By Andrew Jack in Moscow
The Financial Times, October 24 2002
There was a strange sense of suspended animation in the area around Melnikova Street in south-eastern central Moscow on Thursday morning, scene of the most daring hostage-taking crisis in the city's history.
In the distance, cars moved along the surrounding main road axes as they do every working day in the busy Russian capital. But conditions were very different near the police cordons in the smaller streets that run between them.
Journalists hung around eager for scraps of news, prevented by lines of static militia to keep the curious from getting too close. Lines of empty buses, ambulances, fire trucks and even armoured personnel cars were parked on both sides of the barriers, ready for any turn of events.
Relatives and friends of those held hostage, their faces locked in expressions of concern and fatigue, were clustered near a local school where they could follow the news and seek help from counsellors.
Visible in the distance through the mist, the Nord-Ost Theatrical Centre - a drab Soviet-era concrete building enlivened by a large banner carrying the name of the performance - stood frozen as it had the previous evening, its courtyard packed with cars as 700 or more spectators rushed to their seats.
"Nord-Ost" a cynically effective target
The 40 or so hostage-takers who stormed the theatre could not have been more cynically effective in choosing their target. The musical "Nord-Ost" - or north-east - seemed as far as it was possible to be from Russia's from the Chechen conflict, guaranteeing that security would be as low as the number of hostages and subsequent publicity would be high.
"Nord-Ost" was a symbol of the country's recent economic and cultural revival, a fully Russian spectacle which had proved so popular that the organisers had hired the former House of Culture of the nearby First State Ball Bearings Factory on a long term lease, and only this week celebrated the anniversary of its first year.
The 1,000-capacity hall was full of children and families. Their relatives now hover outside, many puffing cigarettes, with heavy lines under their eyes witnessing their vigil throughout the night.
"My mother and sister are inside, and I should have been there too," says Alexei, who was close to tears.
While some preferred not to talk, an elderly woman leaning on a walking stick was overcome by the emotion of the events, even though she believed her "dear, sweet nephew" had managed to escape during the night.
"Everything will be OK," said one man whose daughter remained trapped inside, attempting to calm her and himself alike. "The hostage takers want to use television to change public opinion and the views of the president. They have assured them that no-one will be harmed."
Hostages with mobiles contact outside world
In a symbol of the new money and lifestyles invading Moscow in recent years, some had spoken to their relatives and friends inside by mobile telephone. A musician and several spectators inside the hall - including one journalist - had even called Russian television stations to provide commentary from within.
The relatives and other locals at the scene expressed varied views on the conflict in Chechnya and the hostage-takers' demands. Few expressed open bitterness towards the situation in Chechnya, with those directly affected preferring to concentrate on their more immediate concerns as they awaited new of fresh hostages who had been released.
"I have a good Chechen friend, but this incident shows that there are lots of bandits there, and people in Chechnya have to live with them," said one man with relatives held hostage.
Another added: "There should not be war in Chechnya. We need a referendum, and if they want their independence, we should install proper borders. But we should also put Yeltsin on trial for war crimes, like Milosevic," he said, in a reference to the former Russian president who launched the previous bloody war in the republic in 1994-96.
консерватино-трезвая статья, довольно мало треска и хорошие детали... эндрю, как и обычно, молодец.
мне кажется, ни один журналист так и не сказал ничего про содержание мюзикла... почему там столько детей было? теперь вся россия будет думать, что в маскве дети вечером по мюзиклам шатаются...
кто-то мне говорил, что в основе сюжет "двух капитанов" - это так?
upd: только что звонили знакомые из москвы - они собирались идти на этот мюзикл с ребенком... причем пару недель назад как-то "конкретно засуетелись" с билетами... на его (и родителей) счастье малыш захворал...