Explosion on the Nevsky Express: the Russian blogosphere reacts

Russia’s blogosphere reacts to the crash of the Moscow-St Petersburg train that killed 26 people on 27 November. Survivors describe their harrowing experience. Liberal politicians have no doubt that the innocent will be framed for this terrorist act. Others fear that this tragic event will trigger serious political repercussions.
Russian bloggers
1 December 2009

Nikolai Kovarsky was a passenger on the Nevsky Express

So this is how it is

Travelling at about 150km/h, the train’s rhythmic motion is interrupted by strange and extremely alarming noises.  They last about ten seconds or so, before mutating into action.  Metal begins to grate and the carriage becomes jolted out of alignment, rocking from side to side with ever increasing amplitude.

All this happens over ten seconds, over which time you begin to understand WHAT is actually happening.

I curl up into foetal position, if you can use that expression in relation to my body. I should point out that no brace position will help you in the face of Newtonian laws — the only thing that can save you here is luck. A multi-tonne carriage stopping almost instantaneously at high speed is not the best place to be contending with the transfer of forces from one kind to another.

I guess I was simply lucky. As was my brother, though he was more badly wounded. I got away with a few bumps and bruises.

The whole thing lasted about thirty seconds — from the moment that you realised something wasn’t quite right, to complete standstill.

Then darkness, an eerie calm, groaning and cries from the injured and maimed.

I’m on the floor now. For some reason I’ve been thrown on to the floor, and this is probably what has saved me. I can feel the mass of motionless bodies pressing down on me. Moving the bodies away, I begin to check myself. Blood everywhere. Mostly not my own. Hands, legs – they still work. I don’t seem to feel much pain (wholly deceptive, this – I’m still in a state of shock). I try to move my limbs – seems to be OK. I’ve got a mighty bump on my head. I’m bleeding, but it’s bearable.

I get up by myself, though it’s a while before those guys who have not been so badly hurt  remove the debris so I can move. There’s agony all round.  We were in the back end of the carriage, and that was where all the bags and suitcases had been thrown. Bodies piled up on top of each other, bodies maimed.

In the first few minutes after the catastrophe, the carriage was a mass of bodies, detached metal and seating.

A few men in the carriage were relatively unhurt — a few escaped with no more than a couple of scratches — and it was these guys who organised the initial relief effort. There was no way of avoiding chaos, but there was no panic and passengers organised themselves quickly. People soon managed to break the windows, beginning a process of removing metal debris and pulling out bodies from under the mess. These guys acted heroically, somehow managing to organise a coherent relief effort in such chaotic and unfamiliar circumstances.

Injuries were for the most part serious. Lacerated wounds, simple and compound fractures,  wounds from flying metal debris, and other details that have no place in print. Some of the bodies in the carriage clearly weren’t moving, but there was no way of counting because of the darkness. Besides, the situation didn’t lend itself to that.

Once the shock had subsided — in this state, I had somehow managed to throw a number of seats out of the open windows — I realised that standing was, to put it mildly, uncomfortable. I sat down on what remained of the seating. Those who could were making their way to the other end of the carriage, which was in a better state than ours, and so I also helped my brother move over there.

About an hour in, people began surrounding the carriage. They seemed to be passengers who had walked back from the front carriages, as well as locals who had managed to get through to the railway. The first doctors climbed their way through the broken windows. They gave out painkillers and inspected the wounded, dividing them into groups for evacuation, depending on the severity of their injuries.

The carriage attendant produced some water from somewhere, which everyone drank avidly.

Evacuation of those with light and moderate injuries was through the train windows, seeing as the carriage doors were completely jammed. The professional evacuation began after about an hour. People were given painkilling injections and expedited to the nearest hospitals in cars.

We were deep in the forest. The fortunate thing was that there were some roads running alongside the railway at this point, but they were typical Russian forest roads with pits and potholes. It was some 40km to the nearest large settlement with medical and state facilities. Certainly nowhere to land a helicopter safely.

Regardless, the first evacuees, the very seriously injured, were dispatched fairly quickly thanks to local ambulances. I was taken in one to a hospital in Bologoye. My brother was dispatched in an earlier shuttle. In the end, I didn’t stay in the hospital for long before making my way to St Petersburg by car. Later a train was sent to evacuate people, but that was after I had gone.

I can’t say anything about an explosion. I certainly didn’t notice any suspicious noises or sudden changes in the motion of the carriage. On the other hand, the incident took place around the fourth carriage from the end and we were in the first carriage. It is quite possible that an explosion destroyed the body of the railway, causing the rear carriages to derail.

You could say that our carriage got off lightly, yet at the same time didn’t. One of the carriages suffered very seriously, while another was turned over on its side. Our carriage, so it seemed, had somehow become detached from the others before coming to a sudden halt. This was where the casualties came from.

An interesting experience, were it not for people dying.

Archpriest Alexander Stepanov was a passenger on the Nevsky Express

The door of our carriage was open and I looked back.  It was pitch black, but there was the occasional flash of a light.  I called one of the other male passengers to go with me and see if we could help.  The twisted carriage, when we got to it, made a very strong impression on me.  A conductor was running towards us and I asked if we could help.  “Yes, yes, please go along there, there’s enough for everyone to do”.

We set off running and quite far on, about 500 metres, we saw the carriage lying on its side on the rails.  On the road were bits of the carriage, still in their couplings.   There were people – some lying, some crawling….the darkness was impenetrable.  I was struck by the fact that the roof of the carriage had concertina-ed, as though the carriage had run on its roof along the sleepers.  200-300 metres further on was the last, the worst carriage.  It had not turned over, but had no wheels.  The wheels, springs and ripped wires were lying all around.  We kept stumbling over them and I fell over several times.  Later on there were descriptions in the internet, saying that the carriages had come off the line, but that’s not how it was.  They came off during the repair work.  The runaway carriages were standing on the line, but with no wheels.  Then I saw someone on the ground and ran up to him to see if I could help, but he was lying there with his stomach ripped open and he was dead. There were another 3 or 4 people on the rails, all dead.  It was dark as pitch, forest all around.

Then my eyes became accustomed and we put on our mobiles to light the way.  There was an electric sub-station nearby and light on the post just got to us. There were people by the last carriage.  I realised later that they were surviving passengers.  Most of them had bruises and cuts to their faces.  Complete confusion.  Six or seven injured people were lying on the ground and a woman with a broken leg was groaning.  There was a young couple – she probably had a broken back and his legs were crushed – were lying side by side.  A little girl had open fractures to her legs.  Blood everywhere, darkness and just mobiles giving light.  The ends of the carriages were smashed:  two men, who had gone out to smoke on the platform, were squashed.  Their bones were broken and their howls were unearthly.  People were trying to get to them.  They somehow got hold of a crowbar and an axe.  I was there was for two hours and all that time people were trying their best to help, but they couldn’t move them.  They managed to drag one out, but the second probably died.

Now it all comes back to me in flashes.  For the two hours that I was there I was carrying, collecting, tearing up rags, helping to bandage, carrying out, although on the whole it was the stronger men that were doing the carrying.  I can really only remember bits of what happened.

Of course I thought I should be praying.  But when someone is bleeding and needs urgent help, you can only do what absolutely has to be done.  That was on the whole pretty simple – hold their hand and warm them, because you can imagine how confused and completely abandoned you would feel if you were lying there.  I tried to support and help, but one had to be very practical – not let people be laid down on concrete or stones, but try and find something to lie them on.  Practical help, that’s what it mainly was.  Of course I have never seen wounds, blood and such terrible mutilation on a scale like this.  But when one’s so wound up, it’s not that one isn’t shocked, but you’re not so shaken that you freeze.  The injured behaved so bravely – no one whinged, they just groaned when they were touched.

It was very striking that of the passengers from the carriages which were not affected only about 20% came to help.  

 Boris Nemtsov is a former Deputy Prime Minister of Russia and a critic of Vladimir Putin

Terror as an excuse.

What happened tonight was a terrible tragedy. Innocent people, passengers on the Moscow-St Petersburg evening express, died for no reason whatsoever. Terror in Russia once again offers no respite. We have already become used to millionaire businessmen being killed in Dagestan; to assassination attempts on regional and local politicians; to explosions in police compounds; to kidnapping and the murder of human rights activists and journalists.

However awful it sounds, central government and the general public have resigned themselves to terrorism in the Caucasus (except Beslan). Terrorist acts in Russia, however, have historically had very serious political consequences. The Moscow apartment explosions in September 1999 allowed Putin to build up popularity and emerge victorious at the 2000 Presidential elections. The Dubrovka theatre siege in 2002 was followed by the closure of NTV (rather, its complete sanitization), and the imposition of ruthless censorship across all television channels. And the tragedy of Beslan led to the cancellation of direct elections for regional governors, turning the democratic institute of elections into a function of government.

It is certainly not impossible that the terror of 27 November 2009 will also be used by the state to whip up a campaign against the political opposition and the remaining outlets of a free press, including the internet. Of course, with such actions the Kremlin would naturally insist that it is acting in the interests of people’s security. Its real aim however, is the preservation of power and the avoidance of even minimal risks.

We should also ask ourselves why Russia continues to suffer from terrorist attacks, yet in the eight years following 9/11, the US has had no such incident. Why is this? One reason is that the US has carried out a full and thorough investigation of the circumstances of that day. Putin, on the other hand, has done no such thing. To this day we puzzle over the murky details surrounding the 1999 apartment bombings; to this day, we don’t know how terrorists got into Moscow and into the Dubrovka theatre complex; and to this day we have no answers from the parliamentary commission on Beslan, which has whimpered to a pathetic close.

No leading figure has been punished for the deaths of hundreds of innocent people. For the time being at least, Putin has also evaded responsibility for his role in such incidents, although his role in both the Beslan and Dubrovka episodes was absolutely critical. The only conclusion we can make is the current government has proven incapable of managing the terror threat and guaranteeing our security. All it has ever done is use terror to strengthen its hold of absolute power and intensify the use of an entirely pernicious kind of politics.

Garry Kasparov

An explosion from the past

So, 10 years after the explosions in the apartment blocks, Russians have once again come up against the faceless terrorist threat, which can be lying in wait for us anywhere and at the most unexpected time.  There is almost no doubt that the “Nevsky Express” tragedy was a terrorist act.  This time, though, a statement almost immediately appeared in the internet, apparently from a right-wing radical group called Kombat 18.

The immediate appearance of this very indistinct neo-Nazi note in this affair must instil a note of caution.  First, it ties up very neatly with the official version of the murder of Stanislav Markelov and Anastasiya Baburova.  Second, the independence of the neo-Nazi groupings in Russia has always been questionable – no Geiger counter in the world could measure the degree to which the security services have infiltrated right-wing radical organisations. 

Though, judging by the many external signs, the fascist Golem has been carefully worked over by the alchemists in the Lubyanka and has started living its own independent life.

Like the terrorist acts 10 years ago, today’s attack on the civil population was certainly calculated to cause maximum harm and damage, which in the given circumstances inevitably means a large number of casualties.  But the social make-up of the intended victims is very different:  instead of ordinary residents of one of the dormitory suburbs, today’s potential victims were representatives of elite Petersburg officialdom, who are traditionally in the majority on the Friday train from Moscow to St Petersburg.

The previous explosions were for many Russians the apotheosis of the “dark years” of the 90s.  It will be interesting to see how the public will eventually come to regard the obvious loss of government in Russia and the re-appearance of the chaos we saw in the post-Soviet period, which we thought had disappeared for ever.  For some reason this is happening after a glorious period of consumer abundance, a triumphant rebirth and the steady strengthening of state institutions.

The terrible tragedy in the village of Lykoshino (Tver’ oblast) is another outstanding example of what lurks behind the official frontage of Putin’s Russia.  The trains leaving the Leningrad Station in the centre of Moscow, which is drowning in luxury, arrive at the Moscow Station in St Petersburg.  From there one can go straight to Nevsky Prospekt, whose sparkling shop windows challenge Moscow’s boutiques and hotels.  But the journey from Petersburg to Moscow runs, as it has done from time immemorial, through Russian villages which are sunk in unremitting poverty.


About the "Nevsky Express”. And so much more

So "Nevsky Express" is in the news.
People have died. Many have been injured.
The entire information space has been swallowed up by individual versions of events, analysis, guesses and assumptions.

Yet nobody has mentioned the fact that an incident like this would have been simply impossible twenty five years ago.
There would have been no meaning to it.
No motive.
No opportunities.
No aims.

And, besides, punishment would have been swift and unfailing for all concerned.

Today, you have everything. You have meaning, motive, opportunities and aims. Alongside buckets of cash — amounts impossible to earn through honest labour — for those who agree to carry out the attacks. No doubt, the authorities will try to imitate punishment by implicating someone completely unconnected. As they did with Vladimir Kvachkov, for example. Or with Ivan Mironov.

I don't know why this attack happened, what for.   What I do know, however, is that any reasons, motives, aims or opportunities that have emerged are the direct consequence of corrosion, fractures and cavities within the governmental machine. Voids that have been filled with corrupt and parasitic filth.

I've no doubt that the first and most ''abbreviated" consequence of what has happened will be the strengthening of the security services, along with the earmarking of many millions and billions to be devoted to this "holy cause". Perhaps, too, we will see new "tweaks" to legislation that will mean everything — bar slogans the likes of  "glory!", "hail to!" and "many years!" — will come to be considered acts of agression against government employees.The same people who have created the very fractures and cavities I've been talking about. 

Anton Nossik:  The Nevsky Express – ignorance is bliss

In the course of a videoconference with the staff responsible for dealing with the aftermath of the accident, the president of Russian Railways, Vladimir Yakunin, stated: “The explosion is very reminiscent of events 3 years ago”.  According to him “an unknown explosive device set off by persons unknown was activated…” on the railway tracks.

Allow me to translate this into Russian.  The similarity between the two catastrophes lies in the fact that we knew nothing then and we know nothing now.

The previous explosion on the track of the Nevsky Express took place on 13 August 2007 at 21.38.  This explosion happened at 21.34.

The methods used to investigate the 2007 explosion were striking in their antiquity, like something out of the Middle Ages.  But they haven’t got us any nearer to an actual understanding of what happened.  If Maksharip Khidriev doesn’t know who blew the train up, he won’t be able to tell you, no matter how much you ask him.

This, incidentally, is an investigation into the shitty state of our judicial system.  As the investigators are guaranteed 99.52% that the indictment will be reproduced verbatim in the text of the sentence, they can't and won't investigate anything.  They grab the first man from the Caucasus they come across, plant weapons and/or drugs on him, so he has no illusions that he will be set free, and then extract a confession.  The case to be detected is not selected for its credibility; the choice is dictated by the current needs and concerns of the interrogating officer.  As things stand now, in 2009, it's not what is simpler and more convenient for them.  They can't do things any other way, even if they really wanted to.  So if some high-up or other says that he is taking the investigation under his personal control – it won't in any way help to solve the crime.  The investigations into the explosion on Kashirka and the Nevsky Express will use the same methods of dumping responsibility on the first Caucasian they can get their hands on from the police monkey house.  No amount of «high-up control» will get in their way:  there aren't any other methods and there's nowhere to get them from.

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