for other things. I personally have not heard about anything related specifically to watermelons," Vershkov said.

Watermelons are typically sold in the city by people from the Caucasus, who have come under suspicion in the bombings.

Zayachkina could not say how long she and her neighbors were planning to keep up the extra protection measures.

"I suppose until the moment when there is some clarity - maybe the police will catch the terrorists or there will be some other sign that the danger is no longer so imminent," Zayachkina said.

Ashmarov said his district was doing as much as it could to guarantee security. The basements and attics had been checked in all 148 apartment blocks. In addition to citizens' patrols, local businesses had assigned a total of about 40 of their employees to patrol the district with police.

Ashmarov, too, could not say what he would need in order to believe that the danger was over.

"I don't know. But I can say that people in Moscow were too relaxed about such dangers like terrorism, so maybe there is no harm in taking extra precautions for as long as we can," he said.

Zayachkina, however, noted that not everyone in her building was treating the danger seriously.

"One elderly woman told me that she did not care to participate because she has already lived long enough not to worry about sudden death in a terrorist attack," Zayachkina said.

"I could probably understand this woman if it weren't for one small detail: The woman was holding her little granddaughter in her arms as she was telling me that she doesn't care if she dies," Zayachkina added.