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3 Sep, 2009 16:14

Memorial services mark Beslan siege

It is five years since the school siege in the Russian town of Beslan came to an end with a bloody battle. The third of September marks the end of the three-day siege.

The public is heading to the destroyed school to light candles and say goodbye to their loved ones. At 13:05 Moscow time, white balloons were released into the skies above Beslan. Locals say they will represent the innocent souls of the children who died in the school siege.

Commemoration services will also continue at the City of Angels: Beslan’s cemetery, which is the final resting place of over 200 children.

September 3 is the hardest day of the commemoration services, because it was on that day five years ago when Russian special forces entered the building after the terrorists inside the school started setting off explosives and killing those they held captive for over three days with no food or water.

For many parents who had been waiting outside and praying, on this last day of the siege hope died with many of their children.

The siege lasted for three days, and resulted in the deaths of 331 people, 186 of them children. The youngest victim was only 2 years old.

Today, on September 3, commemorations services were held around Russia and in many other countries.

In Moscow, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, while addressing officials in the government house, acknowledged the event that happened in Beslan five years ago and observed a minute of silence.

The commemoration services are being held in several places throughout Moscow. Many have gathered in front of the theater building where 800 hostages were held by 40 to 50 Chechen terrorists in October 2002, and over 170 people eventually lost their lives.

Survivors recall…

Zalina Badoeva considers herself lucky. Five years ago, her daughter Nadya survived the Beslan school siege.

“I don't know how she made it. She was nearly killed several times,” Zalina recalls.

“First in the sports hall, they made her sit right by a terrorist with grenades. Then, in the canteen, another terrorist told her to stand in front of a window or he'd kill her. She told him to shoot – and god only knows why he didn’t.”

On September 1, armed attackers took more than a thousand people hostage in Beslan’s School Number 1. Held at gunpoint for over three days, the children, parents and teachers were denied food and water.

Some were shot straight away, with the remaining hostages forced to sit next to decomposing bodies and drink their own urine. On September 3, an accidental shot from outside is thought to have alarmed the terrorists. Explosions then rang out, and the exchange of gunfire began.

When Russian special forces entered the building, they killed most of the terrorists, laying down their own lives as they tried to save the children.

Nadya was rescued – but another girl next to her was fatally wounded: Marianna Ramonova, who was the oldest child in her family.

When she died, her father Kaspolat gave up his job with the Ossetian customs service and moved to live and work as a caretaker in the City of Angels cemetery. In five years he has only left it a handful of times for just a few hours. Kaspolat says the children who lie there have become his own.

“I know them all. Their mothers, they always tell me: ‘You take care of our babies for us, you're the only one we trust – please don't ever leave them.’ Where would I go, anyway? My Marianna is here. She was so kind, so smart. She wanted to be a doctor so she could look after me when I get old.”

Kaspolat says the Beslan mothers turn to him for support, even when they lose the will to live.

“One day, a mother came to me and said ‘you know all about weapons – make me a suicide vest and send me wherever you want.’ What do you say to something like that?” Kaspolat wonders.

“Then another came, and another. Finally, I told them: ‘if you do that, it’s suicide and a sin, so God won't let you be with your children.’ That's their worst fear.”

Kaspolat takes care of all those who lie here, bringing them gifts on their birthdays, and making sure they always have water.