Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Celebrating Easter to the End

Russian President Vladimir Putin visits a shrine to the victims in Kemerovo built up since Sunday's fire. (Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via Reuters)
"I started to crawl but I realized I had no strength. I had inhaled so much smoke that I was on the verge of fainting."
"My daughter was ringing and ringing me. I could only shout down the phone that she should try and get out of the cinema but I couldn't do anything -- there were flames in front of me."
"They [emergency services] took three minutes, three [expletive] minutes! -- to put on their masks."
Alexander Lillyevyali, Kemerovo, Siberia

"The whole system of fire safety oversight has become a huge trough of corruption."
Alexei Navalny, Russian opposition leader, anti-corruption activist

"I no longer have a family.  The ruling regime is guilty. Every bureaucrat dreams of stealing like Putin. Every state functionary treats people like garbage."
"[Government investigators] will find a scapegoat, and the issue will be done with, but the threats — incompetence, widespread corruption, alcoholism and total degradation of society — will go nowhere."
"We're not calling for blood. The children are dead, you can't give them back. We need justice."
"They died because they were locked in a movie theatre. They were calling from there, asking for help: 'We're locked in, we're suffocating.' No one helped because when the blaze broke out, everyone ran away."
Igor Vostrikov lost his wife, sister and three daughters, aged two, five and seven, in the fire
Igor Vostrikov, centre, who lost his three daughters, wife and sister in the fire, speaks into a microphone in a crowd gathered to pay respects for the victims of the fire in a multi-storey shopping centre in the Siberian city of Kemerovo. (Sergei Gavrilenko/Associated Press)
"Even if the official death toll reflects reality, at the end of the day people know how the government lied in Beslan, Nord-Ost, Kursk and many other places."
"So they have themselves to blame for the spiraling level of distrust."
Twitter post, Kaloy Akhilgov, lawyer, former government official
Utter devastation. Schoolchildren, 41 enumerated out of a total of 58 dead. The count is not complete, not yet. There are too many people listed as missing. It will take time before a realistic accounting of how many people died in the multi-storey shopping centre in Kemerovo, Siberia. School was out for Easter, and a class of 11-year-olds with their teacher went to the mall for some sports activity. Other children were in a movie theatre, like Olga Lillyevyali's three girls.

"Our children burned while we just watched", cried the stricken mother, forced to stand outside the shopping centre while the fire was razing the building, her children and her husband within. Her husband had taken their twin daughters, age 11, along with their five-year-old sister, to see the children's film Sherlock Gnomes in the afternoon. He stayed in the mall, waiting to hear from his daughters when the film was over and they would all drive home together. Never again.

The telephone call he was awaiting came much too early when one of the girls called him to inform her father that they were trapped behind a locked door with a spreading fire. And he raced up to the level they were on. The locked doors his children were faced with were pro forma where in Russia, doors to cinemas remain locked during the screening to ensure that people could not enter without buying a ticket.

From later media reports it seems that the initial blaze occurred on the fourth floor, conceivably at a trampolining centre, where it rapidly spread, with huge clouds of suffocating black smoke emitted. According to eyewitnesses, building staff did nothing to arrange for evacuation from the burning building, a conversion of a former confectionery factory, completed in 2013. After this tragedy, the office of the Prosecutor General has ordered shopping malls across Russia checked for fire safety features.

One 11-year-old boy leaped from a third-floor window to escape the fire and the smothering smoke. He is now an orphan. Both parents and a sibling died in the fire, his life completely transformed. What began as a family expedition anticipating fun and entertainment, enjoyment in being together, lively encounters and exposure to others having a good time as well, transmogrified into a ghoulish scenario straight out of a lunatic hellscene.

On a trip celebrating the end of the school term, eight children between 11 and 12 from a local village of Treschevsky died in the hellish blaze. One of the girls of the group, 12-year-old Viktoriya Pochankina, called her aunt asking her to tell her mother she loved her. What a tortured memory for the survivors, an anguishing glimpse at the end of all that matters.  

Tatyana Darsaliya, 36-year-old schoolteacher, took her daughter to safety, left her then to return to the building as it burned, in an effort to save other children. Her mother, wrote Eleonora, "died like a hero".

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, third from right, visited a hospital in Kemerovo where people injured in the fire were receiving treatment on Tuesday. Credit Alexei Druzhinin/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

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