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Memorial commemorating Luzhniki tragedy of October 20, 1982

20 October

Sixty six soccer fans were crushed on the stairs of Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on October 20, 1982. But witnesses believed the number of victims to have risen to 340. Information about the tragedy was strictly confidential for seven years.…

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Memorial commemorating Luzhniki tragedy of October 20, 1982 Memorial commemorating Luzhniki tragedy of October 20, 1982

20 October

On October 20, 1982, the greatest tragedy in the history of Soviet sport occurred when soccer fans were crushed on the stairs of Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. According to the official data, 66 people were killed, but witnesses believe the number of victims to have risen to 340. Information about the tragedy was for 7 years strictly confidential.

That day, the Moscow Spartak Football club received Haarlem of the Netherlands for a UEFA Cup game. That day the temperature dropped unusually low, which scared away many of the fans; out of the planned 24 000 tickets, only 16,000 were sold. To save extra work, the stadium’s authorities decided to keep all the grandstands unoccupied, packing all of the fans on one of them, which contributed to the disaster.

As the game was drawing to a conclusion, the Spartak supporters, expecting nothing exciting to happen, started heading for the exit. In extra time, however, Sergey Shvetsov, -- famous for saying bitterly afterward, “I shouldn’t have shot that goal” -- did score, making the entire crowd rush back up the grandstand. On the slippery stairs they clashed with the crowd coming down. To make things worse, the thin railings protecting the grandstand from the exit were pushed out by the crowd, and people started falling down on the concrete floor.

As relatives of some of the victims recall, the bodies were evacuated and hidden, while all those present were asked to be discreet about the event, especially with foreigners, on threat of a lawsuit for disobedience. The Haarlem players didn't even know anything about the tragedy at the time it was happening, and only found out about it seven years later. About a hundred Dutch supporters were safely led out through a separate gate.

The court hearing was mostly exhibitory. The case was finalized by convicting the director of the stadium, his deputy, and the stadium’s superintendant. Out of the three, the first two were released due to possession of state awards, and the third sentenced to 18 months of corrective labor.

Due to such a long spell of silence about the event, the true picture was never presented, and each party continued to blame the other. The police blamed fans for general misbehavior and violence toward them, accusing the latter of tossing snowballs, ice cubes and even empty bottles at them. The fans, on the other hand, justified their snowballing the police because they had clamped down on such peaceful manifestations of support as chanting and cheering – a behavior any normal fan would display in a similar event. According to the fans, the police spotted several of the most proactive fans and shut the door deliberately to easily catch the troublemakers on their way out.

A doctor who happened to attend the match later recalled that many more lives could have been saved had help been provided sooner, but the police sealed off the site and didn’t let anyone in to help those still alive.

“Later, as I scrolled the event in my head, I realized I saw no officers among the police patrols. Sergeants chained the area, as they had been ordered to… They were standing as if waiting for an order… I don’t know who called for extra ambulances to help us; they started to arrive about 40 minutes later, but they couldn’t catch up for the lost time… The patients were arriving, like to a hospital in the middle of the war. I was putting bandages on their broken arms and legs, made out of their own Spartak fan scarves.”

Aleksey Kosygin, who lost four of his friends in the jam, recalled, “The crowd surged back, and I could finally have a breath of fresh air. I went up the stairs, trudging through the dead bodies, while downstairs, the human bodies just lay sandwiched. Some people were dead, some were moaning… I didn’t look for my gang, the way was impassable. We walked out through the other exit, which they opened later, knee high in the snow; then we tried to help others, no matter who it was, friends or not friends. Everyone becomes everyone else’s friend then. But the police were pushing us away, making the live chain. They didn’t help anyone themselves and didn’t let us do it. I would never mistake these cries for help for anything else.”

The next day only one newspaper reported that “an accident occurred during the game; some fans were injured.” It was not until July 8, 1989, that an article in the Sovetsky Sport newspaper openly talked about the Luzhniki disaster. To mark the 10th anniversary of the tragedy, a monument to the victims was erected at Luzhniki Stadium.