Trauma for Russian crash relatives
UFA, Russia -- Relatives of the 69 Russians killed in a mid-air collision over Germany are preparing to visit the crash site.
About 150 family members and officials from the small Russian republic of Bashkortostan, where most of the 45 children who died were from, are awaiting passports and visas so they can make the trip on Thursday or Friday.
The children were part of the republic's elite -- talented young academics, sportsmen or artists who were on their way to a holiday in Spain as a reward for their hard work.
Some families lost all their children in the crash. Parents, grandparents, husbands and wives began gathering in the small town of Ufa, east of Moscow in the Ural Mountains, as news of the crash broke.
Venera Gardelishina, aunt of 14-year-old Svetlana Tukayeva, was one of those who arrived at the government building, which is being used as an emergency centre.
She said: "She was a good girl. She was good at sports, good at everything.
"Before she went, she gathered all the pictures together of the whole family and we were going through them together. It was as if she sensed something would happen."
The girl's mother, Gardelshina, "simply cannot move, she is in shock," the aunt added.
Mikhail Startsev, grandfather of a 14-year-old girl, said: "She was the only child in the family, and her father loved her more than anybody.
"We will never manage to overcome this tragedy."
Among the dead were three members of one family, government employee Irina Savchul and her teenage son and daughter.
Many relatives have given up hope of bringing home their children's bodies, and some want the victims placed in a common grave, Reuters news agency quoted Russian television as saying.
Some have been receiving counselling from doctors and psychiatrists at hand at the emergency centre.
"All the relatives were in complete shock. We came here as soon as we heard about it," said Dr. Rashidam Yusupova, the assistant chief doctor.
Bashkortostan's Deputy Prime Minister Khalyaf Ishmuratov told The Associated Press: "They just want to see the place where (their children) spent their last moments.
"They want to take at least a piece of the soil that could contain even one drop of blood."
Three days of mourning have been declared in the republic and flags are flying at half-mast.
Some of the 1.5 million population have been attending church services.
Relatives of the dead are angry at suggestions the Russian pilots of the Bashkirian Airlines passenger plane may have been to blame.
Dina Itkulova, sister of 46-year-old pilot Murat Itkulov, told Reuters: "My brother's English was not impeccable, but he has a very good knowledge of it and I am not just talking about a few phrases.
"I think it's a bit premature for the Swiss to blame the Russian side. I was a bit upset by that."
All 45 children and their four adult escorts were killed in the plane collision, which also claimed the lives of the Russian Tu-154 jet's 12 crew members.
It was originally feared that 52 of the passengers had been children.
Instead, seven other passengers and a representative of the Moscow travel agency organising the trip were onboard.
Bashkirian Airlines said part of the children's group did make it to Spain over the weekend on another airliner.
The children who died had missed their initial flight when they went to the wrong airport and had to take an alternative flight on Monday.
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