Moscow residents come to drink and sadly stare Fierce battles appalling to most

October 06, 1993|By Knight-Ridder Newspapers

MOSCOW -- Alexandra Voronovich has lived all of her 70-odd years in Moscow. She has seen Joseph Stalin, Nikita Khrushchev, Leonid Brezhnev and Mikhail Gorbachev all come and go.

And though Boris Yeltsin has clearly emerged from the past two days of violent insurrection as the nation's leader, she fears she may see his demise as well.

The old woman stood just outside Russia's charred parliament building yesterday, site of fierce gun battles and world attention Sunday and Monday, and shook her head.

"It is not a proud day to be a Russian," the retired factory worker and grandmother said. "In the time of Leonid Brezhnev, our stomachs were full, but our souls were empty. Communism nearly destroyed us. Now our stomachs are empty, and our souls are . . . well, we seem to be struggling for our soul. It will be years before there is real peace here, years."

The crowd around her lined Kalinkinsky Bridge, watching soldiers maneuver the last of the tanks from their stand in front of the parliament building. The 19-story, white-marble building, called the White House, is now charred black at its upper floors, its elaborate interiors of marble columns and crystal chandeliers in ruins from 10 hours of shelling.

"The only day I've been sadder than this for my country was when I was evacuated from Moscow in World War II," Ms. Voronovich said.

Nikolaj Sidorov, whose ancestors have lived in Moscow for centuries, stood not far from Ms. Voronovich. Mr. Sidorov, who owns his own sanitation equipment company, had been out in front of the parliament building during most of the rioting by anti-Yeltsin mobs Sunday and shelling from pro-Yeltsin troops Monday.

When Mr. Yeltsin exhorted people to come out in support of the democratic movement late Sunday -- as anti-reformists were taking over the mayor's office and storming the major television complex -- Mr. Sidorov came. He saw it as his duty.

"Clearly, one can see the president is right. I trust him. He keeps his word. I'll vote for him," he said yesterday.

As an afterthought, he added: "If it's needed to take up guns to restore order again here, I'll do that, too."

The crowd of hundreds, if not thousands, who came out in the chill yesterday, was eerily quiet. All day long, there was no laughter, just hushed conversations, a few political arguments and much staring at the White House, as if an answer to Russia's problems would suddenly appear etched into the soot covering the upper floors.

Young boys scratched about a burned-out bus for souvenirs. Some adults pulled out wire cutters and trimmed away bits of concertina wire that soldiers used to cordon off the area.

"Nobody has been able to process any of this," says another man, who identified himself only as Marat. "Nobody quite knows what to do. I mean, what is the proper reaction to watching Russian tanks shell the Russian parliament? It's too much to comprehend. So we all come down here and stare."

Others came down to drink.

The smell of alcohol wafted through the crowd and more than a handful of spectators were clearly in their cups. Behind the burned bus, 48-year-old Viktor Grozdev gleefully showed off a bit of concertina wire he was taking home for a keepsake. Then he stopped and whispered, "I'm very sorry. I shouldn't have had so much wine. I'm a little drunk."

Mr. Yeltsin's victory here Monday appears to ensure that Russians will go to polls in December to elect a new parliament. If Mr. Yeltsin gets his wish, a presidential election will follow six months later and Russia will get on with the dreary business of economic reform, coping with runaway inflation and dealing with its 15 former republics.

But things are far from settled. Mr. Yeltsin still will have to deal with Russians like Irinia, a young mother who stood outside the parliament building, clutching the hand of her 3-year-old son Sergei. Mr. Yeltsin, she said angrily, is an incompetent dictator.

"Things are only going to get worse," she said. "Under Brezhnev, we had a good life. There was cheap food, jobs for everyone. Now my child is hungry. Now things are too expensive. I pity the people who were in the parliament. They were only trying to get the country back together."

Then there are the fatalists like Evgeny Beloborodov, 23, a salesman for a western soft-drink company, who shivered in the late afternoon wind and blamed it all on the Russian soul. "Every political disagreement in this country ends in violence," he said.

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