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Life after the Beslan School Siege (Part B)
With television crews covering the siege 24 hours a day, the world watched the events unfold in shock and disbelief. Since then, humanitarian aid has poured into this sleepy little town -- bicycles from Italy, clothes and shoes from the United States, toys from western Europe. The Bulgarian government has offered children who survived the siege holidays in its Black Sea resorts.
But what's really needed is psychological help for the surviving hostages and for the families of those who were killed. There's been a good response to the local Red Cross's recent appeal for volunteers to train as counsellors. Nurses and teachers in Beslan, desperate to help in any way they could, are now visiting some of the hundreds of families who lost their sons and daughters.
But it's a small project and many of the survivors are still struggling to cope without any help. Also, for the most part the volunteers have been women. Alexander Jika is the only male counsellor with the Red Cross. In this traditional culture, Alexander tells me, men find it very difficult to talk about their problems with women.
"To begin with, so few men survived the attack," he says. We're sitting in his rickety car, which he drives between the three or four families he visits every day. Of the 30 or so men held hostage, the majority were taken away and shot on the first day. "Men from the south, from the Caucasus region, are macho, strong. Alexander says, “We're protectors by nature, we know we must defend our wives and our children at whatever cost."
So for Valera, forced to lie face down in the rubble as children screamed and died all around him, the guilt and the rage he now feels are all-consuming. In some ways, it's been easier for the mothers because they've supported each other in their grief, Alexander says. But for the handful of men who witnessed the horrors that went on inside School number 1, it's been almost too much to bear.
I ask Valera about the man standing trial, the only hostage-taker the Russian authorities say survived the siege. Valera shakes his head. His eyes dart about the room -- he can't concentrate on anything for more than a few seconds. "I wouldn't trust myself to go down to the court," he says. "I know his face, I looked at it for more than three days. If I saw him again I probably end up killing him with my bare hands for what he did, for what they all did to those children."