Current affairs producer Ewa Ewart made the recent film Children of Beslan for BBC2. While she was filming, one boy who had been in the siege struck a particular chord.
By Ewa Ewart
Producer, Children of Beslan
One day last June, Batras Mishikov boarded a plane at the airport in Beslan. Several hours later, after catching a connecting flight in Moscow, I saw him emerge into the chaos of Heathrow's Terminal Two.
Ewa Ewart helped Batras to come from Beslan to England to study
A few months earlier this sixteen-year-old had been a hostage inside the gym of Beslan school after a group of Chechen militants seized it on September 1st 2004 - the start of a school year in Russia.
Last September was an important date for the Mishikov family. Their youngest son, seven-year-old Atzamas, was about to go to school for the first time and the whole family went along to celebrate.
Not long after they turned up at the school-yard a group of masked men and women burst in, opening fire in the courtyard.
"I saw people falling over from being shot by the bullets, then I understood it was a terrorist attack", Batras told me.
Minutes later Batras and his family found themselves among nearly 1,300 children and adults being chased into the gym by the militants.
I met Batras and his family for the first time last November, barely two months after those tragic events. They were the first people I asked to tell me about their experience. I sensed that their willingness to share it with me was almost urgent.
"One of the terrorists rounded me up with several older boys" Batras remembered. "We were taken to a corridor. There were lots of arms. The terrorists ordered us to carry them back to the gym."
During the second day of the siege, Batras lived one of his most horrifying moments. "A friend and I were taken to the corridor again, where the terrorists put us against the window as human shields for sniper fire."
When Batras was ordered back to the gym, it was only to see his father being led away with 13 other men.
"My father turned his head to us and gave a look as if saying goodbye. We thought we would never see him again."
They were taken to the first floor where they were placed on display at the windows of the building as human shields, in the same way as Batras and his friend some minutes earlier. Three men were killed but somehow his father was spared.
The Mishikov family survived the siege, but at some cost
As Batras was retelling his horrifying experience, he barely showed any emotion. I was taken aback by this and by his almost photographic memory of what he went through.
"The final siege started unexpectedly. At that point I just did not care about anything. I wanted to die. Then I heard the first explosion. I felt terrible heat, as if I had been pricked by hundreds of needles. Minutes later I saw blood all around me. I managed to run to a fitness room.
"There were lots of wounded children inside. I saw a little girl. Her body was half burnt and she was barely conscious. Her sister was sitting by her side and she was crying for help. It was a nightmare."
Batras and his family survived. But although their story appeared to have a happy ending, the reality was very different. Both his parents became invalids as a result of injuries sustained in the gym. His younger brother emerged deeply traumatised and had to undergo complex surgery for his broken nose.
So when I saw Batras in the Heathrow crowd on that June evening, beaming a confident smile and with a spring in his step, it was hard to suspect
that not that long ago, for a brief moment, he had given up on his life.
He arrived in Britain to attend a four week English Course at Oxford & Cherwell College. Before the start of term, Batras stayed with me in London for a couple of days.
On our last evening in London, Batras was quite silent over dinner and a bit sad. Then he said suddenly:
"When I was sitting inside that gym with the bombs around me and the terrorists pointing their guns, I ran my whole life in my head. I thought about what I had done and what kind of a person I had been. I promised myself then and there that if I ever survived that hell I would really make something useful of my life."
Some weeks later, after Batras's return to Beslan, I wrote to David Williams, Head of the International Office at Oxford and Cherwell, thanking him for his generous response after I had approached him about the possibility of a scholarship for Batras.
"He was an excellent student, " he wrote back, "and I only wish he could come back and do our foundation year, then go on to a British university. He could do it."
On reading that, I remembered my conversation with Batras the night before I took him to Oxford. And I could see that he had already been living up to every bit of the promise he made to himself during those terrifying days of September 2004.