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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bravery Almost Cost Him His Heart

MTItar-Tass' Yury Kirilchenko speaking Wednesday at the "We Remember" exhibition in the Library of Foreign Languages.
Itar-Tass reporter Yury Kirilchenko made a beeline for the World Trade Center shortly after the first hijacked jet rammed into one of the two towers on the morning of Sept. 11. He arrived just as the first tower collapsed.

Racing toward him were hundreds of shocked people, chased by billowing clouds of dust and rubble.

Kirilchenko, 45, did not waste any time. He led people to safety.

Some tightly grasped his hands and arms, others leaned on his shoulders.

For hours, the 2 meter-tall Kirilchenko was alternatively on his cellphone reporting the news and guiding frightened people away from the danger. In the afternoon, he began to feel a pain in his chest and stomach.

He could barely talk when his colleagues and wife found him that evening.

He was rushed to a hospital for complicated heart surgery to save his life. An artery to his heart had collapsed.

"I have an American patch on my heart -- both literally and metaphorically," Kirilchenko said Wednesday at the Library of Foreign Languages, where U.S. Ambassador to Russia Alexander Vershbow presented him with a letter of commendation from Secretary of State Colin Powell.

The ceremony was part of the opening of the "We Remember" exhibition of notes of condolences left at the gates of the U.S. Embassy a year ago and photographs related to the Sept. 11 attacks.

One of the pictures shows President Vladimir Putin shaking Kirilchenko's hand at Ground Zero during a visit by the president to the United States in November 2001.

"His heroic deed speaks better than any words on good prevailing upon evil," Vershbow said.

"I feel your pain," Kirilchenko replied in English. "This is not a figure of speech, not a metaphor. It is really so. And this pain is felt by millions of Russians who have seen this tragedy."

He said there was truth to a bit of Russian folk wisdom that was popular among the generation that lived through World War II.

"We used to laugh at our old women who repeated that everything would be fine 'as long as there is no war,'" he said. "Growing older and having lived through such horrible events, we now realize how right they were."

Kirilchenko, who came to Moscow for the commemoration events, continues to work as an Itar-Tass reporter in New York.