Russia at the Barricades: Eyewitness Accounts of the August 1991 Coup

By Victoria E. Bonnell; Ann Cooper et al. | Go to book overview

MICHAEL HETZER


3 Death on the Streets

This account appeared in the Guardian, a weekly newspaper for Moscow's foreign community, in an issue dated August 23, 1991. The author, Michael Hetzer, was editor-in-chief of the Guardian.

I was standing atop a bus about 200 yards from the advancing tanks when the pop-pop of gunfire erupted in the early minutes of Wednesday morning. I thought someone was throwing firecrackers.

My miscalculation was a symptom of the prevailing mood. The entire rain-soaked night seemed unreal. Surreal.

I had already been at the building since 5:30 P.M. Tuesday. In the streets surrounding the Russian parliament building until the first shots were fired, women walked dogs, lovers strolled in tight embrace, groups of men passed vodka bottles while others munched on food from well-stocked picnic baskets. Under a steady rain, people huddled beneath umbrellas and clustered around radios tuned to the resistance's station, Radio Liberty. Young and old cheered when the news came that Prime Minister Valentin Pavlov was ill. They cheered when they heard that General Dmitrii Yazov also was ill. They cheered for every scrap of metal that was piled on their barricades, every call for unity in the speeches, and every rack of black bread that was carried into the parliament.

So when, at 12:05 A.M., I heard gunfire yet did not immediately dive for cover away from my vulnerable position, it was not out of bravery, but out of serious misreading of the situation.

Shortly after the first shots, word spread like a brushfire through the crowd of some 15,000 that tanks were on the Garden Ring Road and had already killed several people.

"They're expected to circle around and approach from along the

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