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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Survivors Receive Touch of Compassion




For psychotherapists Inna Shepelyova and Natalya Salei, the blasts in Moscow meant tireless work helping the survivors, police and emergency workers to cope with what they had experienced: the thunder of the explosions, loss of dear ones, the inability to help the dying.


Immediately after the Sept. 8 blast on Ulitsa Guryanova, the doctors, who ordinarily work in Moscow's specialized Municipal Psychotherapeutic Clinic No. 223, were put on duty at the Tula movie theater, which was turned into the Emergency Situations Ministry headquarters and first aid center.


Then, Monday, they moved to another grim site - next door to 6 Kashirskoye Shosse, Building 3.


They have seen mothers who lost their children, police officers who could not stand handling body parts any more and inexperienced emergency workers who despaired at not being able to reach injured people buried in the rubble and having to listen as "the moaning got quieter and quieter."


"We had very, very many people coming," Shepelyova said. "What really shocks people is the fatality of what is happening."


Shepelyova and her colleague were interviewed by The Moscow Times as they stopped by to have a chat with Marina Mayevskaya, a psychologist offering counseling from a bus parked around the corner.


They said people were in a state of decompensation, a term meaning the failure of defense mechanisms to prevent mental disturbance. The psychotherapeutic response is anti-crisis therapy, which Shepelyova explained as consisting of three steps.


First, it means being compassionate - being there to talk with patients; second, attempting to shift perception of grief by making them explain what they feel; and third, if the patient chooses to go on with therapy, reorientation, or finding a hook in the person's life that can drag him or her out of the crisis.


For instance, if the mother lost one child but has another, she should take care of that child; if the person has a strong commitment to work, he should devote himself to work.


But few were returning for more counseling Wednesday, when the initial shock was gone. The doctors could not predict what effect the fear that has been sown will eventually have on the survivors and on those who simply heard about the blast. "We will see it within weeks," Shepelyova said.


They witnessed charity as well as grief. At the Tula movie theater, one man came to ask where he could unload a truckload of food so that he would not be noticed. On Tuesday, another man came to the Kashirskoye Shosse site with a stack of dollars and simply gave out money to people without giving his name.


Psychologist Mayevskaya said children who heard the blast or saw its consequences are most affected by fear. That, she said, is in turn a source of anxiety for mothers, who are always in a profound intimate connection with their children.


Mayevskaya works for the "310" counseling service, which began as a branch of the municipal burial agency and offered counseling to people who had lost their relatives.


At the site of the blast, she worked out of a bus equipped to carry coffins. She agreed it was not the best choice, but said it was the only vehicle her bureau had.


Shepelyova said people who have been through a catastrophe often undergo a change in their perception of what is important. People start to value life and goodness more than before. Shepelyova said she counseled a "hotshot young businessman who was completely lost, nearly mad."


"I have been through many things in my life, but this is the first time I started to think about good and evil," she quoted him as saying.


"I call it a period of parting clouds, when the bright light of the soul comes straight through," Shepelyova said. "There is purity and kindness inside every person, but it comes out in extreme situations."