Showing passports to the mob during a bus chase and helicopter rescue. One passenger’s account of chaos amid anti‑Semitic riot at Makhachkala airport
Павел Васильев
Showing passports to the mob during a bus chase and helicopter rescue. One passenger’s account of chaos amid anti‑Semitic riot at Makhachkala airport
30 October 2023, 19:03

Makhachkala International Airport after the riots, October 30. Photo: Musa Salgereev / TASS

On the evening of October 29, a mob waving Palestinian flags and chanting anti-Semitic slogans stormed the runway of the Uytash international airport in Makhachkala, Dagestan, a Muslim-majority republic in southern Russia. The incident, fuelled by a Telegram rumour suggesting the arrival of Jewish refugees in the city, saw several hundred aggressive men await the arrival of flight WZ-4728 operated by Red Wings, en route from Tel Aviv to Moscow with a layover in Makhachkala. The mob scoured the airport for Israeli nationals, slamming doors and chasing away the security personnel, halting vehicles—even a police truck—and eventually making their way onto the runway. Here’s one passenger’s firsthand account of her experience onboard that flight.

My family—my mother, father, and sister—and I had booked a flight to Moscow via Makhachkala a week before departure due to a family situation. It was a cheaper option with a shorter layover. We heard about the news on our way to the airport.

Just before departure, while awaiting boarding, a message about some malfunctions came through, hence the flight was delayed. The airline staff asked if we held Israeli citizenship, mentioning that we were flying partially at our own risk. I’m not quite certain that was the exact phrasing… The flight was slightly delayed due to this. The plane was half empty.

We landed without any issues and were led through the tube jet bridge into the airport. Security personnel awaited us there. The airport security was divided between those in uniform and others who could best be described as “looking civilian.”

They awaited to escort us separately; the situation visibly escalated every minute. Initially, they intended to guide us through the green corridor. But it was too late. Practically one woman went through the scanners, and everyone was rushed outside to a bus.

There were about two dozen of us, slightly less than thirty, no more. Many families. As stated in official sources, there was a child on a ventilator.

On board the bus it was very chaotic, people with their suitcases, children. The driver struggled for a while to close the rear door of the bus. It was unclear whether he could see something, whether he was scared about having everyone on board, but there were loud shouts to get the door closed.

Initially, he was driving us to the plane bound for Moscow, but along the way, a mob started chasing us. We drove for a long time, yet the people didn’t tire and kept running after our bus. They were carrying the Palestinian flag, shouting, “Brothers, brothers!”

People on the bus shouted back that we were Russians, showing their red passports, yelling out the cities they hailed from: Ufa, Yekaterinburg, Perm, Moscow. Nearly all were Russians, though many held dual citizenship. There was one man from Israel with us who spoke Russian poorly.

At one point, the bus stopped, and we were surrounded. They pelted stones, shattered a window. There was loud banging on the windows. It was very, very scary. I didn’t see everything as I was seated away from the window, and we had drawn the dark curtains over part of the windows.

It felt like an eternity, and the people outside weren’t heeding. They heard but ignored. It was terrifying.

At some point, a fire truck began tailing us. There was no sign of the police, but the fire truck followed—almost as if prepared to douse us. Everything felt a bit like a fog. I sent voice messages to my friends and partner, telling them about my love for them.

Eventually, we were taken to the VIP lounge of the airport. The lounge was more of a two-story VIP building. They attempted for a long time to separate us into groups: those who travelled to Makhachkala, and those who were supposed to leave for other cities.

Somehow, passengers destined for Makhachkala got mixed with the crowd and managed to escape. At least that’s what I heard from one of the people responsible for our safety saying. Among all who were with us, hardly anyone was in uniform.

Initially, there was hope that those bound for Moscow would be placed on the plane, while others would be accommodated somewhere in the city to wait. We were ushered to the second floor, sitting away from the windows. I couldn’t see how many people were below guarding us, as we were upstairs.

The crowd was behind a barricade—according to those who could see. We sat there for a very long time. A list of all present was compiled. Our passports were photographed, and at one point, a group from the crowd was let in. Khizri Abakarov [, a State Duma deputy], who acted as a negotiator along with an assistant, came up to our floor with this group. Three or four people, no more. They were shown passports and residential registrations. They didn’t reach us on the second floor.

Many security forces were present before we left for the helicopter, but I couldn’t tell when they arrived in the building. At the moment the group of locals came up to us, there was no security, at all.

[Later,] we were given food and water.

Much later, we were told, “Helicopter.” We were separated from our luggage, being told it “would arrive later.” Everyone was herded into the first bus, instructed to duck down, and one woman mentioned she was told not to film. I didn’t film, but saw a massive crowd.

Again, the driver who couldn’t close the middle door of the bus. I don’t know what was wrong. This is where we heard the sounds of guns and automatic weapons. I believe it was the security forces and military ensuring our bus reached the helicopter, into which we were crammed like sardines in a can—all the way to a military base near Makhachkala.

At the military base, we were told to switch off our phones, which were later collected. We were given a sheet, a pillowcase, and rooms for two. Water and dry rations, which are a story of their own. The rooms too. Well, it’s a military base.

Some managed to sleep. Wake-up call was at 6:30, cold pizza for breakfast. Phones were returned, but we were told not to take them out of the makeshift envelopes. We were split into two helicopters of 15 people each to accommodate the luggage, and flew at the same time to Mineralnye Vody, [a town in Stavropol Krai].

In Mineralnye Vody, at the helicopter part of the airstrip, there was a strange understanding of the situation. Despite the lists, endless photos, and nearly half a day since the situation at the airport began, they seemed not to grasp that we weren’t headed to Mineralnye Vody, and needed to get home. Rebooking the tickets took time, and time was pressing for my family.

We hastily purchased tickets on our own for the earliest Aeroflot flight. Being the most expedient, we were placed in a minivan, driven to the departure hall, and checked in. Now sitting in the VIP lounge. Eventually, nearly everyone else joined us, waiting for the same flight.

Editor: Dmitry Tkachev

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