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'My Child Was Hanging By The Sheets': Survivors' Stories From Magnitogorsk

An 11-month-old baby is saved from the rubble of the collapsed building in Magnitigorsk.
An 11-month-old baby is saved from the rubble of the collapsed building in Magnitigorsk.

In the wake of a deadly apartment block explosion in the Russian city of Magnitogorsk, those who escaped are grateful to be alive.

Thirty-nine bodies were recovered from the ruins of the building, which partially collapsed due to the December 31 explosion. Those who lived are looking back at their survival as nothing short of miraculous.

Yevgeny Yurchenko owned a studio apartment on the top floor of the 12-story block, where an entire section, Entry 7, was destroyed by the explosion.

Yurchenko left the building on Karl Marx Street just minutes before tragedy struck at around 6 a.m. local time on December 31.

"I think it was God that pushed me out, made me leave home," Yurchenko says, noting that he was "restless" and unable to sleep the night before.

"I couldn't fall asleep all night, I don't know why," Yurchenko says. "I chatted with friends on [social media]."

Yurchenko, who lived alone, says he got an early start that day.

"I have a garage some 800 meters away. The garage building opens at 6 a.m., so I left my home at 5.45," Yurchenko says.

As he neared his garage Yurchenko heard a loud blast.

It "was so real" it gave him a "start," Yurchenko says, although he didn't immediately realize what had happened.

Yevgeny Yurchenko had a lucky escape from the collapsed building.
Yevgeny Yurchenko had a lucky escape from the collapsed building.

Only later, when he returned to his building and saw a crowd of people and police and rescue workers did he understand the gravity of the situation.

Entry 7 had crumbled just "like a house of cards," says Yurchenko. His apartment no longer existed apart from part of a wall with a radiator dangling from it.

"Suddenly I panicked. My hands were trembling. I thought that I must have left home just in time, because if I had remained there for any longer I wouldn't be alive."

'Hanging By The Sheets'

Yelena Krouglyakova was awakened by loud noise and pieces of concrete and dirt falling on her from the ceiling of her rented apartment in the vicinity of the doomed Entry 7.

"I thought some kind of work must be going on in the apartment upstairs," Krouglyakova says. "But my husband said: 'The building is collapsing, we must run.'"

But first the couple had to save their small child, who slept on a couch that was now on the verge of falling into the apartment below.

"The couch broke in half. It was standing by the wall where the floor had collapsed," Krouglyakova says.

"The broken part of the couch had fallen through, and my child was hanging by the sheets. My husband used one hand to hold on to the couch, and the other one to pull the child up."

On their way out, Krouglyakova's husband helped free a neighbor whose door was blocked by rubble, leaving her trapped inside with a six-year-old child.

"At that point, nobody knew what had happened," Krouglyakova recalls. "There was panic. There was dust everywhere. It was difficult to breath."

"The realization of what had happened came to me only the following day, on January 1, when I understood that we had escaped death and it was a miracle. We are alive, unharmed physically," she says.

Like many other survivors, Krouglyakova is scouring the news for images of the place she once called a "loving family home."

"I saw on the Internet that part of the floor…is still there. A chest of drawers is still standing with our photos on the top. My New Year's Tree is still there," she says, fighting back tears.

Krouglyakova has taken advantage of counseling services being provided to those affected by the explosion.

She says talking about her ordeal is helping her cope. "I feel relieved now," she says.

Next Steps

After searching for survivors amid temperatures below minus 15 degrees Celsius for days, authorities on January 3 called off the rescue operation.

The Emergency Situations Ministry says the incident claimed the lives of 39 people, while a total of 24 were pulled from the debris alive.

Among them was an 11-month-old baby boy, Vanya Fokin, who was rescued some 35 hours after the blast. The boy's mother also survived.

Emergency workers also rescued a dog and five cats from the rubble.

"People approached us asking for help in rescuing their pets," the press office of the city administration told the Interfax news agency. "We couldn't pull out one dog for quite a long time because she was scared. The vets helped us."

The city authorities have pledged financial compensation to the victims and their families and to those who lost their homes.

The families of the dead will receive 1 million rubles (some $14,700) and a further $450 will be allocated for the funeral expenses of each victim.

Those who sustained serious injuries are to receive about $6,000, while others will get half that amount.

Homeowners such as Yurchenko will receive financial compensation of up to $7,500, depending on the size of their apartment.

Yurchenko says the authorities have promised that he and other homeowners will be provided with apartments elsewhere.

"I just have to wait, like everyone else," Yurchenko said.

However, tenants like Krouglyakova are to get only about $730, an amount she says doesn't even cover her basic needs now that she is homeless.

Written by Farangis Najibullah with reporting by Current Time in Magnitogorsk by Aleksei Aleksandrov
  • 16x9 Image

    Aleksei Aleksandrov

    Aleksei Aleksandrov is a reporter for Current Time TV, the Russian-language network run by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA.

  • 16x9 Image

    Farangis Najibullah

    Farangis Najibullah is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL who has reported on a wide range of topics from Central Asia, including the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on the region. She has extensively covered efforts by Central Asian states to repatriate and reintegrate their citizens who joined Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.