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October 5, 1999

Life in Rostov

by Julia Urakcheeva

Russia has been shaken by the explosions in the residential buildings that followed one another: on September 9 and September 13 in Moscow and September 16 in Volgodonsk (Rostov district). About 150 people died, and about 700 were wounded. Hundreds of people lost their homes and have nowhere to live. There were a number of explanations for the explosions, but now there is no doubt: they were Chechen terrorist acts.


On September 9, the day of the first explosion in Moscow in Gourjanov Street, a phone rang in the central office of "Interfax" Information Agency. The unknown voice announced with a Caucasian accent, "What happened in Moscow is our reply to the bombing of peaceful villages in Chechnya and Dagestan."

A reply? Then the question arises: who started it all? Was it Russia or Chechnya who started a conflict that has lasted for years? (Chechnya was a part of Russia, but some years ago it began fighting for independence and killing Russians). I'm afraid this question will remain a rhetorical one. And it's impossible to break the cycle.

After the tragic September events, the Russian bombers hammered Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, and its suburbs, including an airport. Russian bombers visited Chechnya regularly since the Chechen battles headed by the notorious bandits, Basaev and Khattab, who invaded Dagestan, which is a part of Russia, in August 1999. But now the intensivity of bombing has increased, and it seems to be just the start of coming land operations. Chechens are being deported from Moscow. It looks like the second Chechen war. Yeltsin called the first one his greatest mistake.


After the second explosion in Moscow (September 13) the country was enveloped in horror. But nobody could tell anything definite. Nobody could answer the question that disquieted everybody: "Who will be next?" A man swearing he had first-hand information said on TV that there will be explosions in Moscow, Saint Petersburg and in Rostov-on-Don.

Meanwhile, here in Rostov the celebration of the city's 250-anniversary is coming. The city has been preparing for it for a year. The culmination of the holidays is September 18 and 19. Everybody wonders if the city celebration will be canceled or not, but nobody believes that the terrorists will encroach on Rostov. There are too many Caucasians here, Chechens among them. On the other hand, those who attack people for money don't mind it. In Moscow there are a lot of Chechens too - and what of it? A million and a half Rostovites talk it over and over.

And on September 16 Rostov shuddered with horror. Another explosion! We've know the shocking statistics by heart: in Volgodonsk, near Rostov, 17 people died and 546 were wounded; 5 multi-storeyed houses are in a state of emergency; and 38 buildings need repair. Those who were lucky only lost their window-frames, and new window glass is now a precious commodity there. The police, firemen, ambulance and rescuers go to Volgodonsk.

Now it's clear the Day of the City Celebration is cancelled. The mayor of Rostov decided to cancel all the weekend entertainment. The city authorities say it would be a blasphemy "to arrange any entertainment in those days, tragic for the whole country." On Saturday there was no studying at school, and Sunday was declared a day of mourning. Rostov was left without a great concert, dances, fireworks, or carnival. However, there were very few disappointed because the majority of Rostovites, fearful of terrorists, were going to stay home anyway. The weekend was peaceful.


Since then Rostov police increased their vigilance and took all buildings more than 5 storeys high (there are 1,600 of those in the city) under their control.

I live in a 14-story house, and I don't feel absolutely safe. But all the neighbors arranged night-watch in our building as well as in big houses all around the city. Each night somebody is watching, not to let any unknown trailer trucks approach the house (this was the way the explosives were taken to the 9-story house in Volgodonsk).

Not only in Rostov, but in many big cities in central Russia the night-watch is necessary. On September 22, due to the vigilance of common people in Ryazan, an explosion was avoided. Somebody caried three sacks of sugar into a house. There WAS sugar - but when mixed with hexogen, it becomes a powerful explosive. If it were not for the night-watch crew, three houses may have been exploded. It's difficult to predict what will happen next. I wish I lived in a little cottage.

The Harbinger