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Moving on from Beslan

By Ryan Chilcote

Editor's Note: In our Behind the Scenes series, CNN correspondents share their experiences in covering news. CNN correspondent Ryan Chilcote and producer Alina Gracheva accompanied survivors of the Russian school siege on a train ride from Beslan to the resort town of Sochi for a recuperative vacation. Chilcote wrote this article while traveling with the children and their relatives.

CNN's Ryan Chilcote on a train traveling from Beslan to Sochi
more videoVIDEO
The children who survived the siege of a Russian school take a recuperative vacation. CNN's Ryan Chilcote reports (September 21)
A mother is forced to leave her daughter behind in the siege of a Russian school.
Missing Children

SOUTHERN RUSSIA (CNN) -- We had just come from the other side of the train tracks where the bodies of 82 little boys, girls and their parents were laid out in three refrigerator cars. The bodies belonged to victims of the school hostage crisis in southern Russia.

They were too burnt from the fire that broke out in the school's gym to be identified. Alina Gracheva (the talented camerawoman, editor and producer I had the good fortune of working with) and I watched one family search through the cars for their daughter and pull one body out onto the parking lot. Failing to come to a consensus that the charred remains were unmistakably those of their child, they broke down and cried.

Such is life now in Beslan. Black dresses, the omnipresent sound of crying and occasional photos of a missing child are all that remain.

A train ride away from yesterday

The railroad authorities at Vladikavkaz Train Station in southern Russia brought three spanking new passenger cars and a restaurant car for the children. Approximately 50 of the siege survivors, accompanied by their relatives, were bound for the Black Sea resort of Sochi for a recuperative holiday paid for by the government. Their train cars were heavily guarded by policemen who had been given instructions not to let anyone else in.

Fifteen minutes after the train left the station, it passed the school in Beslan where the hostage crisis had taken place -- a painful reminder of what everyone was trying to forget on this vacation.

Valera, who was to enter the 7th grade when he was taken hostage, couldn't take his eyes off the school.

Turning to our camera, he pointed to one of the school's rooms and said, "That's where they killed people." He wasn't the only one looking. The necks of every passenger on that side of the train twisted -- seemingly involuntarily -- towards the school until it disappeared into the distance.

Minutes later, 9-year-old Lena opened the Lego set she'd been given at the train station, and many of the kids were getting ready to eat.

Posted on the wall of each train car was a sign informing passengers what to do in event of terrorism. Part 2 explained what to do if the passengers were taken hostage.

A long recovery

Valera stares out the window at his school

Traditional Russian folk dancers awaited the children at the final stop and whirled them onto buses headed to the resort. Upon their arrival, the children were given letters from local school kids who expressed their sympathy and support. Then it was on to the pool, and later to the Black Sea. The vacation seemed to be turning into a magical experience.

That night, the people of the resort town of Sochi celebrated Neptune Day with a spectacular fireworks display. This startled the children who thought shooting had broken out. The parents of a young girl named Lena told me their daughter couldn't stop crying and only settled down once she was taken to the policemen in front of the hotel. Her parents still had to give her a sedative to get her to sleep that night. Lena had spent three days as a hostage without her parents. She had shown up early on that first day of school because she wanted to meet her teacher before the festivities got under way.

All in all, the children at the beach told me Beslan felt far away. They talked about being distracted from their memories, something they said would be impossible back in Beslan where many of the families are still burying the dead.

The day we left, a team of three psychologists was preparing to begin working with the children. All of the kids, the psychologists told me, were suffering from fear and an irrational sense of danger.

The children will spend three weeks at the resort in an effort to recover from three days of terror.

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