Russian hockey crash: Yaroslavl's pride in Lokomotiv

A fan throws a Lokomotiv Yaroslavl scarf onto a pile of flowers Image copyright AFP
Image caption Fans have built a shrine of flowers and team colours

This city is in shock, after the air crash that wiped out its highly successful hockey team.

Yaroslavl is not used to being in the news.

The irony is that this sleepy, provincial place would have featured in today's bulletins anyway, because of the political forum President Dmitry Medvedev is hosting here - at the ice hockey stadium, of all places.

But residents are horrified to see their town all over the TV and newspapers, for very different reasons.

For many of them, especially fans of Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, their spontaneous reaction was to don their hockey shirts or to grab a team scarf and head to the team's home, the Arena-2000 stadium.

We came across them on Wednesday night, on our way back from the scene of the crash.

Our car was brought to a standstill by a huge column of fans - more than 3,000, probably - marching from the arena to the city centre.

Most seemed to be very young - teenagers and people in their 20s. They walked along the main road, Moscow Avenue, to Red Square; where they held a vigil, lighting candles and standing near the city's Lenin monument.

The emotions of the crowd seemed to sway. Very quiet and lost in thought one minute, they also voiced their solidarity and defiance by chanting together.

"Loko is always alive, always will be alive," they declared. "Loko will be champion."

Raging at loss

At the crash site itself, we had found people in obvious shock. Onlookers gathered, watching silently as the procession of emergency teams and heavy machinery made its way to the river bank.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Lokomotiv Yaroslavl fans marched in solidarity to the city centre

A nearby village church rang its bell every 20 seconds, adding to the sombre atmosphere. I understand it kept ringing throughout the night.

Most people did not give much outward expression of their emotions.

But one young woman - she could have been a relative or girlfriend of one of the players - was raging against her loss. She shouted and swore.

As Transport Minister Igor Levitin arrived, she lashed out at the government.

"In China, such ministers are shot dead," she cried.

"In our country, this cheat would not even face the sack."

On Thursday morning, TV and radio were all discussing the crash.

Pundits compared it to a crash in 1979, when 17 members of the Pakhtakor Tashkent football team were killed. Apparently then, other teams across the Soviet Union donated players to allow the club to finish the season.

Last body

When we returned to the crash site in the morning, the emergencies ministry had set up what looked like a tented camp on the river bank.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Dmitry Medvedev added to the array of flowers at the scene

The tail of plane lay in the water, heavily damaged. Divers and boats teemed in the bend of the river where part of the Yak-42 jet ended up.

The last body was recovered as we watched - the 43rd. Two others survived but are in critical condition.

The front part of plane lay on the ground, 30m or so away from a group of summer cottages. It's not clear whether they were inhabited at the time.

The ground was burned, and potted with craters.

It was beside one of these craters that bunches of flowers had been arranged in a neat line.

As we stood there a government delegation arrived - the transport and emergencies ministers, and then President Dmitry Medvedev himself.

He lay his own bunch of flowers with the others, then stood, reflecting for a minute, staring at the wreckage, or at the river, or into the distance.

Later he spoke at length about the failings of the aviation industry in Russia.

Yaroslavl is the latest victim of a Russian air crash. For this city - very historic, but not very prominent these days - it is probably the biggest event in decades.

Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, who came third in the top division last season, were the pride of this city - for some, its major achievement. Now they will be forever linked to its worst modern disaster.

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