The girl shown in an Associated Press photo that ran on front pages worldwide is now recovering in a Moscow hospital, new agencies reported Thursday. 14-year-old Viktoria Ktsoyeva, whose bloodied hand clutching a golden cross became “an iconic image of hope in the death and chaos” that ended the three-day Beslan school siege, is expected to be hospitalized for about a month and then to travel with her family to a sanatorium for further recuperation.
“I prayed that I would stay a live and that everything would be good again,” Viktoria told the AP in her room at Children’s City Clinic Hosptial No. 9.
Viktoria Ktsoyeva said she prayed every day while held captive, not letting go of the cross even as she plunged into unconsciousness after being wounded in the violent climax of the siege that killed more than 330 hostages.
When masked militants raided her school on Sept. 1, taking more than 1,200 hostage, Viktoria said she couldn’t believe her eyes. “I never thought in my life I could be caught up in a terrorist attack,” she said.
Viktoria told AP that after being herded into the school with the other hostages, she and her 9-year-old brother, Artur found each other. Artur had been in the bathroom outside the school and probably could have run away, but Viktoria’s mother, Tatyana Ktsoyeva, said he decided to stay with his sister.
Fearing that the chain holding the cross around her neck might break, Viktoria took it off and wrapped it around her left hand when the siege began.
During the siege, the tiny cross became her talisman of hope. “All three days I held it in my hand and prayed,” said Viktoria who said earlier that she wasn’t very religious prior to the siege.
Meanwhile, her mother was also praying, keeping vigil with other parents near the school. Other relatives went to church services daily and lit votive candles.
Then on Sept. 3, the three-day standoff began to spiral to a violent end as explosions and gunfire erupted in and around the school. Terrified children, some naked and others with bloodied faces ran screaming for safety as machinegun fire rattled out and helicopters clattered overhead.
Vikotria said she remembers the horror of escaping through the gym and seeing the bodies there—some without arms or legs—including those of friends, parents and teachers.
Some time as she was running, Viktoria was hit in the head. As she lay wounded, Artur pleaded with her: “Don’t die. Don’t die. Open your eyes. Don’t die.” At one point, he even held her eyes open with his hands.
Soldiers later carried her off to safety, the cross still in her hand. And the picture, which would later be seen on newspapers across the world, was taken soon after at a nearby triage tent.
Viktoria said as she was fading in and out of consciousness, she clung to hope, and to her cross.
“I felt that if I had that cross in my hand and if it was still there, then everything would be fine,” she said.
Dr. Maxim Vladimirov, her neurosurgeon, said the half-inch piece of shrapnel that X-rays found later to be in the center of her brain could have hit a major artery or affected Viktoria’s ability to move. “She’s very lucky,” Vladimirov said.
For now, doctors are planning to leave the shrapnel in place, and will only operate if complications develop.
These days, the only signs of her wound are the three small stitches on the right side of her forehead. The cross is at her family’s apartment in Beslan, still stained with blood. Her father and brother plan to bring it to Moscow later. Meanwhile, Viktoria wears a brown cross that was a gift from a priest at the hospital.
Although she once wanted to be an economist, Viktoria now plans to become a pediatrician. And from now on, Viktoria said, she will be in church every Sunday, her cross over her heart where it belongs.