On a Sunday afternoon in Beslan, Russia, on the anniversary of perhaps the bloodiest, most tragic incident in the country’s recent memory, students released 333 white balloons into the sky – one for each of the victims killed in the school hostage siege of two years previous.
With students dressed in white shirts the balloons floated towards the sky at 1 p.m. almost the exact time unexplained explosions sparked the deadly end to a saga that began when Islamic guerrillas seized the town’s elementary school with more than 1,100 students, staff and parents inside.
Ten minutes of silence followed a bell toll, and family and friends visited the widely expanded cemetery to visit graves.
Of course the incident wasn’t just remembered at its site. Events were organized to mark the day – also the official Day of Solidarity in the Struggle against Terrorism as designated by President Vladimir Putin and Russian legislators last year – across the nation.
Putin recalled the Beslan raid Sunday during a meeting with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II.
“Our meeting is taking place of the second anniversary of the monstrous crime of terrorists in Beslan,” he said in televised comments.
“The murder of innocent women and children shook not only our country but the whole world, and this tragedy, the inconsolable grief of the parents who have lost the dearest thing – their children – will forever remain our common pain.”
Many believe the Russian government bears partial responsibility for the cost of human life during the crisis.
The deaths occurred after two blasts shook the school and security forces launched a chaotic rescue effort resulting in a large exchange of gunfire.
“Putin and (FSB chief Nikolai) Patrushev must share responsibility for the death of children,” one poster read.
“Beslan: Shame of the FSB,” said another.