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Russian Federation: Beslan -- one year on. The Pukhayev family

© UNICEF/ Mikhail Dzarasov/2005
This photo by siege survivor Mikhail Dzarasov, aged 13, shows the Pukhayev sisters looking at their photos with their aunt.

By Tamara Bagaeva, aged 18

This story of 12-year-old Madina Pukhayeva, who died in the Beslan school siege was written by 18-year-old Tamara Bagaeva. Tamara interviewed the Pukhayev family during the UNICEF’s photography and journalism workshop in Beslan in July 2005.  The story has been translated directly from the original Russian into English with very little editing leaving the voice of the young author clear and distinct.

Eight years ago, the family of Timur Pukhayev left their home in South Ossetia and moved to Beslan in North Ossetia. Timur and Marina had four children: Madina, Sarmat, Milena and Milana. Timur was a serviceman and had taken part in combat operations in Afghanistan, Abkhazia and Ingushetia. He knows only too well what a war is like, and he had to leave his home to give his family a chance to live in peace and tranquility.

After they moved to Beslan, their life went back to normal. Timur had a job, and his family did not have need of anything. Marina was busy bringing up her four children. “We used to have such a good time all together,” Marina was recalling. “We all started dancing each time  music was playing in the house”.

The Pukhayevs live on the city outskirts. Marina got her children enrolled at school No.1 - the nearest school to their place of residence.     

September 1, 2004 

On September 1, 2004, Marina helped her children, as usual, to get ready for school and accompanied them to attend school festivities traditionally arranged to celebrate the first day at school after a summer break. During the terrorist attack, one of senior school students helped Milana to escape. Marina and her other three children fell into the hands of the terrorists. Timur was at home at the time and when he found out that his family was in trouble, he rushed to the school building. Upon reaching the school grounds, he ran up to the school building to rescue his family. The terrorists opened fire and Timur was wounded. He pretended he was dead and stayed like that lying on the ground under the scorching sun all day long making no sign he was alive. God came to Timur’s rescue at night, when it started pouring with rain and one could hardly see anything within two meters. Timur was lucky and he managed to get away.

Losing Madina

During the next three days of siege, Marina and her children stayed together at the school gym. “At the last moment, immediately before the first explosion, I looked around and couldn’t see my eldest daughter Madina”, Marina said. After the explosion, she could see only her youngest daughter Milana. They started crawling in the direction of a school canteen where there was heavy chaotic fire, and bombs were exploding. Marina covered her daughter with her skirt to protect her from shrapnel. Finally, they escaped safely from the school building. Marina’s son Sarmat also managed to escape jumping from the gym window.

The Pukhayevs failed to find Madina, their eldest daughter, among the wounded. Neither did they find her among the dead. Timur traveled to Rostov, where identification of the dead bodies was conducted, and came back with a coffin carrying whatever was left of his beautiful daughter. During the funeral, the coffin was never opened. “The children kept asking me: “Why can’t we see Madina?” Marina recalls.

12-year-old Madina Pukhayeva was a beautiful, cheerful, affectionate and kind girl. She was a caring daughter and always helped her mom with household chores. “Adults used to say that she could become a model in the future, but Madina wanted to become a good doctor or a lawyer,” Marina said. She liked singing and dancing and enjoyed every minute of her life.

One year on

A year has passed since the Pukhayevs lost Madina. No matter what, her parents keep going on for the sake of their children, Sarmat, Milena and Malina. “I am grateful to God that I have other children”, Marina said. In September, the children will go to a new school building. They continue making plans for their future, though this time, they are a little bit different. Sarmat wants to become a police investigator to be able to protect the helpless and punish criminals. As to little Milana, she wants to be a primary school teacher. Marina and Timur allow their children to listen to music at home. “My daughter used to love music so much, and I want my children to listen to music and enjoy life while thinking about Madina,” Marina went on.

At the end of our conversation, Marina put on a song about their daughter which her husband wrote. The song is called “Madina, where are you?” They often listen to this song and remember Madina.

For more information:

John Brittain, Communication Officer, UNICEF Russian Federation,  tel: (+ 7095) 933 8818. Cell: (+ 7095) 761 6648. email:
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