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REACTION IN THE MAHONING VALLEY Visiting Russians express shock



Published: Thu, September 13, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The United States is a safe haven, far away from the world's trouble spots-- so they thought.

By DON SHILLING

VINDICATOR BUSINESS EDITOR

BOARDMAN -- Russian executives visiting the Mahoning Valley this week were so surprised that a terrorist attack could happen in this country that they couldn't believe the television scenes were true.

"We thought it was one of Hollywood's fantastic movies," said Zina Generalova, a Russian who is coordinating a trip to Ohio by business executives.

To her delegation, the United States was a safe haven, separated by vast oceans from the trouble spots of the world.

"It surprises us greatly that it could happen in America," Dmitriy Mikhaylov, 33, of Taganrog, Russia, said Wednesday during a stop to relax in Boardman Township Park.

Bombings in Russia: Russians are used to terrorists bombings, said the executives who are touring food wholesalers and other business operations in Ohio. Moscow and other major Russian cities have been living under seige from terrorists for several years because of a conflict with rebels in the province of Chechnya, who are fighting for independence.

Mikhaylov said the attacks in Russia are car bombings.

"We couldn't imagine that it could happen to this scale in the U.S.," he said.

Slava Stepashkin, a Russian who now lives in the United States and is an interpreter for the group, said the Russian car bombings are horrible but small compared to the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York by two hijacked airliners. The worst bombing in Russia destroyed two large apartment buildings in Moscow two years ago, he said.

"We're used to terrorists' acts. We're used to bomb blasts in Russia. Even for us, this was beyond comprehension. Even Hollywood didn't come up with a passenger jet into a world landmark," Stepashkin said.

A bombing occurs in a Russian city about every three months, leading residents to feel unsafe constantly, he said.

This is much different than the days of the Soviet Union, he said. Muggings and robberies were unheard of in those days, let alone bombings, he said.

"It was tyranny, but it was very easy to control organized crime. Maybe that was because the government was the main tyrant," he said.

A sad change: Sadly, things may be changing for Americans, too, he said.

"Maybe Americans are realizing what terrorism is all about," he said.

For Russia, the battle comes from terrorists in Chechnya. Factions in the province have been battling for independence since the mid-1990s. Terrorism inside Chechnya and other parts of Russia has increased since 1999 when Russians deployed troops to control the region.

Stepashkin said it is thought that Chechen terrorists are connected to several groups, including one run by Osama bin Laden, who is suspected by U.S. government officials to be involved in the U.S. attacks Tuesday.

The Russian delegation's three-week trip is ending, and they are scheduled to fly home Sunday. They said the grounding of U.S. flights leaves them unsettled, but Mikhaylov said he thinks they will be on a plane Sunday because Americans have proven to him during this trip that they are organized and dependable.

shilling@vindy.com




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