Friday, November 26

Experience: I was shot by a sniper | Life and Style


The October 3, 1993 was a beautiful day in Moscow. The sky was blue, the streets were full of people, and the air was cold. I was an American paralegal living my best life at 23, with a head full of dreams and a job at an international law firm.

I grew up in New Jersey, then in rural Pennsylvania. In college I did politics and Russian studies, and took a class on US-Soviet relations. I was fascinated by these two opposing countries.

In 1991, I spent a term in Saint Petersburg to learn the language. I fell in love with Russian life and went to live in Moscow when I graduated. I rented an apartment near the Russian White House. Moscow was then like the Wild West: you could earn a lot of money. Politically, it was on the brink of a constitutional crisis.

There was an air of unease on that sunny October afternoon. Parliamentarians had locked themselves inside the White House, which houses the government, in an attempt to overthrow President Yeltsin. That night, audiences stormed the national television center and the station stopped broadcasting. Russia was on the verge of a coup. I called my parents to tell them not to worry.

The next morning, the transport was reduced. My boss lived in my building, across from the United States embassy. He called from the office, asking me to check on his wife and children. I got closer then I stayed for pancakes. Then her 16-year-old son, John, accompanied me back.

He told me about the great view of the parliament from the roof, so we went up. Other young people were also there. Then we look down. The road below was full of tanks that were beginning to roll. Troops flooded the streets and machine guns bombarded the White House. The ceiling began to shake. I was scared. Then they shot me. Twice. On my leg and abdomen.

He couldn’t feel pain, just the need to survive. The shooting continued as I dragged myself up the fire escape. I hit the middle before my body gave up. John helped me and the neighbors took me to his apartment to wait for an ambulance. I only remember the chaos. Later I discovered that the buildings around us were full of snipers.

Smoke rising from the Moscow parliament building on October 4, 1993.
Smoke rising from the Moscow parliament building on October 4, 1993. Photograph: Alexander Zemlianichenko / AP

Three weeks before I was shot, my mother had flown in from the United States to visit me. When he returned two days after the shooting, my condition was so critical that he was told to drive directly to the hospital if he wanted to see me alive.

I had surgery and liters of blood lost. The doctor and nurse had given me theirs while they were operating. Everyone at my law firm had donated too, but it wasn’t enough. Hospitals were dirty, to poor standards (unless you were a diplomat), so I had come down with a life-threatening infection.

He needed to get to a standard western hospital to survive. With my mom, they put me on a small plane to Helsinki, Finland. Doctors performed CPR throughout the 90-minute flight.

When I arrived, my lungs were full of blood. The doctors discovered that I also had liver damage and no longer had a right kidney or gallbladder. They operated again and I stayed in Finland for 10 days. Before I left, I received a phone call from President Clinton. He had heard what had happened and he wished me well. I was taking so much morphine that I barely remember it.

They flew me to the United States, where I spent two months in the hospital. As soon as I was able to fly, I returned to Moscow; He was determined that some random sniper would not derail this great life he had made. I stayed six more years.

Sometimes my story comes up at dinner parties, but I often forget it. I have a scar from my stomach to my back, but I never dreamed of what happened; it doesn’t haunt me. The shooter was never identified. I think it was random, but there were too many people, military and civilians, firing guns that day to know.

Two years later, he was working for a human rights organization when President Clinton visited him. He gave me a handshake with both hands and said it was good to look good.

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This article comes from Saturday, The Guardian’s new print magazine that combines the best features, culture, lifestyle, and travel writing in one beautiful package. Available now in the UK and ROI.

Thank you for your comments.

I now live in Fife, Scotland, but found myself in Russia on the 20th anniversary of the site. Hearing the commemorations of the hundreds of dead or injured made me reflect. I have often been told that I have a Russian soul. Sometimes I wonder if what I’m doing in life justifies this incredible thing that I survived. But really, it was just a moment in time that I hit a piece of history.

As told to Deborah Linton

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