SCMP Monday, August 21, 2000

RUSSIA

Families pray for miracle

AGENCIES in Moscow and Murmansk


Orthodox worshippers in Murmansk prayed yesterday for 118 sailors on board the stricken Kursk submarine.

"Lord, help those at sea . . . help those in your submarine," the priest intoned as worshippers crossed themselves and the choir chanted in a small, incense-filled church as early morning sun poured in through the church's small windows, illuminating icons and giving some of the congregation courage.

"I prayed for them even though the authorities say it's too late. I believe in miracles," said Valentina Voloshina, a retired teacher. "I lit a candle for the submariners and their families," said Larissa Anola. Like many in Murmansk and the adjoining town of Severomorsk, she was angry at the Russian Government's handling of the crisis. "I took offence at the way they spoke," she said.

"It's obvious that the crew are dead," said Igor Grishuk on his way out of the church. "Our team of rescuers acted in a muddle. And [the authorities] don't tell the truth - they don't like telling the truth." On Saturday, Tikhon Bagryantsev tried to fight grief with frantic activity when word came that his only son was dead - among the first to be killed when a terrifying blow ripped through the submarine Kursk nine days ago and sent it sinking to the ocean floor. Within a few hours of the navy's announcement that most of the crew had probably died instantly, the 70-year-old was getting off a plane in Murmansk to pay his last duty to his son, Captain Vladimir Bagryantsev, 41. "I would be tormenting myself for the rest of my life if I hadn't come," Mr Bagryantsev said. His daughter-in-law, Yekaterina, and her sons Dmitry, 18, and Igor, 11, have been in Murmansk for a week.

Mr Bagryantsev said he now wishes he had not passed on to his son the esteem he gained for the navy while in its service himself.

Others were more deeply affected. Within hours of Saturday's news, Murmansk's military hospital treated three relatives of those on board for acute heart problems.