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Tuesday, September 07, 2004

"We thank Gd we are here in Israel"

Jerusalem Post: Flipping channels in her Bat Yam home, Natalia Cheldaev saw the school her daughter Vilena had left just five months earlier when the family immigrated from Beslan, Russia. Confronted with horrifying images of the school held hostage by terrorists and the faces of people she knew, she reached for the phone.

"I immediately tried calling my former neighbors, but no one was answering," she said. "I found out that building was cleared out by special forces since it is next to the school."

The special forces might have left, but that doesn't mean the residents have returned.

"Our apartment building is all empty now," Cheldaev said, listing those who perished in the tragedy, including her best friend and her son, who had been Vilena's best friend.

"All those people who were seeing us off, half of them are now dead," she continued. "I still cannot comprehend what has happened."

Neither has her daughter, who has been told that the friends she asks about are wounded and in the hospital. "So many of her friends are dead. She won't be able to handle it."

If the family had remained in Beslan, 10-year-old Vilena would have been at School No. 1 when the terrorists took the students hostage.

"We thank God we are here in Israel," her mother said.