Three days of commemorations to mark six years since the Beslan school siege got underway on Wednesday in Russia's Republic of North Ossetia. More than 300 died in the massacre led by Chechen militants in 2004.
On September 1, 2004, a group of armed militants seized Beslan’s School Number One and held more than 1200 people hostage for three days. Three hundred and thirty four people, including more than 180 children, lost their lives in the massacre.
In memory of the terrible events, people gather these days to remember the victims of the tragedy. They lay flowers and light candles at the memorial which was once the school’s gymnasium and the place where the hostages were holed up for three days.
“A man was killed right in front of us. Shot from a gun,” remembers Alla.
“His body lay there bleeding throughout the entire three days. I think he used to work in the school,” Luiza recalls.
Both girls were hoping to start first grade but instead, along with over a thousand other people, they were held at gunpoint for three days by a group of armed men, rigged with explosives.
Children, parents and teachers all went through a terrifying ordeal which shocked the world. Several people were killed straight away. Many were forced to drink their own urine.
On the third day of the siege a random shot is thought to have alarmed the terrorists. Subsequent explosions rang out and an exchange of gunfire began.
Special forces stormed the building, prepared to lay down their lives to save the children.
Most of the terrorists were eliminated, but by that time over 300 innocent lives had been lost.
Susanna Dudiyeva's son and niece were killed in the attack. She now heads the Mothers of Beslan Committee – an organization founded to ensure the memory of the tragedy is never forgotten, with the site of the horror now a memorial.
“Visiting this school changes people and their views on life forever. They start looking at it from a different perspective. They start loving and cherishing one another,” Susanna says.
The attack brought a huge international reaction, with sympathy and help offered from around the world. Many of the survivors went through rehabilitation in other parts of Russia and in Europe.
Despite the brave battle for recovery for those whose lives changed forever that day, it will be a long time before September 1 once again becomes a celebration of the new school year echoing to the music of children’s laughter in Beslan.
The terror act in Beslan was the worst thing possible because children were held hostage, believes Viktor Kamyshanov, the President of the International Federation for Peace and Conciliation based in Russia.
“Many children who could bring a lot of positive things to our country – they had been killed, and it means it was a common failure for all people,” Kamyshanov said.
“What happened in Beslan is a clear demonstration that people have to unite their efforts in the fight against terrorism.”