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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Tragic Day Remembered in Moscow

ReutersA Dutch delegation, right, joining victims' relatives in observing a minute's silence at Luzhniki stadium on Saturday.
Hundreds of Russian and Dutch fans gathered on Saturday to mark the 25th anniversary of the Luzhniki stadium disaster.

Officials from the Soviet Union failed for years to disclose the tragedy that occurred at a UEFA Cup match between Spartak Moscow and Dutch club HFC Haarlem on Oct. 20, 1982.

When they did, the authorities gave an official death toll of 66, although the number who died in a crush at one exit could have been as high as 340.

"Today things seem pretty clear to me. We know why it happened. What I don't understand is why no one in Russia bothers to apologize 25 years after the tragedy," said Nina Novostruyeva.

Novostruyeva's 15-year-old son Mikhail died in the crush, and on Saturday she and the families of other of other victims laid flowers at a monument near Luzhniki.

"I said goodbye to my perfectly healthy son and got a coffin days later. He could have been alive now if only they had opened all the exits," Novostruyeva said.

Spartak fan Vladimir Shorinov, who was at the UEFA Cup match, said it was a cold, snowy day. The stadium was half empty and only one part of it was open to spectators.

The Moscow side was leading 1-0 and some spectators headed for an exit before the final whistle, the only one of four open.

But leaving fans rushed back up the icy stairs when Spartak scored a late goal, crushing people in the process.

"The last thing they saw in their lives was football," said one Russian commentator at a benefit game Saturday between veterans of Spartak and Haarlem, many of whom played on that day in 1982.

Russia's Dutch coach, Guus Hiddink, and countryman Dick Advocaat, who coaches Premier League club Zenit St. Petersburg, helped organize the game.

In 1982, Dutch fans were sitting in a separate section of the ground and used a different exit.

"We were told there was an accident several days later but it was months before we realized people were killed," said Haarlem president Dick Hulsebosch.

"[The disaster] has never been explained to us."

The relatives claim that if officials confirmed the true scale of the disaster it would dwarf other football tragedies, including at Hillsborough and Heysel.

Ninety-six people were crushed at the Hillsborough ground in Sheffield, England, in 1989, while 39 people died at the Heysel stadium in Brussels in 1985.

About 300 fans were killed and more than 500 injured during stadium riots in the Peruvian capital of Lima in 1964, the world's worst football disaster.

"I can't say I'm blaming football," Novostruyeva said."I'm blaming the system and the way it was all organized."