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Ten Years After Beslan, Memories Still Fresh

On September 1, 2004, Chechen and Ingush militants stormed an elementary school in the town of Beslan in the Russian republic of North Ossetia. Surging through the back-to-school crowds, the militants took 1,100 teachers, children, and relatives hostage, holding them for more than two days and demanding the withdrawal of Russian forces from Chechnya. On the third day, a series of explosions ripped through the building, igniting fires and sparking a deadly gun battle between the militants and Russian security forces. More than 330 hostages died in the violence. A decade later, correspondent Tom Balmforth and photographer Diana Markosian traveled to Beslan to speak to survivors still grappling with the memories of the loved ones they lost.

At School No. 1, portraits of more than 300 victims hang in the gymnasium where 1,100 children, parents, and teachers were held hostage for 52 hours. The school stands in ruins, and the room itself has been largely untouched since 2004. Bullet holes and haunting inscriptions of "we remember" adorn the walls; there is a charred gym ladder to one side and blackened basketball hoops at either end. An Orthodox cross has been placed in the middle of the gym floor, surrounded by freshly opened bottles of water left to commemorate the captives, who endured over two days in fierce summer heat with almost no water. Residents continue to bring teddy bears, model cars, and other toys in memory of the 186 children who were killed here.  
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At School No. 1, portraits of more than 300 victims hang in the gymnasium where 1,100 children, parents, and teachers were held hostage for 52 hours. The school stands in ruins, and the room itself has been largely untouched since 2004. Bullet holes and haunting inscriptions of "we remember" adorn the walls; there is a charred gym ladder to one side and blackened basketball hoops at either end. An Orthodox cross has been placed in the middle of the gym floor, surrounded by freshly opened bottles of water left to commemorate the captives, who endured over two days in fierce summer heat with almost no water. Residents continue to bring teddy bears, model cars, and other toys in memory of the 186 children who were killed here.
 

Amina Kachmazova stands in the cafeteria of School No. 1. She was just shy of her 8th birthday when she went to school on September 1, 2004. She walked there with two teenage neighbors, Lyalya and Alina. When the hostages were forced into the gymnasium, she had no relatives with her. She remembers the militants executing a man at the front of the hall to warn everyone to be quiet. Before those days, Amina had never heard of an "explosion." But by the end, she had lost an eye in the blasts that rocked through the room on the third day. Lyalya and Alina were killed. Ten years later, Amina is studying international relations at a university in Vladikavkaz. She laughs easily; she says she loves life. 
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Amina Kachmazova stands in the cafeteria of School No. 1. She was just shy of her 8th birthday when she went to school on September 1, 2004. She walked there with two teenage neighbors, Lyalya and Alina. When the hostages were forced into the gymnasium, she had no relatives with her. She remembers the militants executing a man at the front of the hall to warn everyone to be quiet. Before those days, Amina had never heard of an "explosion." But by the end, she had lost an eye in the blasts that rocked through the room on the third day. Lyalya and Alina were killed. Ten years later, Amina is studying international relations at a university in Vladikavkaz. She laughs easily; she says she loves life. 

Time has stood still in Oksana Kokova's bedroom. Her father, Ruslan, likes to keep her door open. Oksana managed to escape after the explosions on the third day, but she returned to the school to help the younger children flee. She was killed in the process. Oksana was talented at sports, and loved karate and knitting. Living alone with her father and older brother, she had become accustomed to taking care of the house. She was friendly and talkative; she liked to take charge. Oksana was 15 years old. 
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Time has stood still in Oksana Kokova's bedroom. Her father, Ruslan, likes to keep her door open. Oksana managed to escape after the explosions on the third day, but she returned to the school to help the younger children flee. She was killed in the process. Oksana was talented at sports, and loved karate and knitting. Living alone with her father and older brother, she had become accustomed to taking care of the house. She was friendly and talkative; she liked to take charge. Oksana was 15 years old. 

"I feel like she is still with us," says Ruslan Kokov, 63. Ruslan was at the market when Oksana walked across the road to school, never to return. On her birthday, Ruslan and his son, Uruzmag, 27, always lay a place for her at dinner. They eat the foods she liked: melon, persimmons, blood oranges. Ruslan is pictured here standing in front of his house on Komintern Street. School No. 1 is clearly visible from his front room. Russian special forces were staked out there during the siege; during the final gun battle, bullets shattered his two front window panes. Ten years later, Ruslan hasn't gotten around to fixing them. "When I come across something that reminds me of the tragedy, it just upsets me unnecessarily," he says.
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"I feel like she is still with us," says Ruslan Kokov, 63. Ruslan was at the market when Oksana walked across the road to school, never to return. On her birthday, Ruslan and his son, Uruzmag, 27, always lay a place for her at dinner. They eat the foods she liked: melon, persimmons, blood oranges. Ruslan is pictured here standing in front of his house on Komintern Street. School No. 1 is clearly visible from his front room. Russian special forces were staked out there during the siege; during the final gun battle, bullets shattered his two front window panes. Ten years later, Ruslan hasn't gotten around to fixing them. "When I come across something that reminds me of the tragedy, it just upsets me unnecessarily," he says.

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