Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Rage and Politics 4 Years After Dubrovka

MTSeige survivor Marat Abdrakhimov
That night, Marat Abdrakhimov couldn't sleep. Crammed into his seat, he was unable to stretch out. What he did next saved his life: He lay down on the floor of the theater and tucked his head under his arm.

"The sound of shooting woke me up," said Abdrakhimov, 32. " I walked out of the theater hall, past all the special forces and threw up."

On Thursday, Abdrakhimov was one of several hundred mourners who descended on the Dubrovka theater where Chechen rebels held 912 people hostage during a performance of "Nord Ost."

The storming of the theater in southeastern Moscow -- which took place exactly four years ago Thursday -- left 130 innocent people dead. Of that, 125 are thought to have perished from poisonous gas used by special forces to root out the terrorists.

As in the case of the 2004 Beslan school crisis, survivors, family members and their supporters sounded just as angry at the government as they were at the terrorists.

"It's not only the terrorists who are to blame for acts of terrorism," said Alexei Chebnoshov, 25, a graduate student who didn't lose anyone in the hostage-taking but came Thursday to show solidarity with those who did. "It is the government, too."

And as in the case of remembering Beslan, remembering Dubrovka has morphed into a political cause, a rallying cry for those who oppose the powers that be and hope for a different kind of country.

Attending Thursday's ceremony were chess champion-turned-liberal activist Garry Kasparov, former presidential candidate Irina Khakamada and National Bolshevik leader Eduard Limonov. Several State Duma deputies also came.

A large color photograph of Anna Politkovskaya was attached to the theater. The Novaya Gazeta journalist, who was shot dead Oct. 7 in her apartment building, wrote numerous articles criticizing the government's handling of the seige.

Tatyana Karpova, speaking to the crowd, which was gathered in an open square in front of the theater, said of Politkovskaya's murder: "We consider her death to be an act of terrorism, and we will add her name to the list of victims of terrorism."

Karpova's son, well known songwriter Alexander Karpov, 31, died at Dubrovka. The authorities, she said, "left me without hope." She added: "I simply died along with my son. ... They left me with my life, but I don't know what to do with it."


Michael Eckels / MT
A man placing flowers Thursday at a plaque for the 130 victims of the attack.
The rebels took over the theater after the musical had begun. Nineteen terrorists had been strategically placed in the audience, bombs tucked under their clothes. Others stormed the stage.

The terrorists demanded Russian troops pull out of Chechnya.

Three days later, security forces pumped a knockout gas into the building and raided it. All the rebels were killed.

Authorities have never disclosed the makeup of the gas. Doctors treating those trapped in the theater, unaware what kind of agent they were dealing with, were unable to save many lives.

"We draw strength from each other," said Alexander, only giving his first name. Recalling his niece, 19-year-old Yelena Sharova, who died in the theater, he said: "She is now 23."

Sharova's mother tried to speak but couldn't. "We have to depend on each other because the government is not helping," Alexander continued.

Relatives gathered around a memorial plaque with the victims' names on it that had been affixed to the building. They placed flowers at the base of the plaque.

Schoolchildren released 130 white balloons into the air.

A church choir sang in the background as priests blessed the memorial with holy water.

Chebnoshov, the graduate student, seemed infused with a quiet anger. "Apathy from regular people in this case is unacceptable," he said. "More people should show up. It's a shame that it is not part of our culture to support people this way."