Ms Kesayeva published these horrifying photos of murdered children as there is still no justice for the victims of this heinous crime. The survivors and their relatives have continued to fight for a Law on the Status of Victims of Terrorism. Instead, Russia’s State Duma prefers to focus on laws against blasphemy and banning the adoption of Russian orphans by foreigners.
On 1 September 2004, the start of a new school year, pupils, parents, and teachers at School No.1 in the town of Beslan in North Ossetia were taken hostage by a group of terrorists. Later, Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev claimed responsibility for this atrocity. The representatives of Chechnya’s then-president, Aslan Maskhadov, immediately condemned the hostage-taking.
Alexander Dzasokhov, President of North Ossetia, and Ruslan Aushev, former President of neighbouring Ingushetia, tried to resolve the crisis through negotiations. Mr Maskhadov, engaged in a war with Russian forces, was ready to join the rescue headquarters. The attempted peaceful solution failed, however, when Moscow gave the order to storm the school on 3 September 2004.
Russian independent journalists Anna Politkovskaya and Andrey Babitsky were prevented from entering the crisis area. Ms Politkovskaya fell into a coma after she was poisoned on board a plane that was to take her to Rostov-on-Don on her way to Beslan. Mr Babitsky was taken away from Moscow’s Vnukovo airport after a provocation by FSB officers.
More than 1,100 people, mostly children, were taken hostage at the school in Beslan. Only 3 people managed to escape when terrorists started to round up the hostages in the schoolyard. The terrorists released 24 people as a result of mediation by Mr Aushev on 2 September 2004. The terrorists executed 17 men inside the school.
At 1pm on 3 September 2004, when troops stormed the school, there were 1,072 hostages in the school still alive. Of these, 284 were killed during the storming; the majority died in a fire that broke out after federal troops fired on the school building. Out of 788 survivors 10 died within a month after the siege. Another 3 died of their injuries in 2005 and 2006.
Altogether 331 people, including 318 hostages, died as a result of the hostage-taking and the storming of the school. Most of them were burnt alive. The total number of survivors was 802, including 775 who escaped the fire and the “friendly fire”, 24 people released by the terrorists, and 3 lucky ones who ran away on 1 September 2004.
The first explosions in the school occurred after the building was fired on by a mortar from the roof of the building across. When children started to flee through the holes in the walls, they were met with “friendly fire” from submachine guns and tanks. A fire started after an explosion of a thermal grenade in the school cellar.
The first explosion blew holes in the walls of the school gym where most of the hostages were being kept, resulting in a heavy draught. Because of this, the building’s wooden elements caught fire very quickly. Moreover, many people were burnt by melting plastic that was falling down on them. Two tanks of Russia’s 58th Army kept firing at the school building for an hour.
I asked Ms Kesayeva why she finally decided to publish these horrendous images. She replied: “We are too tired of being insulted by the authorities. Every year on 1-3 September, we congregate at School No.1 in Beslan. Every year, we hold a protest. Not because we want to be active or enjoy it, but because the authorities keep provoking us.”
Ms Kesayeva’s daughter was among the hostages; she was badly injured in the fire. She survived but the psychological trauma was heavy. Having being an excellent pupil before, she could not attend school in Beslan anymore. She managed to finish her studies only when she moved to a different area of Russia. Now, Ms Kesayeva’s daughter is a student at a medical academy.
Ms Kesayeva’s two nephews and her brother-in-law were killed in the school siege. The brother-in-law was one of the few men executed by the terrorists on the first day of the siege. The nephews were killed during the storming of the school. The elder managed to escape but when he noticed that the younger brother did not make it, he returned and was killed as well.
This year, Vladimir Putin — without whose orders the school would not have been stormed — did not even mention the tragedy. Instead, he visited another school to draw a sketch of a cat’s posterior on the chalkboard. Remember the children of Beslan when you speak about Putin as “President”; remember these children when you hear talk about Russia being “resurrected.”
These photos were not part of the official investigation into the school tragedy. These photos were part of an independent investigation by Ms Kesayeva’s organisation, Voice of Beslan. The association was assisted by Marina Litvinovich, Elena Milashina, Karinna Moskalenko, and others. The case is still pending at the European Court of Human Rights.
3 September 2013