September 1 is traditionally the day that children throughout Russia celebrate their first day of classes. Neatly dressed children offer flowers to their teachers and gather in the school's courtyard to listen to the first school bell.
But in Beslan, the day was marked by the toll of mourning bells.
MORE: Coverage in Russian from RFE/RL's Russian Service.
The first day of classes in Beslan has been moved to September 5 to let this small Caucasus town mourn the more than 330 children, parents, and teachers who died in the siege of school No. 1 two years ago.
Beslan residents today filed through the ruins of the school's gym where, two years ago, more than 1,100 people were taken hostage by armed militants demanding the withdrawal of Russian troops from Chechnya.
Mourners lay flowers and wreaths and lit candles in memory of those who died in the battle that broke the siege two days later, on September 3, 2004.
RFE/RL's Russian Service correspondent Oleg Kusov said that emotions in Beslan were very high today. "Women are crying, some are on the verge of breakdown, I hear screams. Beslan residents have asked that no large-scale events be organized, that these days be a time of mourning," he said.
The gutted school is a grim testimony to the blasts, gunfire, and blaze that erupted on the third day of the siege, when Russian security forces launched a chaotic raid.
A video presentation on a UNESCO project to help survivors cope: Real Player, Windows Media.
RFE/RL's correspondent said the school has been left virtually untouched since the tragedy: "It is still closed, only the gym is open. Otherwise the school has kept all the traces of the raid of September 3, 2004. The windows are still smashed, the roof is shattered. The school is surrounded by wreaths that have been brought from many different countries."
Also today, a monument to the security forces who were killed in the standoff with the hostage takers was unveiled at a Beslan cemetery.
Commemorations will run until September 3. They will include a memorial concert by Russian musical luminaries, a minute's silence, and the release of white balloons -- one for each victim of the siege.
Meanwhile in Moscow, city authorities on August 31 caused outrage by turning down a request by human rights activists to hold a rally on September 3 in Moscow in honor of the Beslan victims.
Svetlana Gannushkina, the leader of Russia's Civic Assistance human rights group, said that the authorities don't want to draw attention to this event.
"The commission that officially investigated the Beslan situation has not made objective conclusions and has not established who was responsible for the deaths of the people. The authorities are not interested in letting people speak a lot and speak loudly about Beslan now," Gannushkina said.
Distrust toward the government over Beslan remains strong. An opinion poll by the Levada Center this week showed that only 5 percent of Russians believe the authorities are telling the truth about what happened in Beslan.
Survivors and relatives of victims have warned Russian officials to stay away from the commemorations. Many say their grief is only worsened by what they see as a campaign by officials to hide the truth and evade responsibility.
WILL THE TRUTH BE KNOWN? As the second anniversary of the Beslan tragedy neared, Duma Deputy Yury Savelyev, a member of the official investigating committee, issued a 700-page report that veers sharply from the official explanation...(more)