A Time of Revolution in Moscow, Part III

Date: 11/08/2021

Author: Kent Moors, Ph.D.

In this edition of the Classified Intelligence Brief Spy Tale series, we conclude Marina’s harrowing account of the events in Moscow at the beginning of October 1993. There is much to learn here that has resonance with the political and ideological environment currently besieging the US.

We are well advised to recall the sage (but often misquoted) advice of philosopher George Santayana: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” There is, however, an important codicil to this counsel.

Events are never carbon copies of each other. The later reflection always unfolds within different circumstances and led by different players. It is important to see the parallel before it descends upon us. After all, as Mark Twain observed: “History does not repeat itself. But it does rhyme.”

We pick up Marina’s Moscow Diary right where we left it last week. The installments of her syndicated column contained below were printed in over 300 newspapers in North America and Europe. In March of 2000, the French newspaper Le Monde (which would often carry Marina’s writings) listed these among the top 100 worldwide column writings of the decade.

Marina would write from wherever she was filing and I would edit them usually somewhere else (with today’s it was the US), connected only by a finicky Russian fax machine and the rare occasions when I could get a brief phone call through. As with last week’s Spy Tale, I have added photos to her text.


Moscow Diary

Diary Entry for October 4, 1993, 3:35 a.m.: “A Little Girl and a Descent into Hell”

I am at the Raskovoy Medical Institute, near the huge 19th-century Belarusian Train Station about three miles northwest of the Parliament Building.

Moscow’s Belarusian Train Station photo:

It used to be called Public Clinic 23 in the days when medical treatment was provided at public expense. Nothing is free these days in Moscow, and the facility went private for patients who could pay (preferably in hard currency) more than a year ago.

When I return to my native Russia, this is still my clinic where I am shortly to undergo medical treatment not covered by my family’s insurance back in the States.

The clinic is usually staffed by a half-dozen doctors, all women, who have worked there for years. Most of the newer personnel left state-run hospitals in the city for something very desirable these days – a better salary that is actually paid on time.

The director Tatiana Olevesova was a medical school classmate of my mother but reminds me more of my grandmother.  We have known each other for more than 20 years, so I called her for help.

We arranged for both institute ambulances to evacuate some of the wounded from the conflict that occurred in front of the City Administration Building close by Parliament Square. The first ambulance arrived around 9:30 p.m. I came along with it and have been here ever since.

Last night and this morning will be burned in my soul forever. This is now war, and the political views of the participants bear no relationship to the suffering inflicted.

The institute staff had set up treatment tables by the entrance. City ambulances, militia (local police) cars, and private vehicles started bringing in the wounded. There were so many, they had to wait to discharge their passengers.

The institute has treated more than 50 casualties, both from the City Building area and later arrivals from the Ostankino television center several miles to the north. There, anti-Yeltsin forces – those claiming to be “defenders of democracy”—had decided to declare their own version of the end of days.

Attack on Ostankino TV Center, October 3,1993 photo:

All available medical facilities in a wide area are being swept into service. Those transporting the victims as well as the institute doctors have been working nonstop.

Within the first few hours of my being there, there was blood all over everything and everybody.

I have been pressed into service, carrying things, holding bottles of saline solution, pressure bandages, holding hands. Whatever. I feel so powerless.

At least two have died in front of me, both of gunshot wounds One was dead on arrival. It will take some time to identify him; his face is gone.

We have been told by the militia that the front of the Ostankino complex is littered with dead and dying. They think supporters of the legislature have taken the main building. There is no television set here in the clinic so there is no way to tell.

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This is not the time to do interviews, but I shall try to describe what is taking place. There are eight treatment tables set up in the institute’s reception area. Those who cannot be seen immediately have been placed in consultation rooms and offices.

The staff tries to evaluate how seriously injured each is upon arrival, a deadly copy of the triage on the MASH TV show back home. Until this morning, however, they are coming in too quickly. There is blood all over the floors.

Among the injured is a young girl of about 10. Perhaps her mother took her to see what was going on (there is morbid curiosity in Moscow these days) and she was hit by something thrown into the crowd. The doctors think it was a rock. She was picked up off the street. The mother probably doesn’t even know where her daughter is now.

The little girl is not conscious and needs a transfusion. There is no plasma here and no way to obtain any from the nearest source, the Sklifosovksy Center several miles away, if they have any left.

The main central city hospital has been treating its own casualties. Tatiana has been told that the main hospital’s blood stock is already exhausted.

Among many other of the injured is a middle-aged man in great pain. His leg is crushed. They will stabilize him here and send him to a larger facility. He asks me to contact his family, but I cannot understand the phone number he is giving me. The doctor treating him assumes he will lose the leg.

There were few medical supplies here before this tragedy hit. The staff is sterilizing what it can and reusing it immediately.

Some of the supplies came from Pittsburgh; the Brother’s Brother Foundation is stenciled on the boxes. Somebody thank them, please.

The doctors stopped expressing their own emotions early on. There is no time.

I saw a militiaman, obviously exhausted, huddled in a corner. He was crying. So will I once I finish this and get some sleep. Now, I feel only numbness and anger.

No additional injured have arrived for a while. I have no idea what is happening outside. I try to reach my sister, also named Tatiana, but there is no answer.

When you read this, know that I am safe. I cannot say the same for my Moscow.

Diary Entry for later on October 4, 1993: “Do the Politicians Ever Count the Dead?”

After leaving the institute, I walk in the direction of Parliament Square. I can see lines of military vehicles moving to seal off the square. Tank barrels are pointed toward the Parliament building, Russia’s White House.

I walk into the lobby of the Hotel Ukraina, sitting on Kutuzovskaya prospect aside the Tarasa Shevchenko Embankment of the Moscow River across from the White House.

Hotel Ukraina, July 1993 photo:

A television offered pictures of tranquil landscapes, forests, flowers, with quiet music in the background. This was interrupted only by a short speech from Russian President Boris Yeltsin. It was only now that I hear of the state of emergency decreed earlier. The president looks tired. So am I. It is ages since I have slept.

Suddenly, there are gunshots. Soldiers in riot gear are pushing people back from the City Administration Building – the scene of the previous day’s fighting.  But there still are civilians in Parliament Square and snipers on the surrounding rooftops.

I strike up a conversation with a British businessman who is visiting Moscow for the first time. He speaks nervously about the unfolding events.

“Well don’t expect such a show every time you come to town,” I tell him.

He smiles back and is attempting to say something, but the words are drowned out by a piercing explosion. A tank has begun shelling the White House, the barricaded bastion of anti-Yeltsin insurrectionists.

The ground shakes and one can hear an awesome crash. When the smoke lifts a part of the upper floors of the building is simply gone. Two more of the T80UD tanks join in the shelling.

Tanks firing on Russian Parliament, October 4, 1993 photo:

Armored vehicles rapidly approach the sides of the Parliament building. It is only at this point I can make out ground troops positioned on the perimeter. This is it, I say to myself. They will storm the building and “revise” Russian democracy floor by floor.

The White House on October 8, 1993 Photo:

A crowd of onlookers scatter, but quickly return. This macabre curiosity will ultimately cost lives. It is simply stupid. The military and the opposition in the building will soon bury enough on their own.

People near me are crying. So am I.

I think of my family and decide it is time to make my way home. Whatever is unfolding here will soon be over. But it will take Moscow some time to recover.

I start walking among the sounds and smells of war. Several blocks away there are bodies in the street with their faces covered.

I find a taxi. It has a white cloth tied to the antenna, indicating it has been used throughout the night as a voluntary ambulance.

“You are working today?” I ask the driver in amazement.

“No,” he responds. “I’m looking for my brother. He left yesterday and we haven’t seen him since.” His brother was 16 and had decided he wanted to see what was going on.

The drive tells me he never thought to become involved but had no choice when he saw what was in the streets.

“It’s so foolish,” he says. “People are bringing their children, walking their dogs, right into the middle of this mess just to see the spectacle. Have we all gone crazy? All this time I have seen so many dead who should never have been here in the first place.”

He sees that I am exhausted and offers to take me home. The center of the city is closed and we have to bypass all of it by using one of the outer ring highways.

“Is your family safe?” he asks me after a long silence. “I don’t know,” is all I can say in response. There is no further conversation until we arrive at my apartment.

I search for some money to pay him, but he puts up his hands and shakes his head. “You and I have other things to look for today,” he said.

Upon leaving, he leans out the window and asks, “Do the politicians ever count the dead?” I have no answer worth a damn.

The apartment is empty. There seems nothing else to do but collapse and sleep.

Sometime after 8 p.m., I am awakened by screaming coming from the living room. I race out to see my sister holding my blood-stained white sweater. “It’s not my blood,” I yell. I tell her about the previous night at the medical clinic. She tells me that the family is all right.

I later call the institute and ask about the little girl who was brought in with so many other injured, but who had drawn my particular attention. She was still unconscious when I left.

Her name, as I would learn later, is Olga Neverova. Born November 22, 1981, died October 4, 1993, a casualty on the road to an uncertain Russian future. She had never regained consciousness and had been pronounced dead at about the time the tanks were firing. Olga was a year younger than my son Alex.

I feel useless, betrayed, lost. I pull the plug on my telephone. Needing to separate myself from the events rolling on outside, I no longer want to know what is going on.

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Diary Entry for October 6, 1993: “A Postmortem”

The reconstruction of events begins in earnest today in the Moscow press. That is, what is left of it. President Boris Yeltsin has suspended publication of opposition newspapers and severely restricted news coverage by Russian radio and TV.

All commentary from the broadcast media is solidly behind Yeltsin. One interview after another praises the victors and condemns the losers. Izvestia, which has sided with the president from the beginning, is calling for swift and certain punishment of the Parliament opposition leaders. The same newspaper, however, has criticized the government for failure to act and questions why it took 19 hours after the state of emergency was declared before Yeltsin addressed the nation.

Among the political movements and parties identified by the government for suspension are the radical National Salvation Front, the Union of Officers, the Pamyat National Patriotic Front, Working Russia, the Russian National Unity Movement, the Russian National Assembly, the Russian Party, and most of the local communist parties.

The mayor has suspended the Moscow soviets. These councils are the last remnant of the old system and the power base for the communists after Yeltsin dissolved the national party two years ago.   

Those who remained in the Russian White House until the attack on October 4 are branded as fascists. Criminal proceedings are starting for the leaders of the tragic attack on the Ostankino TV complex and more are expected shortly.

Over 1,000 “defenders” had remained in the White House until the end. These included a number of local police (i.e., militia) and military field grade commanders who had come over to the side of the Parliament. The parliamentary leadership of what is now widely called a “coup” are in Lefortovo Prison in central Moscow [editorial note from Kent: a place I know personally, see “How Cowboy Jack Saved Me in a Moscow Jail Cell, Part II,” July 23, 2021.]

A curfew is imposed on the city from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. until further notice. Violators will be detained without exception. Roadblocks are set up throughout Moscow. Cars are randomly being searched and owners arrested without charges being made against them.

Most businesses remain closed. Many believe it is not over. There has also been considerable looting and vandalism over the past few days.

Shots are still being exchanged. The military is not taking any chances, since snipers are now the main concern. Upon being informed which buildings have gunmen, soldiers blow away entire floors with armor and machine guns. Civilian injuries and deaths have resulted. It is unlikely that the government will compensate for the damage or casualties.

Preliminary “official” death counts are all too low, ranging from 18 (an early government estimate discounted by everybody) to almost 300 by the Ministry of Public Health. The real toll will never be known. Rumors are circulating that government forces removed bodies from the White House last night and buried them in unmarked graves, thereby decreasing the number of fatalities reported. There are still bodies in the streets.

People are walking the city in search of loved ones and praying that they find them alive. Mothers seek help in locating children who never came home.

The hospitals and clinics have not identified all of the bodies; nor, in some cases, do they know the names of injured patients

I go back to the Hotel Ukraina this afternoon, from where I had watched the army’s attack on Monday. Parts of the White House are still burning with billowing smoke visible for miles. The entire building from the 15th floor up is on fire. Most of the windows on the river side are gone, and the façade of the upper third of the structure is entirely black. No efforts were made to fight the fires until this morning. Personnel are moving slowly since some of the offices are mined.

With all the pain and grief in this city nothing has been resolved. The problems which brought about the conflict remain. So do the vested interests and the narrow views. People cannot afford to live, and the rising tide of anger will not recede.

The political conflict will continue as the nation prepares for new elections in less than three months. Yeltsin’s image as a defender of democracy – hard won during the coup of 1991 – is gone. The opposition will mobilize again, probably shifting strength to regional power centers.

Meanwhile, Moscow will bury its dead and wait for the next crisis. It has been this way for centuries.

Dr. Kent Moors

This is an installment of Classified Intelligence Brief, your guide to what’s really happening behind the headlines… and how to profit from it. Dr. Kent Moors served the United States for 30 years as one of the most highly decorated intelligence operatives alive today (including THREE Presidential commendations).

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