On First of May street, someone is weeping behind every door

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The Independent Online

Pervomaiskaya (First of May) Street is one of the longest in Beslan and runs parallel with the boundary of School Number 1. It suffered perhaps the heaviest loss of any street in the school siege. Most of its dead were children. All of the street's youngsters were pupils, who enjoyed a leisurely five-minute walk to class that cut across an unmade road and the town's railway line.

Pervomaiskaya (First of May) Street is one of the longest in Beslan and runs parallel with the boundary of School Number 1. It suffered perhaps the heaviest loss of any street in the school siege. Most of its dead were children. All of the street's youngsters were pupils, who enjoyed a leisurely five-minute walk to class that cut across an unmade road and the town's railway line.

The street has some 250 houses; solid red brick cottages with spacious yards, some with garages. Lined with cherry trees, limes and maples, it is usually tranquil. Geese waddle along its pot-holed surface, old men and women sit outside on benches and gossip under the bright Caucasian sun and before 1 September children played around them.

On 3 September, the day the siege was broken, Russian tanks rolled down Pervomaiskaya Street to take up positions at the back of School Number 1. Residents say the occasional stray bullet reached the street. Everyone hid in their basements. The force of the explosions that shook the school brought down some people's ceilings.

7 Zhukov Lane, a small turning off Pervomaiskaya Street

Ruslan Gapoev, 34, was the first of Beslan's residents to be killed. Hearing rifle and machine-gun fire from the school as the hostage-takers took over, he dashed home to fetch his shotgun. His wife Marina, 34, and daughter Zerassa, 6, were in the school. One September had been Zerassa's first day at school.

Sprinting to the school, he was confronted by the sight of fleeing children who screamed as they ran. Mr Gapoev opened fire on the hostage-takers, but was shot almost immediately. As he lay wounded on the pavement he raised his head and was finished off by a terrorist sniper with one shot to the head.

His body could not be retrieved and lay in the baking sun for three days, under the hostage-takers' guns. His neighbours and friends could get to within 30m but could do no more.

His friend Robert Soranov, a policeman, said yesterday: "He was the first guy who got killed and yet nobody has said he was a hero. He took his shotgun and tried to save his family. Contrast that with the pathetic behaviour of the authorities."

Mr Gapoev's six-year-old daughter was buried yesterday in Beslan's enormous makeshift cemetery. She was killed almost instantly when the explosives set by the terrorists in the school gym went off.

Relatives hunted for several days before her body was found one of the area's morgues. Relatives filed behind a small red velvet coffin to the by now familiar sound of sobbing and shrieking .

Scores of angry men gathered round an enormous caldron cooking fresh meat at her wake, chain-smoking and pouring scorn on North Ossetia's government. They said local officials were just as guilty in the deaths as the hostage-takers.

Mr Gapoev 's wife is in a hospital in Moscow in a critical condition with shrapnel wounds. His father Khariton is also in hospital; he suffered a heart attack when he learnt that his son had been killed.

101 Pervomaiskaya Street

Georgy Torchinov, 10, a bright boy dressed yesterday in a white polo-neck sweater, was among the hostages but escaped unscathed. He said: "When the first bomb went off I lay down on the floor and covered my head. When I stood up my jacket was badly burnt so I took it off and threw it on the floor. Everything around was red but I managed to crawl out of one of the windows."

Playing with a younger boy, Georgy's tone of voice is even and he tries to pretend that things are not so bad, before reeling off the names of six or seven of his classmates, boys and girls, who are all dead.

Elbrus, Goergy's father, said he could only be relieved. "He'll need psychological care of course but otherwise he is OK."

Georgy added off the hostage-takers: "Their behaviour got worse every day. You couldn't breathe, it was so hot. They didn't give us water so I pissed and drank my own wee.

100 Pervomaiskaya

Ira Dzagoev, 16, stood outside her family home in a black dress and black bandanna yesterday, staring listlessly into the distance. "I'm just surprised that I'm alive," she whispered. "I'm still in a daze."

Ira, one of the Dzagoevs' cousins, was a hostage. The Dzagoevs are a large family. Atzamas, the head of household is an insurance agent, while his wife Jana, 41, was a housewife. They had four sons, Tamik, 15, Albert, 20, Zaur, 18, and Chermen, 7.

On 1 September Jana took Chermen to school. Another relative, Irma, came along with a camera along to mark the occasion. Both Jana and Irma were killed in the explosions that rocked the gym.

Cherman said: "The terrorists had Snickers bars and raisins and on the first day they threw a few raisins to us; I cried. I wanted to eat but they didn't allow it. I was afraid. It was too hot, there were lots of people and we all had to sit on the floor.

"The roof fell in and we went through the windows. I ran with the others, found a policeman and my father ran to me. We went to hospital. When I was in the school the men there were horrible. One of them took me by the neck and pushed me roughly. He told me to move to a different place."

Jana's body has not yet been found; Chermen knows that she is dead but prefers to pretend she is not. "They have found her," he said yesterday from the saddle of his little bike. "She's in town, that's all."

Irma was a lab assistant. "She was a real beauty," a neighbour said yesterday under a blue cloudless sky.

95 Pervomaiskaya Street

Slavik and Medina Godjiev, a lorry driver and a teacher, are waiting to see whether their youngest son Kazik, 12, can recover from shrapnel wounds. He and his brother Amran, 15, were both held hostage. Kazik is in a hospital in Moscow, his skull fractured and his neck pierced by several pieces of shrapnel. Doctors have been unable to remove them for fear of causing brain damage.

Kazik Basiev, a cousin, squatted outside their house yesterday. He said: "Before children played in the street here but nobody plays here with any relish now. What is there to laugh and joke about after this?"

Amran said: "I was hanging out in the classroom when things kicked off. The terrorists are bastards. They spoke Russian but threw in the odd Arabic phrase; they were Chechen and Ingush. If you talked back to them they beat you. I personally saw two shakidkas (female suicide bombers).

"On the first day we stripped off because it was so hot. They smashed the taps so we couldn't drink and I fell asleep for one hour but I wouldn't really call it sleep. I changed places five times. I would try to go the toilet and when I came back place my place was taken.

"One man was shot and his body dragged into the centre of the gym to scare us. They took it away after a while but the bloodstains remained. He had tried to resist. They pulled him by his legs.

"We were packed in tight, on top of each other and were forced to sit beneath mines. I said if anything happens the explosives will go off and they'll kill us and said we should sit on the edge. My brother was sitting near a huge mine. I was just trying to rest my head when the first explosion went off. The ceiling crashed in and it got very hot.

"When we ran out they were shooting at us from behind and we were lucky that we weren't killed. The guy who was lying next to me in the gym, Alan Betrosov, [who was 16] was shot in the back. When children see images of what happened on TV it gives them nightmares."

90 Pervomaiskaya Street

Rustam Karaev, 18, was one of School Number 1's older pupils. He slept in on the first day of school, heard firing as he approached and turned back. He said: "Most of the children who died there were just 6 or 7. I am one of the lucky ones. They're going to turn the school into a monument so I'll have to find somewhere else to study now."

102 Pervomaiskaya Street.

Taimraz Sidakov, the father of Alan, 12, Yurok, almost 2, and German, 5, said: "I want to send my son to England or Italy."

Alan, who was held hostage, listened to his father silently, his arms covered in bandages where shards of glass had pierced them.

The youngster said: "I waited for the second explosion and then jumped out of the window. They didn't give us any water and the next thing I knew I was in hospital."

Taimraz is adamant that he wants Alan to leave Beslan for ever. "I don't want him to stay here any more. I see no future here.

I'm OK. I'm 47, and have lived half of my life but I want something better for Alan and now we have no government here." As he spoke the television behind him reeled off the long list of the names of the dead.

105 Pervomaiskaya Street

Taimuraz Tokaev's eyes were filled with tears yesterday. His wife Svetlana was a chemistry teacher at School Number 1 and he also had two daughters there; Medina, 9 and Fatima, 13. Medina is lying in hospital in nearby Rostov with serious shrapnel wounds; Fatima was unharmed.

"Medina has shrapnel wounds to her head and serious head injuries but they say she'll live, at least that's what they say," he said. After such a tragedy there are so many questions and I don't know who to put them to.

"How could such a huge quantity of innocent children be killed? The doors on this street have been left on the latch for days now. There are three or four funerals every day."

Looking around and peering from under his flat cap he points to dozens of houses where families have lost children. "Tragedy is not a strong enough word to describe all of this. So many people are still missing."

106 Pervomaiskaya Street

Dressed in a blue dressing gown and clutching a cordless phone, Valentina Khadartseva, is constantly on the verge of tears. Her face strains as she describes how her granddaughter, Amina, 8, was shot along with her son , 34.

"My son is in a very serious condition; he is completely paralysed on one side of his body. The main thing though is that he is alive."

Those last words bring a flood of tears to her eyes . Georgy tried to see what was going on after the school was seized and took his binoculars to take a look. However the lenses caught the sun and he was shot in the head by a terrorist sniper. He is now lying in a hospital in Beslan.

Amina is in Moscow in hospital in a serious condition. "She is in a plaster and can't get up. How can a child bear it? They are all suffering. Everyone knows everyone here. Everyone has the same sorrow. It was the biggest and most respected school in the town and had the best teachers."

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