BERLIN/BESLAN: September 20, 2004

Help from the Diocese of Berlin and Germany
of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia and the "Fund for Aid for Children"


As soon as reports came in on September 1, 2004, on the tragedy in the Northern Ossetian city of Beslan (Russia), parishes of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR), with the blessing of His Eminence Archbishop Mark of Berlin and Germany, began to commemorate the victims in special litanies. Some 58 hours after the scale of this catastrophe became clear, on Monday, September 6, Deacon Andrei Sikoeff received a blessing to organize material help from our Church for the children of Beslan.

With this goal in mind, Vladyka Mark made a public appeal with these words:

"We grieve over the victims and especially empathize with the wounded and ailing children. But along with our prayers for the dead and the orphaned, these children need quick and practical help for their physical well-being and spiritual condition!"

Deacon Andrei Sikoeff first contacted the Chief Physician of the Ossetian Republic’s Children’s Clinical Hospital in Vladikavkaz, Dr Djanaev, and the Chief of the Endoscopic Department, Dr Khabalov, to clarify what the most urgent medical and surgical needs were. At the same time, Deacon Andrei presented a long-term plan to the Fund for Aid for Children (Kindernothilfe), one of the six largest international children's assistance organizations.

After careful consideration, it was decided that the Fund for Aid for Children and the ROCOR would organize a transport plane to Ossetia with special medical technology valued at 200,000 Euros. A approved list of vital medical needs was sent to Deacon Andrei in Berlin via fax from the Ossetian doctors.

It was also decided jointly with the Russian Orthodox Church in Ossetia to build and finance over the course of two years a project for spiritual, educational and social rehabilitation of traumatized children and their relatives.

Dr Thiesbonenkamp, President of the Fund for Aid for Children, described the challenges facing them to the press: "The Fund for Aid for Children will support on a long-term basis the creation in Beslan of a walk-in therapeutic center, in which heavily traumatized children, with the help of spiritual fathers, teachers and doctors will cope with their terrible ordeal and the memories of the last week, and find for themselves new prospects for living."Berlin, Monday, September 6

The reports given by Vladikavkaz doctors are alarming: Within minutes of each other, over two hundred mostly seriously injured children were brought to the Ossetian Republic's Children's Clinik of Vladikavkaz, and the Clinic turned into a field hospital. According to Moscow surgeons who had experienced the war in Afghanistan, the situation was like that following a major military battle. All the children were dehydrated and traumatized. They were witnesses to the rape of women, girls and boys by the terrorists. The last few hours, the children shared amongst themselves their last drops of urine to avoid dying of thirst. Most of the little children and infants were taken right into resuscitation rooms, because their mothers had no milk left. Many children could not remember their names, and gave the names of others instead. They all had two to three gunshot wounds, skull fractures, and gas poisoning and burns from explosions.

The Ossetian surgeons performed on a superhuman level. Operations took place on every operating table until the next morning. "We prayed without end," they said later. And a miracle occurred: every child was saved that first day. Only over the next three days did three of them die of serious injuries.

Dr Vladimir Khabalov said: "When the children began arriving, seven or eight surgeon brigades went to work on the operating tables. This was horrible. The sight of these tortured children, dying of thirst, their wounds, their screams... The mothers who almost went insane from fear for their children.

"The first few hours we were numb, we only prayed. Later, we doctors hoped that someday this would fade from memory, that this kind of thing would never happen again. None of us, not even the most senior doctors, who it had seemed had seen everything, could never recall anything like this. We yearn to forget this forever."Berlin, Thursday, September 9

Deacon Andrei received the final confirmation that the surgical equipment requested by the Ossetian doctors was purchased and was being prepared for shipment by the Director of the Fund for Aid for Children, Ditmar Roller and his group. Now only one unresolved issue remained: where could they get a plane? While Mr Roller was working how to ship everything via air, Deacon Andrei contacted the Federal Chancellor's office. The matter was decided quickly, with no red tape: the FRG would pay for the delivery. As a result, by Friday morning, the shipment was paid for.

Munich, Friday, September 10

On Friday evening, the loading of the plane, an AN-26 transport from Russia, began at the freight terminal of Franz Josef Strauss Airport in Munich.

That evening, His Grace Bishop Agapit of Stuttgart arrived. Together with Deacon Andrei and in the presence of the members of the Fund for Aid for Children and the Russian pilots, he read a short prayer for the children of Beslan and sprinkled the plane with holy water.

After this, Vladyka Agapit and Deacon Andrei, along with the representatives of the Fund went to have a graciously-offered dinner at the home of the Warden of the Munich parish, Vadim A Esikovsky and his wife Maria. Munich, Saturday, September 11 (the day of the Beheading of St John the Baptist)

Members of the Fund returned home, while Deacon Andrei went to the airport, where the shipment is inspected once again and the Russian pilots complete their pre-flight preparations.

At 5 pm, the weather maps are examined. The flight was to last 8 hours with a stopover in Kishinev for refueling.

Deacon Andrei set up a metal cot with a blanket amidst the shipment, since there were not seats on the transport plane. At 6 pm, the flight departed from Munich for its destination: the Beslan Airport of Vladikavkaz in the Northern Caucasus.

Ossetia, Saturday, September 11, 5:30 pm (local time)

At Beslan Airport, the plane was greeted by a delegation of the Russian Orthodox Church. Protopriest Vladimir Samoilenko, a Dean under His Grace Bishop Feofan of Stavropol and Vladikavkaz, and two priests from that city were waiting on the tarmac. The plane was immediately surrounded by customs agents, border security, the Ministry of Emergency Affairs and the police. The Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Northern Ossetia/Alania, Soslan Ivanovich Sikoeff (a relative of Deacon Andrei Sikoeff), was in charge of operative logistics.

The medical equipment was delivered without delay to the Ossetian Republic's Children's Clinic of Vladikavkaz. While the soldiers unloaded the heavy containers by hand, the necessary documents were filled out and the receipts made out for the humanitarian aid, since according to existing laws, such donations are accepted only by the Ministry of Emergency Affairs.

Afterwards, a car sped off to the Clinic, which is under heavy security. The Chief Physician, Dr Djanaev, meets the clergymen. He briefly reports on the situation in the hospital and discusses the next steps with his colleagues. The medical equipment was then unloaded and distributed as needed.

Dr Djanaev described the actual situation in the hospital to Deacon Andrei. On Saturday night, when the humanitarian aid arrived from Germany, the hospital had over 130 injured children and several mothers. The number of the littlest patients changed constantly. There were instances of relapses. Yet the situation stabilized compared with the first day of the catastrophe. The first of the children have already been released to go home. Many of the most seriously injured children were sent to clinics in Moscow or Rostov-on-the-Don. Surgeons and doctors prepared for further operations.

The endoscopic and surgical equipment arriving with the humanitarian aid from Germany will give the doctors the possibility of avoiding the extensive dissections of the cavities of the peritoneum and the chest in the children. If complications arise, the surgeons will not have a backup set of equipment for each such surgical procedure. This way, the main disadvantages of such technology will be avoided.

Dr Djanaev said: "A five-year-old boy was told by the terrorists to remove his baptismal cross. He removed it and clenched it in his fist. When the surgeons placed him on the table, they opened his fist, which he held tight for two days, only with a great deal of difficulty. The boy was saved."

The next morning, the priests of Vladikavkaz, Fr Vladimir Samoilenko and Fr Konstantin Dzoev, headed to Beslan with Deacon Andrei.

All of Ossetia is in mourning.

The small city of Beslan (population 35,000), lies as though under a burial shroud. In comparison with the number of Ossetians—this is a small nation, with no more than a half a million people. As a result of the Beslan tragedy, the Ossetians lost one person for every thousand. If one were to compare this ratio with the population of Germany, that would mean the loss of 80,000 lives, including men, women and children.

Ossetia is mourning over its children.

In Beslan, the parish of St George the Great Martyr held a divine liturgy. In his sermon, Fr Vladimir spoke also of the life of St Alexander Nevsky, who through his maternal grandmother had Ossetian blood, and called upon the faithful to follow his example of uncompromising faith.

After the service, the clergymen went with the parish rector, Fr Sergei Mal'tsev, to the Beslan school.

George, age 10: "I wanted to go with my mama to the first day of school. But as we reached the door, she remembered that we had forgotten to pray to my saint. We went home and prayed before his icon. So that's why we were late for the first-day celebration by two minutes. When we arrived, there was shooting. We ran awayÉmany of my friends were killed. Two friends are in a hospital in Moscow." Beslan, Sunday, 11:30 pm

The municipal school's gymnasium was the site of the tragedy. People in black were standing in the courtyard or walking along the sides of the building, their faces frozen like stone. The gym was indescribable. There were flowers everywhere, candles, bottles of water as a reminder of the childrens' suffering, stuffed animals among them. Small icons were attached to the walls. The demolished gymnasium bore traces of gunshots, grenade damage and explosions. It was terrifying to walk upon the floor, covered with a thin layer of cinder and ash. Among them were floorboards soaked with blood.

Deacon Andrei Sikoeff: "First I looked underfoot, because I sense that I am treading on blood and parts of human bodies. But this was only black rubbish, wooden rails. Then I raised my eyes. The gymnasium is smaller than I expected. Twelve hundred people—it is difficult to imagine! Immediately I recalled the gas chambers of Auschwitz, about the same size, the victims crammed together. Death, coldly calculated. The mockery of children. The merciless demons, executioners and murderersÉ Children crying, prayers, screamsÉ And it seems that the suffering of the children grips you with its icy breath. This is a place of death, the gates of hell, Passion Week, Golgotha. And this paralyzing fear passed only when we began the Orthodox funeral singing."

Many facts surrounding this terrorist act are still unknown, for reasons of further actions. Some testimony is being withheld from publication. Terrorist raped women, girls and boys. This was confirmed by Fr Sergei Mal'tsev. He visited the victims and spoke to doctors in the gynecological unit.

But these rumors have already spread throughout the population.

"We want to avenge the dead," say some men in the gymnasium.

Marat, age 11, said to his parents after a serious operation on his gunshot wounds:

"Papa, why are you crying? I am Ossetian, I am a man." (Later he decided to be baptized. His parents learned of this only the evening after. He proudly shows the cross he was given on television.)

Ossetians are a peaceful people. You will never hear from them sermons of hatred. But Ossetians are not only militant but experienced in battle. In 1910, there were 2,350 officers within a population of 13,000. The Orthodox Ossetian Cavalry Guard Division fought their way from the Caucasus to Berlin. The terrorist attacks by the Ingush upon Ossetia in the 1990's was quickly and decisively crushed by the Ossetians.

Today, after Beslan, the Ossetian courage and fighting spirit have no goals, they have no visible enemy. The impression of the most profound evil, inhuman, demonic war against the spirit of Orthodoxy, against the Russian Church, against their Ossetian children. "Revenge? Upon whom?" ask the women.

And the faithful, the Orthodox Christians of Ossetia, see this tragedy first and foremost as a religious attack, a tribulation. Russian priests call for humility and repentance. They remind everyone of their own history, and also of the apostasy of many Ossetians from Orthodoxy, of the destruction of almost all the churches in Ossetia during the godless Soviet regime.

The believing Ossetians say: "God did not abandon us. God was in Beslan, hundreds of lives were thus saved." Again and again they tell of miracles.

Elena, 36 years old, a parishioner of Beslan: "When they began to take hostages, we women in the parish immediately tried to find out the names of the children we knew and who were connected with our parish, or came to lessons on the Law of God. And we prayed day and night with the priests for their salvation and for the salvation of their friends. First of all we asked the intercession of St George the Great Martyr. I did not want to tell you this before, because I wanted to make sure first. And I just made my last phone call: all the children on our list, every single one for whom we prayed, is alive!"

The mood in Ossetia is tense. The traditional forty-day mourning period continues. The Ossetians are convinced that this assault was financed from Chechnya, and that the cohorts in this evil deed were from Ingushetia. The terrorists had phone contact with Saudi Arabia, and before the beginning of the bloody battle, they bid farewell to their contacts there. Ossetians are convinced that the terrorists were in contact with Ingush and Chechen political figures.

People ask visitors from abroad what they should do. They want the guilty parties to be punished, they seek justice. And now much depends upon how correctly and successfully the Russian government acts, how effectively the civil and military organs battle terrorists, whether Putin will root out corrupt generals from the Russian Army and thereby end the war in Chechnya. For this is still a corrupt military, strengthened during Yeltsin's era, along with the multitude of politicians in the Caucasus region who pump out billions of dollars every year from the state budget.

This is why the Ossetians are carefully following the statements made by the Putin administration. Ossetians are loyal to Russia. They support Putin's fundamental reforms. But if these reforms have no effect, it may prove fatal to the Caucasus.

The population thanks the humanitarians from Germany time and time again. They are shaken and surprised at the readiness to help them. They are strengthened by the sense that they are not alone in suffering. Many are driven to tears by the fact that their Orthodox brethren from the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia are with them in prayer and in aid.

Suffering from shock are not only the victims but their relatives and friends, they are traumatized and often cannot bring themselves to speak on what had happened. Even if the psychologists from Moscow along with the Vladikavkaz doctors work with them, even if the government of Russia reports on the building of a therapeutic center for the victims of the terrorist act, thousands of people are still in need of help.

The plan of Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia and the Fund for Aid for Children is to create a church conference, rehabilitation and social center in Ossetia, was met with jubilant approval by all. Concrete proposals and inquiries have now been presented. The spiritual wounds of the children heal very slowly, and maybe they will never close up completely. To help them is to also help their brothers and sisters, their school friends, the parents, relatives, teachers, in short, to help every survivor who yet lost their closest and dearest.

The work in Ossetia is only beginning.

Eternal memory for the dead children of Beslant! St George the Great Martyr, Intercessor of the Ossetians, pray to God for us!