Life after the Beslan School Siege (Part A)
In the Russian republic of North Ossetia, the only man to go on trial for the Beslan school siege, has been giving evidence in court. Nurpashi Kulayev has pleaded not guilty to charges including murder, terrorism and banditry.
More than three hundred people -- mostly children -- died in the siege last September.
Chloe Arnold has been meeting some of the survivors in Beslan and those trying to help them.
Valera Murtazov can't sleep at night any more. When he closes his eyes, all he can see are the faces of the hundreds of children, trapped in the gym at Beslan's school number 1, where they were held for three days without food and water.
"I try to block it out," he says. "I try to think about other things, like how lucky I am that my own three children survived. But their cries just keep coming to me, and I'm plagued with guilt that I couldn't save more of them."
We are sitting in Valera's kitchen, drinking tea and eating slices of salty white cheese. Next door, his mother is dusting photographs of her three grandchildren, who were among the hundreds of parents, teachers and children herded into the gym by gunmen that fateful day.
Valera's children aren't in Beslan any more. They've travelled to Moscow with their mother, to receive psychiatric treatment. The twins are five years old, and their elder sister is eight. All still have nightmares about what went on inside the school last September.
"Our twins weren't even supposed to be there," Valera says, shaking his head. “But they'd begged their parents to take them to the school on September 1st, the first day of the new school year. They wore their best clothes on what is traditionally a day of celebration in Russia, and the girls had ribbons in their hair.”
“There was an air of festivity as they approached the playground, which was hung with bunting and balloons. But moments later,” Valera remembers, “a group of masked men appeared, shouting and waving guns and ordering everyone into the gym.”
For the next 52 hours, the hostages were forced to sit on the ground, denied food, water and even the right to speak to each other. Valera recalls many of the parents begging their children to urinate into their shoes and then drink it, for fear they pass out in the stifling hall.