YAROSLAVL, Russia –Thousands of ice hockey fans wept, lit candles, and chanted late into the early hours today in a poignant scene of grief at the Lokomotiv club arena in central Yaroslavl.
Bearing flowers, Russian hockey fans arrived with their children, clapped in unison, and chanted “We love you Loko Yaroslavl, Loko Yaroslavl” in honor of the 36 local hockey club members killed in a plane crash on September 7.
In total, at least 43 people died in the crash, when the Yak-42 passenger plane went down at takeoff near the city of Yaroslavl. Two survivors are said to be fighting for their lives. The cause of the crash, which took place in clear weather, is under investigation.
Many in the city, some 250 kilometers northeast of Moscow, are still in shock.
“We still can’t believe what has happened or understand how to come to terms with it,” one woman told RFE/RL’s Russian Service outside Lokomotiv Arena. “Even tears won’t come. We can’t believe it. It’s horrific.”
‘Shock, Pain, Bitterness’
September 9 was to have been the long-awaited start to the 2011-12 season in the Kontinental Hockey League, pitting Lokomotiv against Dinamo Minsk.
Dazed fans recounted how they should have been arriving in the Belarusian capital last night.
“We were meant to be going to Minsk today. The fans’ bus was leaving for Minsk. We were getting ready to leave at work and then suddenly this information appeared — that the team with the guys that we know no longer exists,” one fan said.
“They were brilliant people and brilliant sportsmen. It is shock, pain, and bitterness. We’ve done everything. We came here to carry out our duty to remember. In the larger picture, it’s just shock. The realization of how great this loss is will come. For the moment, it’s just shock.”
Supporters of Lokomotiv Yaroslavl and players’ relatives grieve outside the arena in Yaroslavl on September 8.
Another fan was on the verge of tears.
“Apart from pain, I feel nothing. It is the pain of losing the team,” he said. “Every one of us bears this pain personally, as if we had lost someone close. Of course, we hope that the memory of how the Lokomotiv team conducted itself in battles of hockey and in life will remain in the hearts of the Yaroslavl fans — and fans beyond. Really, it is painful and bitter.”
The governor of Yaroslavl Oblast has announced three days of mourning starting September 9.
Revives Tragic Memories
The club arena in central Yaroslavl has currently been cleared of people in a security precaution linked to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s arrival at an international conference nearby.
Medvedev changed his timetable to visit the scene of the crash.
The loss of the entire Lokomotiv side revives memories of other sports teams lost in air crashes.
A plane carrying the Voenno-Vozdushnye Sily Moscow ice hockey team crashed in 1950, killing all but two of its players.
In 1979, 17 soccer players from the Tashkent side Pakhtakor died in a mid-air collision.
written by Tom Balmforth in Moscow, based on reporting by Danila Galperovich in Yaroslavl