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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Theater Awash in Flowers and Tears

MTWomen laying flowers and lighting candles Monday along the driveway to the theater on Ulitsa Melnikova to commemorate the 117 hostages who died after Saturday's raid.
In a bittersweet swirl of emotion, thousands of mourners gathered Monday to commemorate the hostages who died, while a growing number of relatives sighed with relief as they were reunited with loved ones who had survived.

The stream of visitors to the theater on Ulitsa Melnikova swelled throughout the day and into the night, leaving the driveway near the building awash with flowers and lighted candles in memory of the 117 captives who died, almost all of them from the gas used in the rescue effort.

"We brought 117 flowers," said a dark-haired young woman, who spent a long time with her friend arranging two giant bunches of reddish mums.

Like most of those who dropped by throughout the day, she had not known any of the hostages personally.

"No, we didn't have relatives here. But it is our tragedy too," she said.

Traffic outside the theater slowed down as visitors popped out of their cars, laid flowers and drove off. Others lingered, kneeling near the heaps of bouquets, reading from prayer books or silently crying.

"My daughter was there and she, fortunately, is alive," said one man, choking back tears. "But her friend died. I am sorry, I just can't talk now."

Dozens of Muscovites also lined up outside Hospital No. 15 to donate blood. By mid-afternoon, hospital staff said they could not handle the flood of donors and asked those still waiting to give blood to go home.

Meanwhile, some of the relatives who had been waiting for two days at nearby hospitals were finally allowed inside, and scores of freed hostages who had been receiving treatment were discharged.

As of Monday morning, 239 of the former captives had been released, while 405 remained hospitalized, Alexander Yermolov, head of the Sklifosovsky emergency care hospital, told reporters. According to figures given by Leonid Aronov, the chief doctor at Hospital No. 13, which accepted the highest number of victims, the total number of freed captives still hospitalized seemed to be 407.

Moscow prosecutor Mikhail Avdyukov said that of the 117 hostages who died 108 had been identified, Interfax reported. But he added that the casualty count could grow, as 45 patients remained in critical condition.


Vladimir Filonov / MT

Beefed up security at the ad hoc crisis center where relatives came Monday to look for word of hostages who were still missing.

President Vladimir Putin, who declared Monday a day of mourning, promised that the government would help those hit by the hostage siege and pledged to ratchet up the fight against terrorism. (See story on Page 3.)

Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matviyenko said that families who lost relatives would receive 100,000 rubles per casualty and an additional 14,200 rubles for each funeral, Interfax reported. Hostages would receive 50,000 rubles each, along with any special rehabilitation they may need, Matviyenko said. Funerals were set to begin Tuesday.

Addressing a meeting of his Cabinet on Monday afternoon, Putin insisted that Russia would not bow its head to terrorism.

"Russia will not make deals with terrorists and will not give in to any blackmail," a pale and tired-looking Putin said in televised remarks. "International terrorism is getting bolder and behaving with ever greater cruelty."

Putin also said the country would have to crack down on security threats and hinted that the Kremlin would not soften its policies in Chechnya.

"The tragic events are over, but a great deal of problems remain," he said. "We are paying a heavy price both for the weakness of the state and for inconsistency in [its] actions."

Many unanswered questions remain about the hostage-taking and the way it was handled.

The liberal Union of Right Forces party called on Monday for a parliamentary inquiry to determine how Chechen rebels managed to stockpile such quantities of arms and explosives in Moscow and why medical experts had been so poorly prepared to treat the freed hostages after special forces stormed the theater, the party's leader, Boris Nemtsov, said on national television.

Nemtsov said the inquiry should also focus on the extreme secrecy and security measures applied to hospitalized victims, many of whom still have not been allowed to see relatives.

Even mourners who came Monday to the theater were not allowed past the heavily guarded gate unless they had flowers. Anyone wishing to pay respects without an offering was told to stand outside the gate.

Dozens of people -- including some of those laying flowers at the theater -- have not yet found their friends and relatives.

Andrei, a teacher from the Zolotoye Secheniye private school whose students were watching the musical "Nord Ost" when the theater was seized last Wednesday, said that one of the three teachers who had accompanied the group was still missing.

Slava, a 16-year-old culinary student from the vocational school that has served since last week as an ad hoc crisis center, said he has not yet found four of his friends who attended the show.

"I have already searched all the hospitals in Moscow for my friends. I will look for them until I find them," he said, his face growing red and his eyes wet with tears.

"I am sure that the government should allocate much more money to improve security forces so that they are really properly equipped to fight terrorism," said Slava, who lost several acquaintances in the 1999 apartment bombing on Kashirskoye Shosse, not far from the theater. "How long will we not be able to sleep peacefully in our homes?!"

Most of those at the theater believed that the raid -- which helped rescue 646 of nearly 800 hostages -- had been justified. But there was no consensus in the crowd on how the protracted war in Chechnya should be handled.

"Tougher measures must be taken in Chechnya to stop terrorism," Andrei Selyutin, a Moscow businessman, said. "Our president already seems to be very tough, but I think more should be done. And also these pseudo-human rights organizations should be listened to less. Ours and Europeans too. ... They simply haven't got a clue."

"I am sure the raid was the right thing to do. But it is obvious that terrorism will continue to spread," Lyudmila Zavyalova, 48, said. "I don't know what should be done in Chechnya. I am a nurse, so I cannot say like some do that Chechens should be exterminated. I wish all people happiness. But I cannot think of any solution."

Staff Writer Oksana Yablokova contributed to this report.