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An Accidental Victim, Doomed by Her Bravery

Published: November 12, 2002 (Issue # 819)



  • Romanova was the first person to die.
    Photo: For The St. Petersburg Times

MOSCOW - Oct. 23 was Olga Romanova's last day at one store in the L'Etoile perfume chain before moving to a long-awaited job in another. She returned home - an apartment around the corner from the theater where, just hours before, hundreds of people had been taken hostage - at around 1:30 a.m. to face questions from her mother.

"I asked her: 'Where have you been?'" Olga's mother, Antonina, said in a telephone interview. Olga told her about the police cordons outside.

"We sat around for a while, drank some tea. She was saying: 'How is it possible that they are keeping women and children in there?' Then - it was about half past three - she said, 'So, I'll go, maybe I'll get through, maybe I will be able to talk to them, maybe they will at least release the children. I feel sorry for the kids.' I tried to stop her from going: I yelled at her, cried, locked the door. But she left," Antonina Romanova said, ending the interview last week, saying she could not answer any more questions.

Two doctors who were allowed to enter the theater on Oct. 24 carried out the body of the first victim. The next day it was identified as the body of Olga Romanova - a 26-year-old salesperson, who had supported her pensioner parents and disabled brother.

It is unclear how Romanova entered the House of Culture - familiar to her since childhood - as it was surrounded by police, although the cordon was weaker in the early hours of the siege.

She apparently was not the only one who did; at least three others were reported to have gotten through police lines. Lieutenant Colonel Konstantin Vasilyev was missing on the first night of the hostage crisis, and his body, with five bullet wounds, was found in the theater's courtyard after the assault, one of his friends said. A Cossack leader was reported to have approached the theater on Oct. 25 - apparently without permission from the crisis center - prompting hostage takers to begin shooting. Another man got through the security cordon to enter the theater several hours before special forces stormed the building. He said he was looking for his son, who was not found among the hostages. The man was beaten and shot, presumably fatally, according to former hostages, who said the Chechen gunmen accused him of being an FSB agent. Some former hostages said they heard this confirmed by security officials.

Yet Romanova will be remembered as the first victim and the only woman who somehow got in, apparently not realizing the danger.

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