15 years on, Beslan terror attack survivors and their rescuer reunite at the school
The Beslan School attack is still the deadliest act of terror Russia has ever seen. Fifteen years on, RTD meets survivors who face the daily challenge of coming to terms with an event that tore their lives apart. The three-day hostage crisis remains infamous not just because of its unequalled death toll, with 334 killed, but because so many of the victims were children.
On 1 September 2004, pupils, teachers and families gathered to celebrate the start of a new year at School Number 1 in Beslan, Northern Ossetia, a region in the Russian Caucasus. Radical Islamists from neighbouring Chechnya took 1,127 children, relatives and staff hostage. They were held without drinking water in suffocating heat in the school sports hall, which was packed with explosives. A number of the captured men were executed. On the third day of the siege, time appeared to be running out. Security forces surrounding the compound stormed the building to rescue the victims. Many exhausted hostages died in the chaos of bullets, explosions and fire, or in the aftermath.
The children are now grown up, caught between unending grief for lost loved ones and a determination to lead worthwhile lives. For Irina Gurieva, who was starting in second grade at the time, life is split between ‘before' and 'after' the terror attack. Dzerassa Kyudzaeva, the seven-year-old girl, chosen to ring the first bell of the school year, now tries to live “for 334 people”. Fatima Dzgoeva, who was severely disabled in the attack, fights hard every day to keep her body working.
For the rescuers too, time has taken its toll. At Moscow's Arkhangelsk military cemetery, the section where officers involved in the Beslan siege are buried is filling up. The soldiers still alive must live with their memories. Vitalii Demidkin spent 27 years with “Spetsnaz”, or special forces, but despite having served in several hot-spots, he sees Beslan as the most horrific mission of his career. He still feels survivor’s guilt towards his brothers-in-arms who died in the operation to free the hostages. He has never returned to the school; until now.
Many survivors prefer to avoid publicity, but for some, talk about the events proves helpful. Former child hostages and rescuer agree to accompany RTD and go back to the school, now turned into a shrine, to relive those three terrible days, and at last, to meet in person.