Columns of tanks recalled Nazi attack

September 01, 1991

Alexander I. Fomin, 60, is a Moscow native and has worked at Trud as a photojournalist for 20 years. He was on vacation at his wife's family's home about 35 miles from Moscow when the coup began.

The roar of tank motors woke us up very early Monday morning [Aug. 19]. My father-in-law was out fishing, and he saw through the trees a huge column of tanks and other equipment going toward Moscow. He came back and said it didn't look like an exercise.

My wife, Yulia, said immediately: "They're going to seize Moscow."

My first feeling was that they could get away with it. There was such a huge number of tanks that the feeling was, of course they can do it.

In the summer of 1941, I was 10 years old, and I was with my parents at our dacha. It was one month after the [German invasion of the U.S.S.R.] and we saw a huge flight of German bombers headed to bomb Moscow. Watching the tanks, I had the feeling that I was watching it again, watching that very same fascism on the way to attack Moscow.

On Monday we couldn't leave, because my in-laws are in their 70s and not in good health. We had to cook food for several days ahead to leave with them. So early on Tuesday, we headed to Moscow on the train.

Our apartment building is next to the White House [the Russian Federation Building], and there were barricades all around our house. We went in and threw down our things. We have three rooms, and I live with my wife and son, Sergei, who is 18.

We went outside, and some guys were saying that whoever has food should cook it and bring it. My wife cooked up lots and lots of syrniki [a kind of cheese pancake] and gave them to the tank drivers [protecting the supporters of Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin]. We also gave them cigarettes.

There was the euphoria of the rally during the day. Only at night did the atmosphere change. They [organizers of opposition to the coup] didn't tell us there was going to be an attack. But they divided us up by hundreds, each hundred with a leader, usually an officer who'd served in Afghanistan.

My son's face was so angry. . . . We had thought of these young people as ne'er-do-wells, dirty, druggies, drunks, selfish and all that. They turned out to be something else completely.

They worked and worked, building barricades, delivering food. Tank drivers were sleeping inside their tanks during the day, because they might have work to do at night, and young people sat on top and guarded them to let them sleep.

I helped build up the barricades. I gathered old boards for the bonfires. I took people in to use our phone.

Late at night we sent my wife home. It was dark and raining -- the White House was dark, everything was dark. At one point, I wanted to get out of there. I was scared and felt I should go home. But I didn't go, because it was impossible. We were all in it together.

We kept watching the glass in the top floors of the White House, which was going in and out of the fog, because I thought they'd drop paratroopers from helicopters and blow out the windows. D DTC was sure they were coming. I was absolutely certain of it.

By 6 a.m. [Wednesday] it was getting light. There was the feeling that everything will be OK. People got their spirits back. People were talking again and cooking on the bonfires. That terrible night was behind us.

People with little radios started telling us the situation was getting better. The tension was gone. People came to look at the barricades, and they brought their children.

My father was arrested under Article 58 -- "counter-revolutionary agitation" -- at the beginning of World War II, because of a careless phrase. They gave him three years in a camp in Mordovia, but in one year he died of pellagra [a disease of malnutrition].

Despite all that, in 1957, when I joined the party, I completely believed in communism. It was instilled in us when we were toddlers. It was our religion. You know, only now have I started to believe in God. It's hard to say exactly when I began to lose my faith in communism -- it doesn't happen in one day. But though I was raised as a Stalinist, I long ago became a Yeltsinist.

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