Another Day in Moscow
Date: Wed, 13 Oct 93 17:22:28 PDT
Subject: Another Day in Moscow
From: vangogh.CS.Berkeley.EDU!bostic (Keith Bostic)
Another Day in Moscow
Last night (Sunday) around 6:00pm Yevgeny, one of our Russian SE's, called
and said I shouldn't leave my apartment because there was a civil war going
on in the streets of Moscow. During the day I had walked from my apartment,
just east of the Kremlin, through the center over to the Irish House to do
some shopping, and everything seemed pretty normal (for Moscow). Anyway,
Yevgeny said that a crowd was heading for the Ostankina TV building.
So I laid around for a while on my couch, watching some very slow movie
about peasant romance, and then Winnie the Pooh (in Russian), and then this
really outstanding animation done with Legos (what an obvious and killer
idea! maybe old hat for animation buffs, but it was the first time I had
seen it) when the screen cuts out and this editor-kinda guy comes on with
"cevodnya...bil ochen...tizholi dyen. ...Tyzholi, potomu shto...
"today...was a very...difficult day. ...Difficult, because...
--it is hard to speak--"
and then the screen went blank. So I switched to the only channel of the
eight that was working (no cable, no CNN at my place), and a news report
came on and said the TV building had been stormed. Then this station
(broadcast from somewhere else in Moscow) played that stupid airplane
hijacking Love-Boat movie with Mike Brady as the captain (I never did catch
the name, but that it was in Russian didn't seem to reduce the content I
could get from it) interrupted every so often with little news blurbs,
including a pitch from Yuri Gaidar. I could understand maybe half of all
this Russian news and speeches, but the few clips of fighting in the TV
building were pretty clear. I finally bailed on the whole scene around 11,
after hearing what the BBC had to say about it on the shortwave.
I woke up around 6:30 with that strange feeling like the first time as a
kid when you find a beehive in your back yard: at first you were really
afraid to go near it, but you went a few steps closer, nothing happened,
and now you just want to walk up and see what the hell's in the damn thing.
I left my apartment around 7:30, and when I got to the street it seemed like
just another day in Moscow. Business as usual. I got to the corner and
thought, I can just go the the metro and go to work, or--if I just walk down
to the Kremlin and see what's going on at Red Square, it'll only add twenty
minutes to my commute. Hell, I had taken my backpack instead of the
briefcase, and had two cameras in it, might as well have a look.
About halfway there I heard a few explosive noises, but they could very well
have been a dump truck going over metal plates in the street...
I got to Red Square and it was basically quiet. At the north end were some
bogus token barricades I'd heard about on the news. As I walked toward them
I heard the unmistakable sound of machine-gun fire. Damn, must be just
around the corner. The only other time in my life I'd ever heard
machine-gun fire was at ROTC boot camp. I got to the other side of the
history museum, but again, basically nothing was going on. I could hear
all this bloody racket--there *was* a war going on somewhere--but couldn't
I thought about getting on the metro and going to work, but then I thought
I'd have a peek at Tverskaya St. (the main street in downtown). It was
blocked off, and as I started to walk toward the Pushkin monument I could
see the four huge barriers made of old crates, park benches, playground
monkey-bar sets, etc. Lots of people were standing around little bonfires,
drinking and smoking--kind of like a vigil at Berkeley except for the vodka.
There was an armored personnel carrier (APC) in front of Pizza Hut (I hope
the picture turns out...).
I got up past the City Council building where there was a large crowd of
Yeltsin supporters waving tri-colors, but basically nothing was going on
(relatively). Still lots of war noises.
At this point I figured the war must all be around the White House. I
wasn't sure what to do, but somehow I slid into this flow heading toward
the noise and wandered through unfamiliar streets of Moscow to the
soundtrack from Apocalypse Now.
When I got to the American Embassy, I joined a crowd of a few hundred people
and watched occasional sniper flashes from the back corner of the White
House, which I could see in the distance. Riot police occasionally pushed
us back. After about twenty minutes, I figured I'd seen as much as I'd be
able to, and started to head toward the metro to go to work.
I got to Noviy Arbat, and there was a huge line of APCs waiting patiently
for action. And then the tanks came. About a dozen T-80s, from where I'd
just walked. Ok, I'll get to work a little late.
After I'd shot a half a roll of film--tanks in a line, tanks turning the
corner, tank boys playing with the guns (what a spooky scene, tanks in the
street!)--I started to walk south again on the Garden Ring to go to the
But then at the next cross street, which leads to the next bridge down from
the White House, I decided I just had to go down to the river and see what
everything looked like from there. I got down there and could see the front
of the White House, and at this point the sounds of gunfire were rolling
down the river and echoing off buildings in a violent cacophony of
death-noise. Mesmerised, I slid again into the flow of people heading
through the parked cars toward the cauldron, assuming we'd soon reach the
police barricade. I felt like I was going to an AC-DC concert. A few
minutes later there was a huge explosion, which I later learned was the
sound of a T-80 firing its 148mm shell, and several hundred car alarms went
The police barricade wasn't there. Before I knew it, I'd passed the burning
hulks of two bombed out busses and was standing in a huge crowd at the base
of the bridge in front of the White House, watching thousands of bullets
fly between the building and the half-dozen or so APCs in front of it. I
couldn't believe I was there: how could people be allowed this close to a
I kept going. I pushed through the crowd, and worked my way up *onto the
bridge*, several hundred yards in front of the now famous but no longer
white House. Yes, war as a spectator sport. Why the hell was I here? Why
did I *want* to be here? Who let us here? The range of a Kalashnikov
automatic rifle is 2km, and I'm standing on a bridge 500m in front a
building filled with hardline terrorists armed with these things. It didn't
seem to bother the hundreds of other people standing around me, so I pulled
out a Canon EOS and started my own shooting.
There were already two very large chunks of stone knocked out of the House,
and next to the smoking remnant of the Meria building and with the burning
busses on the embankment road, the whole picture was kind of grisly. The
gunfire stopped for short periods, but mostly just kept going.
About fifteen minutes later several bullets ricocheted somewhere within a
few tens of yards of us; we all ducked down behind some concrete and then
ran towards the middle of the bridge. It felt a *little* safer, anyway,
behind one of the metal stanchions of the bridge railing. I ended up this
time standing next to couple of British guys, and exchanged a few
war-watching pleasantries ("I wonder if the pub's open" "Where's the hot-dog
stand?" "You'd think if they're going to have a war, they could at least
put out some porta-potties" etc.)
There were four T-80s on the bridge, and six directly across the river from
the White House (to the left of our privileged position; the House was on
the right). Through all the noise, I'd assumed the tanks were firing too;
it was difficult to tell what was doing what with the sound bouncing
everywhere. But then, there was an explosive noise like I've never
experienced in my life: the bridge shook, my heart skipped a few beats.
All the nonsense murmuring in the crowd died in a nanosecond. Under a huge
cloud of smoke, *all* of the remaining glass on the upper part of the House
started falling, as if in slow motion. One of the T-80s had fired.
I was scared. "Man, these boys aren't playing," one of the Brits mumbled
as we crouched meekly behind our railing. After about five minutes my hands
stopped shaking just enough to get my camera aimed at the House to get ready
for the second T-80 blast. Somehow this was a little different from taking
photos of canons firing blanks at Civil War reenactments I went to as a kid.
I stayed around for another half hour or hour (time is kind of irrelevant
in this situation...) for a third T-80 blast, an ammo truck hit (the thing
blew off like a brick of fire crackers for 15 minutes straight), another
gunfight in the distance (which I later read was at the Itar-TASS building),
and another spray of shots into the crowd where I was standing. This one
was more serious--louder and more shots, and the crowd went a little crazier
and started running off the bridge. They eventually regained confidence
and retook their former positions (I ended up a little farther from the
Finally I figured I'd taken enough pictures, wouldn't get much more out of
the last few tank shots, and probably wouldn't be able to see much of the
surrender when it finally happened; so I walked off the bridge a bit, jumped
in a taxi, and went to work. Business as usual.
© 1993 Peter Langston