Tragic secrets of Soviet times – a classified fire

Today marks the 60th anniversary of the day when 106 children and 4 teachers were burnt in a fire in a Chuvash school. The circumstances of the tragedy were kept secret for a long time.

Eyewitnesses recall that the school burned down in just ten minutes. Everything happened in the village of Elbarusovo (Chuvashia), on the eve of the 44th anniversary of the October Revolution. On the occasion of the holiday, a gala concert was organized at the school, which was attended by students, their parents (many with small children) and teachers – about 200 people in total.

In an effort to seat guests and students in the assembly hall, which on ordinary days was used as two classrooms separated by a partition, the employees of the educational institution attributed all unnecessary things to an emergency exit, so that it was impossible to use it at the time of the tragedy. The windows were also blocked – desks were placed close to them. Another factor that influenced such a huge number of victims was the village roads – the firefighters took too long to get through the autumn thaw. However, everything happened so quickly that this was hardly the main reason.

But back to the events of that tragic day. A festive concert was going on in the assembly hall, and nearby in the classroom was physics teacher Mikhail Iritkov, taking two 10th graders to help, preparing a gasoline engine to start a movie projector – after the concert, a film was to be shown. At some point, gasoline spilled over the office and immediately flared up. The actual perpetrators of the fire, all three, jumped out of the window and ran away without even thinking to warn those in the assembly hall. And then a real Armageddon began, as evidenced by the words of eyewitnesses of those terrible events.

Arkady Gavrilov, then a sixth grade student:

Suddenly there was a deafening cry, and everyone saw flames, the gas tank flared up and then exploded like a bomb. The physics office door knocked out into the assembly hall through the corridor. An unimaginable commotion arose. I somehow crawled out of the window, with flaps of skin hanging from my hands. (…) Literally five to ten minutes passed, and there was no one to save there. The roof collapsed and the screams stopped.

Lyudmila Gordeeva:

In the first minutes it was impossible to understand anything, someone even said that the Americans had dropped an atomic bomb. The children first ran to the door, but when they saw the glow of a fire in the corridor, they turned around. I immediately ran to the windows. They were closed, but the music director gave an accordion to the glass! The glasses flew out of the frames, and I began to climb onto the windowsill. He is tall, and I was small. Somehow I climbed up to my waist, my legs sagged. I felt that other children were already climbing over me. I don’t know if they pushed me out, or I fell to the ground myself. So she was saved. I was scared to such an extent that I did not know where to go and what to do.

Yuri Makarov:

“Everyone is shouting, screaming. There were probably no good painkillers in those days. Or there were, but not enough for everyone. I remember they put basins with potassium permanganate. You put your hands in there – and the pain subsides a little. Pull it out – and it burns again. Then I passed out. In such a state, my mother came to the hospital. Then we were sent to the Vishnevsky Institute. “

The surviving victims were treated in neighboring settlements. The heaviest were sent to Moscow. And what about the authorities? Fearing mass riots, so inappropriate on the holidays, they quickly decided to bury all the victims in a mass grave. All night from 5th to 6th November, carpenters were making coffins at the Mariinsky Posad shipyard.

The funeral procession was surrounded by policemen. It was strictly forbidden to take photographs – KGB officers in civilian clothes were vigilantly watching this. Those who disobeyed were exposed to photographic film. Heartbroken parents ran around the huge mass grave in the cemetery – trying to mark the place where their child was laid, many people inserted sticks-markers into the ground.

Nevertheless, the “exemplary” behavior of the relatives of the deceased children was noted in the party report:

Demonstrated high political awareness, civic courage and organization.

However, no one even thought about helping people who have lost the most precious thing – their children. True, the same report said that all residents of the Soviet Union should draw conclusions from the Elbarus tragedy, but … it would have been said, no specific measures were taken. This is probably why a similar incident repeated itself a year later, 20 km from the first – due to negligence of work with gasoline, the House of Pioneers in the city of Tsivilsk completely burned down. Fortunately, there were no casualties.

Only during the period of publicity, 30 years after the tragedy, on November 5, 1991, the first public mourning events took place. Witnesses of the incident were able to discuss it in full voice, and not in a whisper so that no one would hear. Polina Ivanova, history teacher and author of the book “Elbarusovo. Day of the Tragedy”, says:

“For a long time, the graves were in desolation: unkempt, overgrown with weeds. The crosses fell and rotted. And so they were buried … I don’t know how. They put the coffins and buried them. The people were not allowed there. The funeral could only be seen by teenagers who came to the cemetery on bicycles from the surrounding villages. The parents did not know where their children were. “

And what about those responsible for the tragedy? Physics teacher Iritkov and school director Samuil Yarukin, according to, were expelled from the ranks of the CPSU and sentenced to 10 and 8 years, respectively, fined 21,317 rubles. Two years later, the director’s article was changed, reducing the term to three years. Iritkov, who lost his wife in the fire, served his sentence in full. Punished (along the party line) and other persons who are indirectly guilty of the tragedy.

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