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Jewish History Major in Russia Among Five Victims of Moscow Blast

December 11, 2003
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Igor Akimov decided to skip his first class Tuesday morning and instead start the day with his second one.

That turned out to be a fatal choice for Akimov, a Jewish history major.

Akimov, 18, exited a subway station in downtown Moscow at 10:50 a.m., 10 minutes before his class — and just as a blast rocked the entrance to a posh hotel he was passing.

Akimov was killed instantly along with four other victims, in addition to a female suicide bomber.

Fourteen passers-by were injured.

Akimov was a freshman at Moscow State University’s Center for Jewish Studies and Jewish Civilization, which is located near the site of the attack.

He graduated from Jewish day school in his native Uzbekistan and moved to Moscow this fall to attend college and was one of 23 freshman at the five-year-old center, opened in collaboration with Jerusalem’s Hebrew University at the downtown campus of Moscow State University.

In Tashkent, Akimov had been deeply involved in Jewish life. One of the brightest students at the Or Avner Jewish day school, he went to Jewish camps and was active in the local Hillel youth group, friends said.

His friends and teachers were devastated when they learned late Tuesday afternoon that Akimov was among the casualties of the attack, the second Moscow blast blamed on female suicide bombers from Chechnya in the past seven months.

In July, two bombers killed 15 and injured 60 when they blew themselves up at an open-air rock festival at a Moscow airfield.

Tuesday’s terrorist blew herself up outside the entrance to the National Hotel, just a few hundred yards from the Kremlin and the Russian Parliament building, which may have been the intended targets.

Despite the proximity of the school to the blast site, classes went on as usual.

“I called his cell. There was no answer,” said Yulia Gotzkokozik, Akimov’s classmate, her eyes full with tears.

She and Akimov had a lot in common. Both grew up in Tashkent, the capital of the former Soviet republic of Uzbekistan. It was only in Moscow, where they lived in the same dormitory, that they learned they were distant relatives.

After school on Tuesday, when students came back to their dormitory on the outskirts of Moscow, they discovered that Akimov was missing. They turned on the TV and heard a report on the incident, but police and medical sources had misspelled Akimov’s last name as Aripov, and his friends decided it wasn’t him.

“There was a sigh of relief,” Gotzkokozik said.

Only later did they discover the mistake.

“He was such a joyful person and very easy to get along with,” Gotzkokozik said.

David Rozenson, who works with Moscow’s Jewish community, said he met Akimov in July while the two were attending a Jewish studies conference in the Uzbek town of Samarkand.

Rozenson recalled how he took a walk with Akimov through Samarkand’s ancient Jewish quarter.

“I have rarely met someone who was as enthusiastic and serious about Jewish studies as he was. He really was a very special kid. He told me his dream was to become a professor in Jewish history,” Rozenson said.

Akimov was on his way toward that goal, having won a full-tuition scholarship and a special stipend for his studies from the Jewish Agency for Israel.

Even before Akimov’s death became known, all major Russian Jewish leaders had condemned the bombing.

“Like all Russians, Jews are expecting that the authorities would successfully fight terrorism that is killing both Jews and non-Jews,” said Yevgeny Satanovsky, president of the Russian Jewish Congress.

Many drew parallels between the Moscow blast and acts of terrorism taking place around the world.

“This attack was even more terrible when you don’t know where it will happen next time — in Jerusalem, in Moscow or in New York,” said Boruch Gorin, spokesman for the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia.

“We Jews know too perfectly what is terrorism,” Berel Lazar, one of Russia’s two chief rabbis, said in a statement. “Russia is facing the same threat that our people in Israel have had to fight for decades.”

Akimov’s body will be flown to Uzbekistan for burial later this week.

Since Akimov did not have a Russian passport, it remains unclear whether his parents — who live in Uzbekistan — will receive compensation the city of Moscow is paying to victims’ families.

But a Jewish group said it would help the family.

Motya Chlenov, director of the Moscow office of the World Congress of Russian Jewry, said his group will provide financial help to Akimov’s parents.

The money will be taken out of a fund established earlier this year to help young Russian Israelis who have suffered injuries and psychological trauma from Palestinian terrorist attacks.

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