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'The Guys Upstairs Were Burned Alive'

Charred bunk beds at the scene of a deadly fire in the Kachalovsky construction market on the outskirts of Moscow, which killed 17 people

Charred bunk beds at the scene of a deadly fire in the Kachalovsky construction market on the outskirts of Moscow, which killed 17 people

A 29-year-old migrant worker who says he was a friend and colleague of 17 victims of a deadly fire in Moscow this week has spoken with RFE/RL about the tragedy.

Giving only his first name, Bakhodir, he says he used to live in the same railroad car alongside the victims until recent months.

Bakhodir -- an ethnic Uzbek from Tajikistan -- spoke with Umedjon Bobomatov, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service correspondent in Moscow.

RFE/RL: Can you describe what conditions these men were living in?

Bakhodir: It was an ordinary railroad car with plywood attached to its walls. There were six beds on the lower level and several other beds on the upper level of the carriage. It was like a very small room. It had a door on its right side. And it had a small bathroom and a toilet. It didn't have running water. They used to buy water and keep it in containers."

RFE/RL: There has been speculation that an electric heater may have been the cause of the fire...

Bakhodir: There was an electric heater, because the carriage wasn't connected to the centralized heating system. The men used it to dry their laundry. They didn't have regular working hours. They usually worked late, sometimes overnight.

RFE/RL: Why do you think the men were not able to escape the fire? What stopped them from running away?

Bakhodir: [It appears] there were 17 people sleeping on the upper level, which was connected to the lower level by wooden stairs. The electric heater would have been placed near the stairs. If the heater and stairs were on fire, there would be no way for the men to escape.

“They were young, mostly around 20 years of age”

There were no windows; no second door. If the stairs were on fire, the men would have been trapped upstairs.

They were alive when the place was burning; they were screaming for help but the people downstairs had already run away. The guys upstairs were burned alive.

RFE/RL: How many people lived there?

Bakhodir: Six people lived in the lower level, 17 more upstairs. And another separate container was next door. Some six or eight people lived there.

The men living there tried to help but they saw it was already too late. They were afraid and ran away to save their own lives, leaving those 17 men to die.

RFE/RL: Is it true the victims were all from the same family?

Bakhodir: Yes, they were all from the same extended family, including three siblings and several cousins. They came from the Khujamulki neighborhood of the Qumqurghon district in [Uzbekistan's southeastern] Surkhondaryo Province.

RFE/RL: How old were they?

Bakhodir: They were young, mostly around 20 years of age. There was one older guy, my friend, who was 29. There was a man among them called Siroj. His wife recently gave birth to a baby boy in Uzbekistan.

Siroj was hoping to go home to see his son, but it wasn't meant to be. He died without even seeing his son.

Translated by Farangis Najibullah