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Friday, December 21, 2007

Putin Forgets All About Beslan

The Moscow Times reports:

A dog plays with a kitten, scattering their meal of meat and macaroni over the entrance. An armed security guard looks on and laughs. The walls are covered with dark mold, and the plaster is peeling off. Patients walk carefully, trying to avoid gaping cracks in the well-worn, wooden floor. Beds are placed centimeters apart, and the old doors do not close all the way to provide privacy. The toilets are easy to find. Just follow the smell.

"Welcome to Beslan's hospital," said Savely Torchinov, a surgeon, while giving a reporter a tour of the town's only hospital.

It was here that survivors were taken after the terrorist attack at Beslan School No. 1 in 2004. The hospital looks much the same today as it did then, and some former hostages are still undergoing treatment here for injuries sustained in the attack.

"It's shocking, isn't it?" Torchinov said.

He opened the door to the nurses' room -- a narrow space where the sweet aroma of coffee that the nurses were drinking mixed with the pungent smell of disinfectant. On a small trolley, opposite the refrigerator, surgical instruments could be seen through a threadbare cloth covered with brownish stains. Torchinov said fewer people might have died in the school attack if they had received first aid promptly. The hospital was unprepared to cope with the hundreds of injured hostages after a three-day standoff at the school ended in gunfire and explosions on Sept. 3, 2004, he and other staff said. After receiving initial treatment at the hospital, the patients were sent to better-equipped facilities in Vladikavkaz, the North Ossetian capital, about 20 kilometers away, and Moscow. Around 1,200 people were held hostage in the school, and about 330 died, more than half of them children.

President Vladimir Putin arrived in Beslan on the night of Sept. 4 and he "nearly broke his neck" when he tripped on a crack in the wooden floor on the second floor, Torchinov said. The president was so shocked that he ordered that 6.2 million rubles ($240,000) in federal aid be allocated to renovate the hospital. The local government promised another 8 million rubles ($320,000).

LR: Only $240,000 from a country rolling in oil profits to a region whose population of children has been decimated in the most horrible way imaginable? Is that Putin's idea of generosity?

But little appears to have been done to improve the hospital, and the situation looks unlikely to change. Torchinov and other people who have raised questions about the hospital said they had been threatened with the loss of their jobs and arrest. Torchinov was one of the few people in Beslan who agreed to allow his name to be printed for this report; others said they feared reprisals.The hospital denied wrongdoing, and the local prosecutor refused to comment.

LR: An after his pathetic, puny promise, no action whatsoever. And this man is considered a great leader? Putin thought NOTHING about Beslan before the attack, and immediately forgot about it afterwards. He's a monster.

Torchinov, a surgeon at the hospital for 22 years, is currently without work after a court found him guilty of negligence in the death of a patient and suspended him from practicing for 18 months. But Torchinov, who calls the case politically motivated, had no problem visiting the hospital on a recent afternoon. Doctors, nurses and even the guard greeted him as he showed the reporter around. On Sept. 3, the last day of the terrorist attack, Torchinov made sure that his daughter Laima, who was among the hostages, was safe. Then he rushed over to the hospital, organized a makeshift operating room, and started operating. "I operated in a narrow space between two sinks and close to the window to get some light. Not only could I not see anything because I had no surgical lamps, but I also could hardly move. There was no space," he said. "My first patient was a girl of 13 or 15. She had a bad cut on her stomach, and I operated on her in such conditions, close to the window to get the light of the sun. Military surgeons usually work in better conditions," he said.

Doctors operated on people right on hospital gurneys, and anesthesia was given with obsolete equipment. The single new device was not enough for all the wounded. "We lost so many people because of all that," Torchinov said. "Things were different than what the media showed. It was complete chaos." Torchinov and his colleagues said the authorities had ample time during the two days before the standoff ended to prepare for the wounded. "They could have set up field hospitals and brought modern equipment from other cities. They had two days after all, but nobody cared," one doctor said. "We didn't have enough medicine, and some people died because there were no spare oxygen tanks." Torchinov said a federal special forces officer died because he needed an arterial specialist and the Beslan hospital had none. He said the officer died waiting for the specialist in Vladikavkaz. "We could have saved more lives. It was terrible," the other doctor said. The authorities organized only four operating rooms, and the doctors set up three more.

After Torchinov started complaining about the way the aid had been organized and that promised funding for the hospital had not materialized, he was accused of malpractice in 2006. Beslan's prosecutor accused Torchinov of leaving a piece of gauze inside the abdomen of a woman he operated on last year. She later died. Torchinov spent 1 1/2 months in detention before North Ossetia's top court convicted him and suspended from practicing for 18 months. Torchinov accused the hospital administration of being in cahoots with the prosecutor and called the case a politically motivated attempt to silence him. "Everyone in the hospital thinks that," agreed Alan Aderkhayev, an anesthetist at the hospital. "The accusations are just absurd," Aderkhayev said. "Most people agree with Torchinov, but they don't talk because they are afraid." Aderkhayev did not tend to hostages in 2004 because he was dealing with a more personal grief. His wife and daughter died in the attack.

The head of the hospital, Vyacheslav Korginov, denied that the administration had unfairly targeted Torchinov. "A commission of experts said the woman's death was Torchinov's fault. It was for the prosecutor's office to decide and not me. There is nothing political here," Korginov said. Beslan prosecutor Alan Batagov refused to comment on the case, saying he could not discuss it with someone he did not know. Korginov defended the hospital's treatment of the hostages. "Our work was really appreciated," he said. He said the hospital had received the promised federal and regional funds after the attack. He also said government auditors had found no problems during regular checks of the hospital books. Korginov acknowledged, however, that the hospital needed improvements. "We need a renovation, but other hospitals need this too. This is normal," he said.

Susanna Dudiyeva, head of the Beslan Mothers' Committee, a nongovernmental organization that supports former hostages and their families, said she could not understand why the hospital remained in a dilapidated state in a town that was flooded with cash and gifts from around the world after the attack. "Everyone helped us. Our hospital should be perfect. Why is it in such a pitiable condition?" she said.

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