Moscow: Storm Over the Press

Boris Yeltsin
Boris Yeltsin; drawing by David Levine


A few days after the attack on the Russian Parliament, I crossed the vast, gloomy lobby of Sklifosovsky Hospital, rode to the eighth floor, and wandered through a grimy, dilapidated hall until I found the right room. On Sunday, October 3, and throughout the next day many of the hundreds of victims of the October revolt—hit by snipers or stray bullets, beaten by rebels or police—were brought here. One of the four men in the ward I entered—all wounded that night—was Mark Shteinbok, a staff photographer from Ogonyok magazine, whom I had come to see.

That Sunday afternoon Mark had watched the crowd as they cheered Alexander Rutskoi’s call to take “Ostankino”—the name of the main government television company, also known as Channel 1, as well as the complex of buildings it owns in the north of Moscow—and Khasbulatov’s summons to capture the Kremlin and “the criminal Yeltsin.” Mark watched the supporters of the Parliament form fighting “divisions” (“Whoever wants to storm the Kremlin line up over here,” he heard someone cry) and leave for Ostankino in hijacked trucks and buses. Mark took the subway and when he emerged a mile from Ostankino, he managed to flag down one of the White House “regiments” passing by in a commandeered bus. To his surprise they stopped and let him in. “It was a motley group,” he told me. “Shabby old people, young toughs. But they were all euphoric, feverish, intoxicated. They sang old Soviet songs and exchanged war stories. They’d broken through the police lines and taken the municipal buildings so easily—they were sure that final victory was just minutes away.”

At Ostankino it was already dark. Rebel “commandos” dressed in camouflage arrived, led by the maverick General Albert Makashov—they crashed a truck through the glass lobby and launched a rocket grenade, setting fire to the building. (See Mark Shteinbok’s photograph on page 71.) When the grenade exploded, the small contingent of armed guards protecting Ostankino fired on the rebels, who answered with a barrage of bullets. Mark hit the ground with the others, and kept taking photographs. He felt a sharp blow to his hip, and realized he’d been shot. Eventually someone dragged him to a car and drove him to Sklifosovsky Hospital. As he was being admitted, CNN cameras arrived and filmed him lying on a stretcher in the hospital’s dingy halls; a scene a friend saw on TV in Norway before his family knew what had happened to him. “As soon as I was shot,” he said, “I lost all interest in politics. But the next day from my ward I could hear the gunfire and see smoke, and I began to wonder how I would go on working if a Soviet regime came back to power.”

About the time Mark was taken to the hospital, the several channels which broadcast from the Ostankino television facilities went off the…

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