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‘Family’ of hostages struggles to survive

Moscow, Oct. 25 (Reuters): The lights burn constantly. The chairs are beds and the orchestra pit is a toilet. There is no toilet paper or running water. The smell is getting worse.

People huddle in the middle of a cavernous theatre in Moscow, trying to comfort other members of their new-found “family” — thrown together after a Wednesday night out at a stage musical was suddenly transformed into a terrifying siege.

A Russian doctor who spent over six hours in the theatre yesterday said hundreds of the hostages being held by a Chechen “suicide squad” were struggling to keep going as the minutes, hours and days dragged by. “They have become a kind of family. Some of them even argue with each other. They try to laugh. They are just trying to survive,” Dr Leonid Roshal, chairman of the International Committee for Paediatric Disasters, told Reuters.

“Many are suffering from stress, of course they are. Can anyone imagine living under those conditions' They don’t know whether the troops will storm the building, whether they will be shot or not... They don’t know what is going to happen.”

Roshal, who has been dubbed the children’s doctor of the world by local media, is one of five doctors allowed so far to enter the theatre, which was stormed on Wednesday night by 40 heavily armed Chechen guerrillas demanding Russia pull its troops out of their homeland.

Most of the younger children have been freed including, this morning, eight who thought they had landed the parts of their lives when they were selected to participate in the musical Nord-Ost — the tale of a Russian Arctic explorer.

But Roshal feared for some adults who were suffering from sharp abdominal pains which could indicate appendicitis. There were some hostages with heart problems and some women who were increasingly uncomfortable as they lacked sanitary products.

“There are women who need hygiene products, antibiotics and eye-drops,” he said, lowering his voice. “There is not enough medicine, and that means things can only get worse.” He also feared sanitary conditions would deteriorate.

“There are toilets, but not enough. So they go in the orchestra pit and another room close by... The women are trying to establish some kind of order,” Roshal said. “We are trying to supply them with everything, but there is not enough toilet paper. Hopefully we can get some through tomorrow.”

Two people may also be in need of surgery. But as yet the guerrillas had refused to allow them to leave for hospital. Roshal said they could die.

“They have told us to come here and operate... But that would be very complicated,” he said. Whatever the outcome, Roshal said all the hostages would carry their ordeal away with them. “The majority will need psychological help after this,” he said. “They are under immense stress because they don’t know what is going to happen. This will leave its mark.”

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