Knights saved the day: Elite squad snatched TV centre from rebels' hands

BORIS YELTSIN came within 30 seconds of losing the battle for the Russian television centre last Sunday night - and with it, conceivably, the second October Revolution.

His saviours were an elite detachment of Interior Ministry troops called 'Vityaz' or 'Knight', which won a bizarre race across Moscow with the men they later fought for control of the television centre.

The 80 or so men from Vityaz had been by the White House parliament building on the other side of Moscow when they were summoned urgently to the virtually unguarded Ostankino television complex. They set off in a group of armoured personnel carriers (APCs), catching up with the motley anti-Yeltsin forces heading in the same direction.

At about 5pm, crossing the Garden Ring road, I was transfixed by the sight of cheering rebels waving red flags and, beside them APCs packed with troops. The immediate impression was that a second Bolshevik Revolution had begun, with at least part of the army rebelling against Mr Yeltsin.

In fact, the APCs that trundled alongside the rebels contained the handful of pro-Yeltsin Interior Ministry troops who defended the centre throughout that evening.

'We arrived literally 30 seconds ahead of them,' said one of the soldiers in a filmed interview last week. When they turned up at about 5.30pm, everyone admits that Ostankino had, at best, a token defence. The Vityaz men were on their own against the mob until the first reinforcements - five more APCs - arrived four hours later. No army troops turned up until after midnight.

The main Russian television channels broadcast from Ostankino. If the centre had fallen, Alexander Rutskoi and Ruslan Khasbulatov, denied access to the media throughout the crisis, would have had the opportunity to spread their rebellion to the regions.

It was a beautifully clear night at Ostankino when the White House supporters rolled up in commandeered lorries, trailing red and nationalist flags. Most were unarmed. Some sported batons and riot- shields they had won as booty from frightened militia outside the White House.

Inside, a handful of guards crouched on the dark stairs. The dissident ex-general, Albert Makashov, leading the rebels, bellowed at the guards that they had three minutes to get out. First one lorry rammed the glass facade, then another; armed men pressed against the shattered windows.

A third lorry careered into the building, strewing glass everywhere. Then a grenade was fired and machine-gun fire exploded from inside.

The presenter on the main television channel, weeping, said that broadcasts could not go on much longer. Programmes were blacked out. Radio Mayak went off the air.

I was half turned away when the firing began. With a sea of others, I ran and dropped down, and ran again as the bullets roared overhead. There were desperate scenes as reporters and demonstrators huddled behind low walls and vehicles. Near the lorries, bodies lay on the ground untended. Two cameramen, Rory Peck and Yvan Skopan, were killed outside, filming in; another, Sergei Krasilnikov, died inside, filming out.

A man called Dima lay bleeding from the side and groaning at the feet of my colleague. We kept on talking to him as we tried to obtain help. Eventually a street-cleaning lorry turned up, and we hoisted him on to a riot-shield and into the front seat.

For four hours, standing to one side, we tuned into portable radios and heard that tanks were coming - but the army was nowhere to be seen. At 9.15, five more APCs rolled up to the building. By dawn 15 APCs were on the scene, the demonstrators had fled, and the buildings were safe.

It had seemed close, and it was. The arrival of the five extra APCs was crucial. Sergei Yegorov, an experienced war correspondent, kept filming the whole night, crawling around the corridors with the Vityaz men. 'One of the guys told me, if those APCs had come five minutes later, it would have been too late.'

Thomas de Waal is a reporter with the Moscow Times

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave long-running series
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

KS1 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Supply Teacher re...

KS2 Teaching Supply Wakefield

£140 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS2 Supply Teacher r...

Year 1/2 Teacher

£130 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Teacher required,...

Primary Teachers Needed for Supply in Wakefield

£140 - £160 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1&2 Supply Te...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam