In Aftermath of Violence, Some Wounds Won't Heal for a Long Time : Politics: Tensions break through gunshot victims' pain, doctors' fatigue at Moscow's main trauma center.


Side by side in Room 1105 of Moscow's main emergency hospital lie Larisa Gogoleva, shot in the breast as she watched a firefight she blames on President Boris N. Yeltsin, and Marina Zhuchkova, a staunch Yeltsinite shot in the shoulder blade by an opposition sniper.

They do not argue. But their convictions seem only to have deepened with the pain from their wounds.

"Who's guilty here? Only him, Yeltsin," Gogoleva said Wednesday, her auburn hair spread on the pillow and her sheets stained brown with her own blood. And now that Yeltsin has won, she said, "They can say, 'Look how many victims there were,' and they can justify any acts.

"I think it will still be terrifying here," she said. "I don't feel like it's all over."

Zhuchkova, her kind green eyes set off by a blue bathrobe, blames only Parliament Chairman Ruslan I. Khasbulatov, who defied Yeltsin's Sept. 21 order to dissolve the legislature. That move increased political tension past the boiling point: an explosion of violence over recent days that left scores dead and more than 500 injured.

"He's the one who provoked the bloodshed," she said.

The country would be better off with a year or two of presidential rule, she said. And if Yeltsin's backers call her now to another demonstration, she would go, unafraid that another sniper will be shooting into the crowd.

Zhuchkova and Gogoleva are the involuntary guests of what Muscovites affectionately call "the Sklif," the Sklifasovsky Medical Institute-Hospital for Emergency Medicine that also serves as Moscow's main trauma center and front line in disaster medicine.

The 1,000-bed Sklifasovsky handled 400 injured at once from a Moscow stadium disaster in the mid-1980s. It handled the victims of the Armenian earthquake in 1988, the burn patients after a gas pipeline exploded in Ufa in 1989 and the battered White House defenders of the 1991 coup attempt.

But the last four days, Director Alexander Yermolov said Wednesday, have broken records for "the simultaneous intake of a great quantity of patients with serious gunshot wounds."

Most of the 121 patients sent to Sklifasovsky since Sunday are fairly tough cases, Yermolov said, with a predominance of bullets in the chest, stomach or in several organs as well as serious injuries to the skull, arms and legs. Patients with lighter injuries generally went to other hospitals.

Once, Sklifasovsky's surgeons would have been hard pressed to cope with the stream of gunshot wounds and battle injuries that fighting for the Ostankino television station and the siege of the White House produced. But life in post-Communist Moscow, with its mafia-style shootouts and dueling racketeers, has provided good training.

"Before, I would get one or two gunshot wounds a year," surgeon Temuraz Tkashelashvili said. "Now, there are three or four a week."

"This is 1920s Chicago," joked his colleague, Igor Bogromichenko. "Lately, it seems like everyone has machine guns."

Relaxing in their lounge between operations, still in their puffy, baker-like hats and white coats, the surgeons had the punchy humor that comes after fatigue passes the grouchy stage and everything starts to seem absurd. Some had not been home for three nights.

At the peak of the fighting, the Sklifasovsky had 12 operating rooms running at once, and beginning medical students helped ferry stretchers.

The doctors had neither the time nor the interest to ask which side the people they were cutting up had been fighting on, they said. They were too busy sewing up holes and stopping hemorrhages.

"We even operate on criminals here," Dr. Lidia Yegorova said. "Everybody is the same here."

But even in the conviviality of the doctors' lounge, anger showed through--anger at the political tension that exploded over the last two weeks into armed confrontation between Yeltsin and the Russian Parliament.

"This was the usual surgery, but with more emotional stress," surgeon Sergei Kudryavtsev said. "Because you were operating on people who suffered for nothing. Not only the attackers or the defenders but simple bystanders."

Such a bystander was 24-year-old Yegor Lomonosov, a roofing repairman who set out near the Mezhdunarodnaya Hotel on the Moscow River to give blood Monday at Sklifasovsky, responding to televised appeals for donors.

"I was walking along the street and it turned out there was a sniper right on the roof," he said. "The bullet went right into my lung and I hit the dirt. I understood right away what had happened, but I was very surprised."

He ended up traveling to the Sklifasovsky by ambulance instead of the subway.

Lomonosov does not know who shot him or why.

"May God just let us live normally," he said. "I've had enough of all this."

That is just how the Sklifasovsky doctors feel, exhausted and longing for a day off.

But in Room 1104 lies a psychologist who would give his name only as Alex and who described himself as a "national patriot." His left eye was bruised and still watering from the shrapnel recently plucked from it. He breathed with the telltale sudden intake of air symptomatic of an injured lung.

Alex said he was shot as he was helping backers of the defiant Parliament storm the Ostankino television complex Sunday. He said he expects to avoid arrest for the time being because Yeltsin's security services are busy hunting bigger prey. But he is sure that Yeltsin will now crack down harder than ever on the opposition.

"The resistance will swell," he said. "People don't always take into account the Russian character: You can push us to the wall, but then we act, and pretty effectively.

"This is only the beginning," he said.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World