`People want someone to blame and they chose me,' says Beslan head as she quits her school

FOR LIDIA Alexandrovna Tsaliyeva, Beslan's School Number One was a lifelong passion. Now 72, Mrs Tsaliyeva worked there for 52 years, more than half the time as its headmistress, and in her youth even studied there. But yesterday she told The Independent in a voice broken by stress that she had become an object of hatred for the school's grief-stricken parents and could no longer work at a place that has become a global symbol of terror.

When a new School Number One opens its doors on 1 September in a different part of town, a year to the day that the old one was seized by Chechen militants, Mrs Tsaliyeva will not be running it. Vilified and deluged with death threats, she resigned last week.

Despite passionately pleading with the hostage-takers not to harm her pupils and being badly injured herself, many of Beslan's tortured inhabitants have blamed her for the death of their children. Mrs Tsaliyeva insisted she was "whiter than white" but said she was resigning anyway: "People want someone to blame and they chose me."

She angrily rejected accusations that she unwittingly helped the Chechen militants who seized her beloved school.

Bereaved parents have accused her of hiring workmen to renovate the school "on the cheap" who allegedly stashed weapons for the militants beneath its floorboards.

It has also been claimed that she refused to share an apple with the starving children during the three-day siege and that she took tea with the terrorists after they had denied the hostages water. The children were left with no choice but to drink their own urine.

"I completely reject such accusations," Mrs Tsaliyeva said. "I am not guilty of anything whatsoever. Of course I forgive the people who make these accusations. I understand how difficult it is to lose someone you love."

Almost five months after the siege's bloody climax, in which 330 people were killed, more than half of them children, the school's blood-caked walls are still covered with venomous graffiti threatening Mrs Tsaliyeva. "Lida you are a bitch. Lida you are mistake of nature. We will kill you. How could you sell out other people's children? You betrayed our children," reads one scrawl.

Mrs Tsaliyeva, whose own sister lost an eye in the siege, says she is not fearful for her safety, and will stay in Beslan. "I'm not going anywhere. All my friends live here."

Feelings towards her are still running high.

A couple of weeks ago she joined a demonstration of victims' mothers demanding the resignation of the region's president, Alexander Dzasokhov, but it wasn't long before their fury turned on her. "It's her fault!" shouted one of the mothers. "She is to blame for the death of our children."

"I was there for no longer than two minutes when they surrounded me and some woman told me to go away," she recalled, her voice trembling with emotion. "There are still people that accuse me but the majority have understood."

But the graffiti, like the hatred refuses to disappear. "Every time someone cleans it off, some evil people daub the walls again."

Although her two grandchildren and nephew survived the siege practically unscathed, Mrs Tsaliyeva suffered serious burns and damage to her hearing. "My health is terrible," she says.

While she has plucked up the courage to visit Beslan's unnaturally full cemetery, she cannot bring herself to go back to the school. "It would be terrible to see my favourite school in such a terrible state," she says, adding that 19 of her 62 members of staff died in the siege.

"Every day, every second, every hour it is difficult to think about what happened. I have lost 10 kilograms and suffered so much. I suppose I always will."

A recently released video shows Mrs Tsaliyeva pleading for the children's lives. There is no evidence that the workmen she hired were the militants' accomplices or hid any weapons. As for the apple she is said to have eaten, it turned out to be a small chocolate that Mrs Tsaliyeva, who suffers from diabetes, was given.

Five months ago Mrs Tsaliyeva was a heroine, visited in hospital by an anxious-looking Vladimir Putin. Now, her health shattered, her reputation tarnished, and with many of the pupils and staff in her care dead, her professional career appears to be at an end.

If she is bitter, she hides it well. "I just hope God doesn't allow anything like this to happen anywhere else in the world," she says. "In any country."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Stock Broker / Trainee Broker / Closer - OTE £250,000

£30000 - £250000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Stock Broker/ Trainee FX, Stoc...

Guru Careers: Software Developer / Web Developer (PHP / MYSQL)

£30 - 40k + Benefits & Bonus: Guru Careers: A Software / Web Developer (PHP / ...

Recruitment Genius: ICT Operations Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company is the single governing and regul...

Recruitment Genius: Purchasing Assistant

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This high quality thread manufa...

Day In a Page

A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

Britain's Atlantis

Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

David Starkey's assessment
Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

'An enormous privilege and adventure'

Oliver Sacks writing about his life
'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago
Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

Orthorexia nervosa

How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

Set a pest to catch a pest

Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests
Mexico: A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life

The dark side of Mexico

A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life
Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde. Don't tell other victims it was theirs

Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde

Please don't tell other victims it was theirs
A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935