Russia: War Reporter Blogs on Trauma and Politics of the Subway Attacks

Flowers at Park Kultury subway station in Moscow - April 3, 2010 (image by Veronica Khokhlova)

Flowers at Park Kultury subway station in Moscow – April 3, 2010 (image by Veronica Khokhlova)

Olga Allenova (LJ user allenova) is a special correspondent for the Kommersant daily, author of Chechnya is Close: War Through the Eyes of a Woman (RUS), a collection of the 1999-2007 war reportage from Russia's North Caucasus region. In the blog post (RUS) translated below, she writes about the March 29 subway bombings in Moscow and the 2004 Beslan school siege, the subsequent pain and trauma, and the resulting political and media responses.

Today a friend of mine […] suddenly told me that she had been [avoiding subway and taking buses and other means of land public transportation] to work this whole past week. She works at [Kolomenskaya subway station], and lives at [Rechnoy Vokzal]. It takes her only 40 minutes to get from home to work. But since Tuesday, she's been leaving home two hours earlier – at 6 AM, that is – to be at the office by 9 AM.

I didn't get what she meant right away. That is, I could guess she was stressed out, like many other Muscovites, as a result of [last Monday's subway blasts]. But I didn't know her condition was that serious. And when I asked her why she was so sure something similar couldn't happen on [a bus], she started crying. And I suddenly realized that I had just told her a very cruel thing. The imaginary safety of land transportation was keeping her afloat, allowed her to continue going to work, to somehow plan her life. And now she was sobbing, saying this: “I can't live! I can't live! I can't descend into the subway! I can't look at the people!” And now I could understand her. I was in a similar state in 2004, in and after Beslan. Everything that used to give my life a sense of some universal justice had collapsed then. I couldn't sleep, couldn't eat or go out into the street. In front of my eyes stood black plastic bags, and the black women screaming above them. It's impossible to express this, the words that I'm writing now seem absurd. Even now I have a lump in my throat. I don't even remember how I got out of that. Many hours, weeks, I'd been talking to all kinds of people, friends, a priest, my husband, colleagues. It was then that I decided I wouldn't be seeing psychologists – they aren't of much help. They are just doing their job, staying outside – outside your pain.

Then a year passed, and I went to Beslan again. And again, there was this terrible hurt, and these symbols – white balloons over the school, white birds over the cemetery, an old woman saying tender words to a dove that chose to sit on her granddaughter's grave, children's faces on the cold gravestones, their teddy bears, their chocolates and cola. I'm a strong person, I know that. I've seen a lot in my 33 years. War, dirt, terrorist acts, corpses that no longer looked like people. I know that I've survived all that. But I know that deep inside I still haven't recovered from Beslan. I don't like to talk about it. I try not to think about it. Because when I do, I sob from despair, from fear. I sob because I still haven't understood why it happened. I sob the way my friend did today. She's just scared. There are many people like her now. People are scared to go inside subway. They are scared of women in headscarves, even though many of these women are Moscow natives. They are scared of their own fear. Fear is an enemy that destroys a person from within. If you are scared and you give up, the fear will take full hold of you. When I'm scared to go to the Caucasus, I realize that if I give in to fear and don't go once, I'll stop going there altogether – and I'll end up stuck at home, behind the closed doors, and I'll be scared even to pick up a phone. I know people to whom this happened.

I don't understand why they aren't discussing this problem on TV. Why there are no psychologists who would talk in prime time to people about the problems that are bothering them a lot. Not every person would agree to see a psychologist. Not everyone understands that it's a disease that requires treatment.

They'd tell me – what TV discussions do you expect when on the day of the attacks they didn't even air special newscasts on TV. I live in this country, so I'm not surprised. A year after Beslan, exactly on the anniversary, Moscow was celebrating its birthday. And when I wrote a text about it, outraged readers responded to me: “What, do you want us to forget our own birthdays, anniversaries, weddings?” My friend, by the way, was also celebrating her birthday on that day. And now she is sobbing from fear. It's just that at that time it all seemed too distant. And now it's very close. […] And I'm not surprised by how the federal channels were covering the subway attacks. If you remember Nord-Ost [theater hostage crisis of 2002] and the live broadcasts on [NTV] – and what they did to NTV afterwards – it becomes clear that no live broadcasts are possible in this country under this regime. I'm not gonna get hysterical and scream about why the officials aren't showing me the truth – the way Beslan mothers did at one point. I simply despise this regime. I don't see them as authorities. For me, they are a cowardly bunch of people who couldn't even get out of the Beslan airport, but were sitting there, in the hastily set up headquarters (just in case, so that they could get out if the terrorists suddenly besiege the whole city) – at the time when the children were being shot at by tanks and grenade launchers. These same cowardly people were trying to convince the citizens whose relatives were taken hostage in the besieged Nord-Ost [theater]: “Colleagues! Calm down! All the terrorists are waiting for is for you to hold a rally on Red Square! We won't allow this!” A quote from [Valentina Matvienko]. They, of course, couldn't allow such a blow to their image. A rally against the war in Chechnya, and right on Red Square. Against the sacred and on the sacred.

I don't expect anything from these people. I even understand why they disliked the publications in the media claiming that the Moscow attacks were acts of revenge for the Caucasus. [Boris Gryzlov] is very displeased with hearing all the time about the regime's cowardliness. And about the mistakes they had committed but wouldn't admit to. […]

But – again – this isn't what I wanted to say. I wanted to say that people need help. Professional psychological help as well as simple moral support from [family and friends]. If you have a friend who is scared to take subway, talk to him about it. Help him. Maybe you'll save him from trouble. We can only rely on ourselves, on our dear ones, on fellow citizens. Because there's no one else in this country that we can rely on.

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