The funeral of our sisters in Christ, the parishioners of the Church of the Great Martyr George the Victorious martyred on February 18 on Forgiveness Sunday, Lyudmila, Vera, Nadezhda, Irina, and Vera, was held in Kizlyar on Tuesday. Here we present several testimonies from the place of the tragic events about the farewell to the Kizlyar martyrs, what they were like in life, and about previously unknown details of the incident.
“In them we have acquired intercessors before the throne of God”
Fr. Paul Kalikin, rector of the Kizlyar Church of St. George:
Our parishioners who were loyal to Christ and strong in faith were killed: the cousins Lyudmila Georgieva Scherbakova and Vera Gavrilovna Morgunova, and Nadezhda Sergeevna Terliyan, Blessed Ira (Irina Sosikovna Melkomova), and Vera Sergeevna Blinnikova. Then we remembered that none of us so wept, forgiving one another at the Rite of Forgiveness, as they, whom the Lord called to Himself that evening through a martyric death.
On Sunday, when the service had just ended, and I went to take off my vestments, people started leaving the church. That’s when shots rang out…
Blessed Ira used to collect alms at the church. She always had bags with her, and much of what she was given she would share with other poor people. She started hitting the killer with these bags.
Then one of the Cossacks, Sergei Anatolievich Presnyakov, who was walking his elderly mother to the car, tried to draw the fire onto himself: He ran towards the attacker, trying to distract him, shouting, “Shoot me! Are you scared? You can only shoot at old women?”
During that time, we managed to gather the people back into the church. As soon as everyone was inside, the doors were shut. The priests placed everyone farther away from the windows.
I called the police but couldn’t get through because the people in the surrounding homes saw out their windows what was happening and immediately started calling the police, and, probably all the lines were congested. Then I called the first number from my list of incoming calls—just before the service the head of the Kizlyar Region Alexander Maximovich Pogorelov had called me to ask forgiveness.
I saw through a window how the killer was pulling on the door handles and broke inside. He had a completely crazed, glazed-over look.
Meanwhile, the church workers closed the remaining rooms downstairs. We asked everyone to lie on the floor in the church. The sacristan climbed the bell tower and started ringing the bells.
The bells probably scared the killer and he started leaving, still shooting. We saw him leave the church property, walking along the fence, still shooting. The police met him there. A shootout began. The killer was killed.
Since then, people have been coming, not just from our community and city, but also from all the surrounding communities, and even from the central provinces of Russia, to bid farewell to the dead.
Even before their bodies were brought to the church, our ruling hierarch—Archbishop Varlaam of Makhachkala and Grozny—was in St. George’s Church from early in the morning on Monday, praying together with all of us and helping to resolve the organizational issues. When they brought their bodies, he served a litiya. Then began the reading of the Psalter—everyone who was able took part in this, not just priests, but singers and parishioners too. People were coming day and night in a never-ending stream to bid farewell. They have brought a lot of flowers, and they’re still bringing flowers, now to their graves. It’s already dark, and people are still coming and coming—to pray and to honor the memory of the newly-departed.
Vladyka blessed for all those killed to be buried next to the church. Today, Tuesday of the first week of Great Lent, they were buried. The funeral started at 12:00 and lasted for an hour-and-a-half or two hours. About 5,000 gathered to bid farewell. The people were weeping.
We said goodbye to some very bright and active sisters of our community. They led many of their relatives and close friends to faith, to the Church.
Vera Gavrilovna Morgunova was her cousin; she didn’t have her own family and they lived together in one apartment, and together they passed away to the Lord. Vera was an employee of the regional administration and headed the Committee for War Veterans, Homefront Workers, and Labor Veterans of the Kizlyar Region. She was, like her cousin, always ready to help those who needed her. She was someone that everyone around here listened to. Her word was respected. Many parish questions, including urgent economic ones, were settled by Vera’s advice.
The cousins often went on pilgrimages together. They always took someone else with them in their car—they tried to share their joy. Vera usually drove. They would travel around the beautiful places of the Caucasus.
Nadezhda Sergeevna Terliyan, who was also murdered that night, headed the church’s pilgrimage service.
I remember, when I had just been appointed as rector in August last year, I had a feeling of indecision—a new place, you know, and how will things go? I was then immediately surrounded here by parishioners, among whom were the sisters to whom we have bade farewell:
“Father, we won’t abandon you—we’re your helpers!”
They were always in prayer, in labors—caring for others. They took an active part in the life of the parish; you could often see them at work on the beautifying of the church territory.
Such unity is one of the signs of a real Orthodox community. Their deaths are a great loss for everyone.
All of the murdered sisters were always faithful helpers of priests in service to God and man.
As soon as they transferred me here, literally within two or three days, Blessed Irina came up to meet me.
“We’re going to be friends.”
Truly, she always found some kind word of support. There was so much warmth and love in her! Despite the fact that she roamed, she had no shelter, what concern she had for everyone!
She always asked, “How’s your family, how are your children?”
I hadn’t managed to move my children from Makhachkala to the new home yet, but when I brought them here for a service, she treated them to some kind of candy that had been given to her. She also spent the money she gathered on food for others.
Recently, on the Meeting of the Lord, one of our parishioners, running into Blessed Irina not far from the church, asked, “Irochka, how are you?”
“Good,” she answered.
“Where are you going?”
“I’m going to church.”
“There’s a service today?”
“And tomorrow too?”
“Yes,” and then, after a pause, she added, “You know, Pelagia Vasilievna, I’m going to leave you soon; I’m going very far and I won’t return here anymore.”
We recalled these words at their funeral…
When we buried our sisters, there was sorrow, but there was Paschal joy at the same time: We are all certain that the Lord has granted them the Kingdom of Heaven, and we, residents of Kizlyar, of the Republic of Dagestan, have acquired in them intercessors before the throne of God. You know, they were all lying there smiling. They were smiling exactly like a living person smiles: We didn’t lose our Paschal feeling when we looked at the departed. We all held on thanks to this Paschal joy. Christ is Risen!
“We lost a great friend, and you might even say—a mother”
Galina Alexandrovna Kim, Director of the Kizlyar Region administration:
I knew Vera Gavrilovna Morgunova very well. We didn’t just work together in the same building. She was always aware of what was going on in my family, was always interested in how my children were, my grandchildren, if they were healthy. She was such an attentive and kind woman. She participated in all the events we held in the region, and all of our citizens respected her. In a word, I don’t know anyone who isn’t calling, isn’t crying, isn’t worried and isn’t outraged right now by what was done, and all these events.
We lost a great friend, and you might even say—a mother.
She headed the Council for Veterans in our region; she was very active and energetic in general. Vera Gavrilovna was a deeply-believing Orthodox person and came to our church (there are two churches in our city) for all the Orthodox feasts. She organized pilgrimages to Orthodox places around Russia. She was constantly bringing Orthodox souvenirs and icons from these places for her administration employees and would give them to us as gifts. We all have these icons on our desks… Forgive me, I’m crying… She would often tell our employees about the meaning of Church feasts, and generally supported Christians.
Vera Gavrilovna was also one of the most active participants in the program for the stabilization of the situation in the region and of the city’s self-defense, when the terrorist Salman Raduev attacked Kizlyar in 1996. She very actively participated then in defense and was recognized for it with an award. She was a courageous person, of the greatest courage…
She didn’t have a husband or a family. She lived with her cousin, Lyudmila Georgievna Scherbakova. Her cousin died together with her. They lived harmoniously and always helped one another, they went to church together, and organized pilgrimages.
In short, she was always happy and kind, always in a good mood, and would always say, “For all of us, in Russia, and in Dagestan, everything will be alright.” May God grant her the Heavenly Kingdom! We will remember her always. We have four veterans of the Great Patriotic War remaining, and I can’t even imagine how hard it is for them. We lost half of ourselves…
“They were all among our best parishioners, every one of them”
Hieromonk John (Anisimov), secretary of the Diocese of Makhachkala and Grozny:
Nadezhda Sergeevna Terliyan was a physical education teacher for many years, and taught a course on volleyball in a children’s sports school. She was constantly organizing pilgrimages to Valaam, to Diveyevo. Last summer, thanks to her, we went to the relics of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker in Moscow.
Vera Gavrilovna Morgunova was the Deputy Head of the administration of the Kizlyar Region for many years. The last few years she sponsored veterans of the Kizlyar Region. She also was a very active and great helper for all the priests, and helped people a lot. Her cousin, Lyudmila Georgievna, was an honored doctor, and a person who also dedicated her entire life to people. I am from Kizlyar, and when my grandmother had a stroke, Lyudmila Georgievna treated her.
She was inseparable from her cousin in life, and they died together. They had left the church and were headed for their car (Vera Gavrilovna drove the car), and he started shooting at them.
And Irina Melkomova just always sat at the church asking alms. But when she saw this guy starting to shoot at Vera Gavrilovna and Lyudmila Georgievna, she pounced at him and started beating him with the bags that people would put money in. He shot her point blank. But during this time, they managed to close the doors of the church, and, perhaps, thanks to her, other people were saved.
That is how she revealed herself before death… They were all among our best parishioners, every one of them…