GROWING PAINS: Kids Deal With Blasts, Offer Own Theories

"Why on earth did you come back when you can stay away?"

Such was the greeting I received from my friends on our return to Moscow last Sunday.

Sasha, Anna and Bobby had been pining for Russia for weeks, and the thrill of being back home at long last wasn't dimmed by news of terrorist bombings.

"I guess it's the sort of thing that happens in big cities everywhere," commented Anna.

Many schools called assemblies warning the pupils to be on the lookout for suspicious looking people carrying or unloading sacks and to tell their parents if they see strangers near their apartment blocks. Some schools also observed a minute of silence for the dead children, and it seems to be this which brought the real horror of the attack home more than anything. One friend complained that her 8-year-old son, Bulat, has been too frightened to sleep alone since that day. Our own school takes the sensible line that knowing there's a possibility of a terrorist bomb lying in your basement is enough to give adults nightmares, let alone children, and has therefore not mentioned the incident.

But the kids still have a vague, distanced knowledge of what happened through watching the news and listening to their parents. Hearing them discuss it is an interesting example of a generation's psychology.

"It's because of the elections for the Moscow mayor," announced 8-year-old Andryusha between mouthfuls of soup. "That's right," agreed his classmate. "It's the candidates trying to get rid of each other."

"No, it's not," interrupted another third grader, Maxim. "It's the Chechens attacking Moscow. They've brought the war up to us. Maybe this will mean the end of the world."

"Maybe it will," agreed the others.

The older children had a more detailed idea of what was happening. Sixth-grader Roma summed up the situation very succinctly: "The Moslems in Dagestan can't fight back against our army, so in desperation they're blowing up buildings where lots of people live in the hopes that they'll get their way. They're absolutely crazy, though. It's scary."

Seven-year-old Masha, like others from the first grade, presumed these were simply more mafia killings. "They often shoot each other, don't they?" she asked.

Katya, 8, said: "There's a picture of the bomber outside our house, and it says 'Be Careful Citizens,' but I'm not sure what that means."

Eleven-year-old Anna said one of the bombers had been caught.

"He's a separatist from Chechnya, and I hope they put him in prison for life," Anna said. "That would be better than killing him - he should be made to suffer."

Her friend Olesya agreed. "Well, he shouldn't be killed because that would just be one more person dead," she said.