We first discovered this work after it was submitted to the Visual Storytelling Awards 2014. Although it was not chosen as a finalist by the jury, the editors of LensCulture were impressed and decided to publish this feature article about it. Enjoy!

“Here we are, such heroes, living after the attack. And somehow we are able to find happiness in life. Life just goes on and we cannot change what already happened to us. Just the opposite: now it is more pleasant to look at how we laugh, have fun and enjoy life.”

11 years ago, the world was aghast as the news of another terrorist attack spread. Considered by many in the region to be the most tragic terrorist attack ever perpetrated, the September 2004 incident at Beslan School remains a painful memory for the community.

In short: on the morning of September 1st, the traditional day of starting the new school year, a group of Chechen separatist rebels took over a school in Beslan, North Ossetia, taking more than 1,100 people hostage. After a tense three-day standoff, the Russian security forces decided to storm the building and end the siege. The attack resulted in the death of at least 385 people—among them, 186 children.

Today, Beslan exists as a living memorial to the victims of the massacre. The children who were held hostage in the school 11 years ago—and survived—are graduates today. All of them remember that fateful September morning.

I met them a year after the tragedy, when I came to Beslan on a humanitarian mission along with other volunteers. We continued to return every year, watching them, and witnessing how they grew up and recovered step by step from that horrible trauma. Ten years is a significant period, and still many have long-term health problems and experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Yet, I feel happy for them. With the help of many people from around the world and despite the awful memories, they have become beautiful young men and women. They have learned to live with their memories, while managing to look forward to the future.

—Oksana Yushko