In a classroom at Moscow’s School No 56 a close-up of a dead Chechen terrorist, shot in the head by Russian special forces, flashed up on the overhead projector.
The woman’s body lay limp, splayed across two red velvet chairs, a black scarf covering her hair and a packet of explosives strapped to her waist.
The pupils of Class 10B – 14- and 15-year-olds dressed mostly in sweatshirts and jeans – gazed at the image with rapt attention. “Terror can sneak in anywhere,” said Vladimir Fedusov, the deputy head of the school and class teacher.
“No border can stop it. No nation is free from it. You should always be prepared.”
As he spoke, more images were shown – of blown-up buildings, bomb victims wrapped in blood-soaked bandages and corpses being carried away by emergency crews.
Russian schoolchildren began the new school year last week with the usual ritual of presenting flowers to their form teachers. Children lined up in front of their schools, the national anthem was played and a bell rung.
But the traditional “peace lesson” – the opening class of term – was missing.
In its place was a special class on safety and security teaching children how to defend themselves against terrorist attack and hostage-taking as well as fire and industrial accidents.
Muscovites say they feel less safe today than they have for decades. During the Soviet era children were taught how to don gas-masks, what to do in case of a nuclear attack and the technique for stripping a Kalashnikov. But few expected that they would have to use such skills.
Now, with terrorist attacks an almost weekly occurrence in cities throughout Russia, the emphasis on security has been re-introduced, with a new twist.
The attack on the Nord Ost theatre in Moscow last year, which led to the deaths of more than 130 of the audience and nearly 50 Chechen terrorists, marked the beginning of a new wave of terrorism in the capital.
Since then there have been attacks on a rock festival, a restaurant almost within sight of the Kremlin, and pedestrian underpasses.
In one school, in Reutov, outside Moscow, special school diaries were handed out this year.
For pupils in the second, third and fourth years – the first-year children have not learnt to read yet – there are instructions on what to do if somebody tries to kidnap them. “They want to abduct me, I don’t know these people, call the militia,” the pupils are instructed to shout.
For the fifth-year pupils and upwards, there is more explicit advice. If they are taken hostage, the diary instructs, they “should not annoy the kidnappers, speak loudly, rebel or cry.
“The terrorists should be asked permission if you want to move from one place to another.”
In School No 56 yesterday the talk was of anthrax, gelignite and poison gas. The class was given added poignancy as one of its pupils died in the Nord Ost raid.
One pupil was asked to demonstrate how to open a suspicious envelope – and preserve the evidence so that it could be passed to the FSB, the new KGB, for clues. “Be careful to wrap the envelope in plastic. We need those fingerprints,” Mr Fedusov said.
Militsa, 14, said: “I didn’t pay much attention until a bag exploded at my local metro station. Now I watch all the time for suspicious packages.”
Vera Kondratenko, the school’s headmistress, said the security classes are held once a week.
“We are not trying to terrify the children. We want them to live normally, but they have to be vigilant and aware. Terrorism is part of our lives.”
Courtesy Josh Kirby