The Katsanovs and Ambalovs of Beslan

© UNICEF/ HQ05-1354/Bezhaeva
Zalina Katsanova holds a photograph of her daughter, Alana, who was killed during the siege. This photograph was taken by Malvina Bezhaeva, age 16, one participant in the UNICEF-organized photography workshop.

By Toma Kadiyeva, age 18

These two stories about the impact of the Beslan school siege on two families – the Katsanovs and the Ambalovs – were written by 17-year-old Tamara Kadieva, who interviewed both families during UNICEF’s photography workshop in Beslan in July 2005. The stories have been translated directly from the original Russian into English with very little editing, leaving the voice of the young author clear and distinct.

BESLAN, Russian Federation, 29 August 2005 – Deeply scarred are the hearts of the people who had to go through the ordeal, and feel all the pain and bitterness of the mournful days hanging over Beslan. Everyone keeps asking one and the same question: ‘Why?’

However, life goes on. But just when it seems the wound may begin to heal, it starts bleeding again.

The Katsanovs, who used to be such a happy and united family, did not avoid the misfortune of those days. The family consisted of mom Zalina, daddy Murat and two sisters – Irina and Alana. Today, there are only three of them left. The tragic events have taken away Alana, age 15.

“That day no one could foresee any disastrous developments coming. On the contrary, everything and everyone was so happy and joyful,” Alana’s sister Irina recollects with a sad heart.

© UNICEF/ HQ05-1326/Pogrebnoy
Lena Ambalova and her daughter Lera, 8, sit in their home in the town of Beslan. Along with Lena's son Marat, they are former hostages of the siege. This photograph was taken by Aleksandr Pogrebnoy, 14, also a former hostage.

The two sisters had been different since their early childhood days. Irina was a quick, smart and slightly stubborn child, while Alana was her opposite – very sensitive and vulnerable. Irina finds it extremely difficult to live without her dear sister Alana.

A year has elapsed since that tragic day, but Alana’s mother still finds it impossible to believe that her daughter is no longer with her.

“It seems to me that the door will open any minute now and my dearest Alana will rush into the room saying “Mom, I’m at home!” Zalina says sadly, and still looks hopefully at her favourite daughter’s picture.

Though she was still very young, she already possessed huge affection and tenderness that she readily shared with all those around her. She would never pass by her mom without hugging her and telling her a kind word…Alana was like a ray of sunlight shining in darkness!

“You have an exceptionally talented and smart girl,” a primary school teacher said to Alana’s mother when she brought her to school for the first time. The girl loved school. She made many friends very quickly. Even in that hell, in that sweltering heat, suffering from thirst, she kept smiling, encouraging and cheering up those who happened to be next to her in the school gym. But dirty hands cut short the life of that young joyful person. They destroyed the beautiful dreams of a happy family.

The family has been trying to survive, strong in their belief that some day, the sun would come out and no one would have to go through what they had to experience.

The Ambalovs

In spite of the horrible ordeal, some families of those who were taken hostage survived. The Ambalovs are one such family. On that September morning, Vitaly took his wife Lena and their two children, Valeriya and Marat, to school and continued on to work. Later on, Lena and her two children were taken hostage.

“Those three days were extremely difficult for us. I feared for the life of my children. My own life seemed to be of no importance any longer,” Lena recalled.

Up to the third grade, daughter Valeriya had attended a different school. However, Lena decided that School No.1 was a better school and so moved her there. The new school was not to Valeriya’s liking, and she did not want to go there, as she had left behind her friends and favourite teachers at the old school. But somehow or other that morning they set off for the new school taking five-year-old Marat to accompany them.

“Everyone was in a festive mood, no one felt anxious. It all happened so quickly that at first, I couldn’t even understand how we found ourselves in that awful gym,” Lena said in a trembling voice.                           

While Lena and her children, like all the other hostages, were suffering from thirst and suffocating in the terrible stifling hall, Vitaly was helpless outside and beside himself with worry. Today all the emotional stress that he went through during those days has had its effect on him – he has suffered, but survived a heart attack.

But, to the joy of everyone, Lena, Valeriya and Marat escaped from captivity safe and sound. The children are gradually overcoming all their fears and anxiety. A trip to Israel and other places has helped them a lot.

Valeriya wants to go back to the old school. She says that she will never leave it for any other place. As for Marat, he is too young to want to go anywhere. He will start attending a kindergarten soon. When asked about his future, he responds that he wants to become a hero to fight against evil people and protect his sister. At the end of her story, Lena said that she didn’t want anyone to endure the sufferings that they had to go through during those horrible three days.

“I am sure that if you ask today any person in Beslan, in North Ossetia, all over the world: ‘What do you want?’, they will all respond that they want PEACE. So, let’s build PEACE together and keep our children protected, as they are our future.”



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30 August 2005:
Dan Thomas reports on a UNICEF-sponsored photo exhibition by children to mark the anniversary of the Beslan massacre.

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26 August 2005:
One year later: Beslan's children speak out

Photo essay

The children speak out

Beslan 1 year later