Beslan children ponder the future, and the past

© UNICEF Russian Federation/2005/Leifer
At Beslan School Number 6, Aslan, Sasha and Georgi remember the tragedy of last September.

John Varoli, a Moscow-based freelance journalist spent a week with UNICEF in Beslan talking to local children about their hopes and fears in the aftermath of last September’s tragedy. John has written for Bloomberg News, among others.

By John Varoli

BESLAN, Russian Federation, 3 March 2005 - Among the pleasant surprises in Beslan in the six months since the siege at School Number One have been the invitations for children to visit countries throughout Europe, North America and Russia.
These are not tourist excursions. Heads of state, pop stars, and the media wait in line to meet the children. Once back home, they happily show off photos showing them with prominent Russian and international personalities.

“The most important and exciting part is the journey itself,’’ Sasha Agayev says excitedly. Now that he has travelled abroad, he is considering leaving Beslan for good when he gets older.
“Wherever we went people treated us very well and welcomed us,’’ Aslan Yesinov says. “The town where we lived in Germany had clean streets and there wasn’t any garbage lying about.’’

When asked what needs to be done to improve life in Beslan, the children energetically put foward their ideas.

“I’d set heavy fines for those who pollute and litter,’’ says Aslan.

“I’d build an aqua-park and modern sports facilities,’’ pipes in Sasha, who is then cut off by the others.

The topic turns to current film.

“I like `Boomer,’’ said Sasha, referring to a new Russian film about gangsters.

“What’s `Boomer’ about?’’ I ask.

“Oh, it’s a typical Russian film where bandits are made into heroes,’’ Georgi Batayev answers before Sasha can.

Now that we’re talking about `bandits’ I bring up their ordeal. Their reactions confirm the continued need for the support being provided to traumatized children in Beslan, with UNICEF’s help.

© UNICEF Russian Federation/2005/Leifer
Sasha Agayev, aged 12, survived the siege of School Number 1
“Sometimes we remember [the hostage situation] with laughter,’’ Georgi bravely spoke first. “I was inside the school with a friend when we saw everyone going to the gym led by guys with guns.’’

“A lot of people thought it was just a drill,’’ added Aslan.

“I sat near two classmates… well, they died,’’ said Georgi, his voice suddenly trailing off as he made a gesture with his hands pointing to heaven.

“There was a girl sitting next to me, and when they handed out books so we could fan ourselves because it was really hot, she said to me, `I’m an optimist, and whatever will happen will happen,’ and then she sat there and started reading the book,’’ Madina Takoyeva said, tears coming to her eyes. “And I told her, `I’m an optimist too,’ and well… well… she died.’’

Their energy, lightheartedness, and teenage recklessness suddenly subsides. If before they gladly spoke about films and travel, now they sit quiet. After a few minutes, Madina breaks the silence.

“I sometimes think about the ones we’ve lost,’’ she sighs. “Our neighbours and classmates. We miss them.’’

“The streets in Beslan have become quiet,’’ joined in Sasha. “It seems more than half the street is gone; there aren’t that many children around anymore; no more sounds of children. Our city block seems so empty.’’

“There was a boy on our block who would always make a lot of noise,’’ says Madina.

“Yeah, he was always chasing after cats and dogs…’’ said Sasha.

Suddenly both become quiet, and the room grows tense. Tears start to role down Madina’s cheeks. Feeling embarrassed, she gets up and rushes out of the room.

“If people don’t ask us about [the school siege], we usually don’t think about it’’ braved Aslan. “Still, you can never forget it, but somehow you have to live on.’’



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