Moscow Under Attack

Every time some disaster hits the Moscow subway, I remember that Soviet propaganda used to call this the most beautiful subway in the world.

Incredibly, in this one case, it wasn’t lying: Moscow subway stations are marble palaces with pillars, mosaics and statues of happy swimmers and oarswomen.

Despite all this decoration, I was afraid of the subway as a child. I felt that there was some hidden terror in the gap between the sparkling stations and the dark noisy tunnels with their all-too-obvious symbolism.

Most of my life has been spent along the same subway line. Its official name is Frunzenskaya, but since Muscovites nickname their subway lines according to their color on the map, everybody just calls it Red Line.

This morning when I made my way to the nearest station, Park Kultury, I heard sirens and saw fire trucks, ambulances and police cars near the entrance.

“What the hell is that?” my wife asked. I got my iPhone and read the news.

“It’s an explosion at the Lubyankya station,” I told her. “Forty minutes ago.”

“We must have had a second one,” she said. She was right: five minutes later, the news agencies reported an explosion inside Park Kultury.

Moscow, understandably, was in a panic. Monday was the first day after spring break. The Beslan school hostage crisis of 2004 took place on the first day after summer vacation.

Out of the panic came conspiracy theories. It was said that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was starting his next presidential campaign. After all, his rise to power in 1999 began with his fierce response to a series of explosions that destroyed Moscow apartment buildings. Others said the explosions had been set by Mr. Putin’s foes, using a terrorist attack to rock the boat. The majority blamed Chechens and Islamic terrorists.

In addition to the political conspiracy theories, the explosions carried symbolic force: the first station to be bombed was near the former K.G.B. building. “Lubyanka” is an informal term for state security and the symbol of Soviet state terror.

I don’t know why nobody has thus far pointed out that Park Kultury — the Park of Culture and Recreation — is a symbol of the Grand Totalitarian Style, the almost joyous aesthetic of Stalin’s era, represented by those statues of happy swimmers and oarswomen in the station.

In fact, Park Kultury and Lubyanka are two sides of the Soviet epoch. The contrast between them represents the gap between the marble stations and the dark tunnels that frightened me.

Of course, this analogy is the same rubbish as most conspiracy theories ….

I am writing about the history of the Moscow subway, my childhood, the two sides of the Soviet epoch because I don’t want to think about the dead and injured, about their loved ones, their families.

In the end, nobody knows who is responsible for this attack. They have simply reminded Muscovites: Evil exists, and horror is always right beside you.

Tomorrow, we will wake up and live with these truths. At least, until we forget them again, as we have many times before.

Sergey Kuznetsov, the author of the novel Butterfly Skin.