Elena Shvacheva’s husband and three sons were killed when an apartment building was blown up by terrorists in Kaspiisk, a town on the Caspian Sea in Dagestan, a southern Russian republic neighboring Chechnya, in November 1996. At 35 years of age, Elena found strength to start all over again. She got married and gave birth to three children.
Elena Shvacheva always considered herself a strong and courageous woman. But her world was split asunder on a terrible night when her loved ones died in a blast. The loss devastated her completely. She felt as though her life had come to an end.
It seemed to her that she had been killed in that blast too. Her husband Andrei and three kids – Gena, Pavel, and Oleg – all died in the explosion. She had no way of knowing what was in store for her. She got her happiness back after Colonel Andrei Zalov came into her life. One day Zalov knocked on her door. He brought her some money donated by comrades in arms of her late husband. Six months later Zalov confessed his love to her. He simply told Elena: “Please be my wife…”
These days Elena is a caring wife and mother of three. Her husband and she are raising their sons named Sasha, Volodya, and Seroyzha.
Elena was far from home on November 16, 1996. She was on a business trip in the city of Kislovodsk when the news agencies reported on a terrible tragedy in Kaspyisk. She took the first plane and flew back home only to find that her entire family had been killed.
“I was filled with apprehension on the night of the bombing. I was thinking about my kids all the time, I just couldn’t wait to see them again. If I only knew…” said Elena
She was very happily married. Andrei and Elena fell for each other at first sight when they met in a medical school in Stavropol shortly after enrolling. They had been inseparable ever since. They got married. Their two sons were born within three years.
Elena backed Andrei’s plans to join the army and become a military doctor though she could appreciate that their future life was not going to be a bed of roses. Being the wife of an army officer has always been tough in Russia. Elena knew that they would have to live in rather poor conditions in some boondocks and her husband’s pay would be just about enough to afford the basics.
Andrei was first stationed in Saratov, central Russia, later was relocated to another unit in Siberia. Their youngest son Oleg had been a toddler by the time the family finally arrived in Kaspiisk on the Caspian Sea. They settled down in an apartment on the seventh floor of a building housing Russian service officers and their families.
Gena and Pasha loved music, they attended a children’s music school, learning to play the guitar.
“Their teachers told us they boys had a talent for music. They could pick up a melody in no time,” said Valentina, the kids’ grandmother. It is a miracle that Valentina escaped the blast unscathed. She is the only occupant of her apartment who survived the bombing that ripped the building apart in the small hours of October 16.
“The loud noise woke me up that night. I looked at the clock. It was five past three in the morning. Then all hell broke loose. I had no idea what was happening but I had to calm down the boys who were sleeping in the other room. The blackness gaped before me after I pushed the door open. There was a nauseating smell of something burning, smoke and dust all around. I looked down and saw nothing but debris…” said Valentina.
It took the rescue workers several hours to take Valentine off the wreckage. She somehow managed to find her ID papers and a guitar, the only memento of her grandchildren that was left intact.
No one dared break the news about her family to Elena while she was in Kislovodsk. Against all odds she was hoping that her loved ones had somehow survived as she flew back home. The last glimmer of hope faded out in her heart when the authorities took Elena to the scene of the explosion to identify the bodies. The 11-year-old Gena was the first one to be found underneath the debris. Then they found Oleg who was just 5. The body of her husband was found one day later. The rescue workers dug out the body of the 8-year-old Pasha on the following day.
“I felt completely broken down, my life just ended on that day. My heart and soul turned to stone. I couldn’t move, couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep a wink. I got back to work in ten days. I started scribbling poetry to keep myself from going off my rocker. And I kept taking to my boys every night…” said Elena.
The explosion that badly destroyed an apartment building in Kaspysk killed 69 people, including 21 children.
Colonel Andrei Zalov was serving in a border troop unit in Georgia when he learned of the tragedy in Kaspyisk.
“One of my colleagues came up with an idea of donating some money to the families of the victims. We found out that Elena had lost her entire family in a blast. So we collected money and handed it over to her,” said Zalov.
Later he arrived in Kaspiisk one more time on business. He went to Elena’s place to check how she was coping with her bereavement. Then he visited her several times more. Finally, he made up his mind and fired it out: “Please be my wife…” Back then she just could not believe that happiness would ever return in her life.
The Zalovs have three sons aged 8, 6 and 5.
The 8-year-old Seryozha goes in for martial arts, painting and guitar. His daily schedule is always full. “He started to learn playing the guitar some time ago. Looks like he’ll be doing fine,” says Valentina as Seryozha begins quietly strumming on his guitar, the one that used to belong to his deceased brothers.
The 6-year-old Sasha does not feel like going to sleep though he has to get up early on the next morning. He started going to school in September.
We ask him what profession he is going to take when he grows up. “Well, I want to be a general,” says the boy and retreats to his room. Volodya, their youngest son, turned 5 last month. The boy looks like a man of strong character. He tells us straightaway that he wants to become a sailor.
The boys are well-aware of their brothers who died in the blast ten years ago. The parents take them to the cemetery to pay homage to the dead each year.
“We could have saved them if we were around on that night. We are very strong, just like our dad and mom!” says Sasha, his voice sounds loud and clear with a high pitch of boyish defiance.
Elena smiles as she hugs her children. Tears start running down her cheeks.
Translated by Guerman Grachev