First Fatality of the Crisis a Would-Be Good Samaritan

Times Staff Writer

MOSCOW -- She was the first person slain by the Chechen rebels who seized hostages at a Moscow theater this week, and the 26-year-old perfume-shop clerk did not even have to be there.

Olga Romanova was always moved to action by her innate sense of justice, according to her family, who say that early Thursday, she went on a one-person mission to persuade the hostage-takers to free their estimated 700 captives.

Whether courageous or foolhardy, her attempt ended in her death when the Chechens decided she was a police spy.

Romanova was adamant that she had to try to do something to assist the theatergoers and performers captured Wednesday night during a performance of the Russian musical “Nord-Ost,” said her mother, Antonina.

Romanova set out from home at 3:30 a.m. Somehow, probably because she lived in the neighborhood and knew it well, she made it to the theater unnoticed by police, who had hastily put up a cordon around the Soviet-era House of Culture in southeast Moscow, where the show was being staged.


“I told her not to go. I begged and I cried,” the mother said. “I did everything to stop her, because I thought going there was sheer madness. But everything was in vain.

“She had confidence in her power of persuasion, and she believed she could talk the terrorists into releasing the hostages -- if not all of them, then at least the women and children.”

The older woman cried throughout an interview Friday, hours before Russian security forces stormed the theater and ended the crisis. She said she did not know what had happened until she watched television Thursday night.

“They gave a verbal description of the corpse. As soon as I heard the first words, I told my husband: ‘Nikolai, they are talking about our Olga! It’s definitely her!’

“It’s a horrible tragedy for us,” she said. “We have lost our Olechka!”

A communique issued by the pro-Chechen information agency the Kavkaz Center gave the hostage-takers’ version of Romanova’s fate. The agency said it had been contacted by people linked to the hostage-takers immediately after the killing. Rebels have been battling Russian troops in the separatist republic of Chechnya for years.

“At approximately 4 a.m. -- a young woman entered into the building of the House of Culture despite the fact that she was warned not to enter,” it said. “The young woman impudently entered the hall, declaring, ‘And what can you do to me?’ ” the agency asserted. She was warned to leave but did not react, it said.

The communique went on: “Having information about the tactics of the FSB [the Russian security police], moujahedeen understood that the woman entered for the purpose of collecting information. Considering the seriousness of the prevailing situation, it was decided to shoot the young woman.”

If they thought Romanova was any danger or a police spy, the hostage-takers could not have been more mistaken, her mother said. “Olga died because she had a very kind heart,” she said. “She was someone who cried her eyes out when her cat died in an accident. One of her main traits was that she would feel righteous indignation about any manifestation of injustice.

“She could not stand when people were mistreated, and this is what I think drove her out of our apartment that night,” the mother added. “Olga told me that she wanted to go talk to the terrorists and tell them that holding so many innocent people, including women and children, was a wrong thing. She was absolutely certain that she would be able to convince them.”

Romanova, who was not married and lived with her parents, could also be highly persuasive, her mother said.

“She had this magic power of being able to convince anybody. Everybody who worked with her liked and respected her. She did not have enemies, only friends.”

Getting ready to go to the police and identify Romanova’s body, the mother had difficulty believing what had happened.

“I had never felt the war in Chechnya was a just cause. I have always thought that it was pretty meaningless,” she said. “It only claimed the lives of young people and helped the rich get richer. Starting this war was a big mistake from the very start.

“On the other hand, Chechen rebels also bear a responsibility for waging this war. And in any case, why should innocent and peaceful people like us pay such a price? We have not even seen a gun in our lives, let alone fired one. My daughter was killed for nothing. It was so utterly meaningless!”