Nina Kotlyarova was inside the Volgograd train station on December 29, when an explosion blamed on a suicide bomber ripped through the building, killing 17 people. In an interview, the 59-year-old eyewitness, who survived unscathed, spoke on December 30 by phone from Volgograd to RFE/RL's Kenan Aliyev.
RFE/RL: Tell us what happened and what took you to the railway station?
Nina Kotlyarova: I came to [the Volgograd railway station] to meet my friend, who was supposed to arrive at 13:16 on the Moscow-Volgograd train. I hadn't seen her for 30 years. She was coming to visit us to celebrate the New Year together.
I entered the station with another friend of mine, Svetlana. We passed through the tourniquet and proceeded to check when and on which platform our friend's train was due. Everything happened so instantaneously that we even failed to grasp it. [Minutes before the blast] we even joked with the [security] guys as we were passing through the checkpoint. We had small handbags and they insisted we put them on the [X-ray scanner] belt. I kind of protested, asking why it was necessary to scan them at all, since our bags were so small. They boasted that there was a terror attack in [the city of] Pyatigorsk while Volgograd was safe.
Then, after about 10 minutes of standing at the waiting area and checking the train schedule, a huge explosion went off. The blast was deafening and there was a ball of fire that flashed right in front of us. We were blown 3 or 4 meters by the blast wave toward an underground passage. Once we got back to our senses we jumped to our feet and started running. As I was running away [from the scene] I had a feeling as if I was on fire. I took my coat off while continuing to run outside. I checked the back of my coat but it was not on fire. There were just a few holes in it, the back of it was torn.
RFE/RL: Where was your husband at the time of the blast?
Kotlyarova: My husband? As I ran around the station building, it was immediately cordoned off by the police. I was looking for my husband and saw him looking for me. He was waiting for us in our car parked next to the station at the time of the blast. Later he told me that the car bounced into the air as the explosion wave hit. He jumped out of it within some 30 seconds to look for me and see if I needed help. He was running around and there were many corpses lying on the floor, people were crying, calling for help. It was really horrible.
After about 20 minutes he found me sitting by the fountain [in front of the station]. He approached me, looked at me and saw that the back of my coat was covered in blood and something that looked like brain matter. He started scrubbing it off.
RFE/RL: You must have been shocked by what happened. The picture from the CCTV camera shows you standing so close to the scene of the blast.
Kotlyarova: No one understands how I survived. Most probably it's because the damage was much bigger in the right wing [of the station building]. As my husband was running through the right wing looking for me he told me everything was blown up there and everyone there was lying on the floor. That part was hit most. I was either standing behind somebody in the left wing or got shielded some other way but we were merely blown by the blast wave toward the underpass. Maybe we survived because we only took the wave. Neither my friend Svetlana nor myself were hurt. We were simply in a state of shock. Obviously, we could not sleep that night -- we are so stressed and those images continue flashing back, causing me great distress.
RFE/RL: Did the authorities help you in any way?
Kotlyarova: Yes, they offered us help. But we only asked for some drops of sedatives. We were not hurt so we did not need anything else. We felt fine physically so we did not need an ambulance or anything, but they did help us and gave us some sedatives.
RFE/RL: I believe you will never forget this New Year.
Kotlyarova: Of course, this is my second birthday. From now on I will be celebrating December 29 as my second birthday.
RFE/RL: How is your husband after all of this?
Kotlyarova: When we met after the blast, my husband was in a state of shock. He was shaking all over. He was stunned. Imagine running around looking for your spouse whom you spent 40 years of your life with.