ST. PETERSBURG, Russia – Some of the regulars coming into the Lesnoy restaurant in northern St. Petersburg this week weren't there to eat, but to leave flowers at the black-framed photos of two women who used to work there.
Yelena Domashnyaya, 24, and Kseniya Ogorodova, 33, were among the 224 people who died when their plane crashed for unknown reasons in Egypt's Sinai peninsula as it was bringing back holidaymakers from the sun and sea of Sharm-al-Sheikh to St. Petersburg.
Domashnyaya, an aspiring model, had left her job as a restaurant manager recently, but she remained close to Ogorodova, a bartender, and the two had decided to take a vacation together.
"Both girls were kind, calm, cheerful and nice. I think I've never seen Kseniya without a smile on her face. Why did it happen to them?" said Yelena Musakova, the restaurant's director, who was dressed in dark mourning clothes Tuesday.
"The girls worked here for several years, and though Yelena left our restaurant a short while ago she stopped by regularly to see her friends here. Our team is like a family and the girls were a part of this family. They often went for a vacation together," she said.
Musakova said the staff at the restaurant, which serves Russian and Caucasian cuisine and holds shows and concerts in its richly decorated interiors, found out about the plane crash when the barman switched on the TV as he began his shift Saturday.
"When we realized the girls were on that plane we still didn't want to believe it and hoped they missed the registration for the flight for such thing had happened to them once before," she said.
Adelina Mikhailova, a manager, said both of the women recently graduated from university.
"They combined their studies with work. Kseniya graduated from journalism department of Business and Politics Institute. She joked she did it to write articles about our restaurant," Mikhailova said.
Mikhailova said Ogorodova's husband Ivan usually went on vacation together with his wife and her female friends but this time he didn't go.
Lazar Emanuilov, a co-owner of the restaurant, said all the company's team was extremely sorry about losing the girls.
"Everyone loved the girls. They were so young," he said.
Emanuilov said that although the five-million city of St. Petersburg seems to be big, many of his acquaintances have told him about their neighbors or friends who died in the plane crash.
"In the end it turns out it's a small city where many people know each other. Everyone has tears in their eyes these days," he said.