Moscow attack survivor: four minutes are ‘a whole lifetime’

Dozens of people are packed into the corner of the lobby of a Moscow concert hall, squeezed against a wall and unable to escape as four gunmen fire automatic weapons into the group.

Dmitry Saraev, a concert promoter and journalist, was among the people trapped in the corner that night as bullets flew around him and people fell to the ground, their horrific experience caught on camera by a witness hiding above.

Looking up, Saraev could see the arms of the attackers as they raised their weapons and could hear them shouting while they conducted their rampage, one of the deadliest terror attacks in Russia’s modern history. At least 143 people were killed and about 180 more injured. Isis has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Saraev, a music lover and an organiser of concerts across the country, arrived at the venue a short while before Piknik, a Russian rock band, were due to begin their show. He had spent a lot of time at Crocus City Hall and knew the vast venue on Moscow’s outskirts well.

At 7.57pm, he snapped a photo of the large queue in the lobby and sent it to a friend who was supposed to have come to the gig with him but could not make it. Seconds later, shots rang out.

“I turned around and I could see everyone else turning around too, and the group of people behind me started ducking and running towards us, further into the hall,” he said. “We all understood that something bad was happening. It was automatic fire.”

The gunmen open fire at Crocus City Hall on Friday. According to officials, the assailants were in the building from 7.58pm to 8.11pm © Video still image/Reuters
The emergency services clear rubble at the concert venue on Saturday after the gunmen set it ablaze
The emergency services clear rubble at the concert venue on Saturday after the gunmen set it ablaze © Russian Emergencies Ministry/Handout/Reuters

A thought crossed his mind: a handful of foreign embassies had recently issued a warning of the risk of an attack in Moscow on public events, including concerts.

Saraev began running too, and along with dozens of other people ducked into what looked like a corridor. “In fact, we ended up in a trap.” The corridor was blocked off with thick walls of glass. “It was a dead end,” Saraev said.

People crushed into the tiny space and Saraev was jammed against a metal corner wall as the gunmen approached to within just a few feet of the group. “Bullets were hitting everywhere. Sparks flying out of the barrels. There was a very acrid smell of gunpowder,” Saraev said.

“I couldn’t see them, the shooters, but I saw their hands when they lifted their weapons . . . and despite people screaming I could hear some words that they were shouting . . . it was all very close.”

Around him, the people who were pressed together fell “in rows”, and he saw bullet wounds and blood. Bullets ricocheted from the metal interiors and glass smashed around them. He felt something hit his back, hard, and thought: “That’s it for me.”

He expected to lose consciousness, but he felt no pain or blood and could still breathe. Thinking a piece of debris from the building had probably slammed into his back, Saraev decided to try and make a move.

Some people at the end of the corridor had managed to break through a first wall of glass, and then a second, but a pile-up of people — some dead, some injured and some who had simply fallen to the ground — blocked the gap and the escape route beyond it.

Saraev paused, letting some of those who could get up leave first, helping to clear a path through the bodies. Finally, he crawled on the ground until he reached the parking lot outside.

Looking back, he realised he was one of the last to make it out from that part of the building. The attackers soon used a flammable liquid to set the venue alight.

According to Russian officials, the assailants were in the building from 7.58pm to 8.11pm before they fled, leaving behind two AK-74 assault rifles, more than 500 rounds of ammunition and bottles containing petrol residue.

Dmitry Saraev
Dmitry Saraev says his survival was down to a series of small miracles © Dmitry ‘Cosmich’ Saraev/spaceriff.ru/riffagency.ru
An X-ray showing the bullet in Saraev’s back
The bullet lodged in Saraev’s back was over 2cm long and had just missed his spine © Dmitry ‘Cosmich’ Saraev/spaceriff.ru/riffagency.ru

Outside, it felt like nothing had happened. He ran to the main road and stopped to make some calls.

Perhaps he didn’t have the full picture from where he was waiting, he said, but it was maybe 15 minutes or so before he saw the first police cars pull up.

Saraev stressed that the security at the venue could hardly be blamed: the usual guards who were on duty that evening were simply not equipped for an attack by men “armed to the teeth”.

Finally leaving the scene on public transport over an hour later, as a column of thick black smoke rose from the roof of the concert hall, Saraev looked around the subway and wondered why there were no large numbers of law enforcement officers there.

The next day, Saraev woke up at his home in the Moscow region, feeling shaken up but fine. He decided not to give up his usual Saturday morning game of tennis.

Only later, back from the court, did he notice the strange small holes in the back of his clothes from the night before. He decided to go to the hospital for a check-up.

On an X-ray, doctors discovered a bullet still lodged in his back. Saraev was shocked. It had been a ricochet, the doctors said after minor surgery to extract it, and the bullet was more than 2cm long. It had just missed his spine.

It had entered just above his lower back as he ducked for cover, and travelled 12cm parallel to his spine, through soft tissue.

There are many things he sees as small miracles: the retro red leather jacket he believes must have slowed the bullet, and the fact that his friend had decided not to come to the event. He has since received compensation payments and calls from the local government asking if he needs help.

Checking the timings of the photos and messages on his phone from the night of the attack, he realised the whole, terrifying experience had lasted no more than three or four minutes, maybe less.

“Like the amount of time you have free while you play a record on air,” the former radio DJ said. “So I learnt to appreciate the true value of a minute a long time ago. And four is a whole lifetime.”

Via

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