TRESHCHEVSKY, RUSSIA (REUTERS) - Stuffed toys, flowers and bowls of sweets: these were just some of the offerings brought to a Siberian school by village residents mourning the death of six schoolgirls killed in a fire that claimed 64 lives in the city of Kemerovo on Sunday (March 25).
The fifth-year classmates had been on a school trip to watch a film at the Winter Cherry shopping mall in Kemerovo, 30 kilometres away, when a fire broke out, sweeping through the upper floors and the top floor cinema.
They were among 41 children killed in the blaze, deaths that have shattered the rural calm of Treshchevsky, a small village in the coal-producing region of Kemerovo where school staff members said they were in shock.
"Until the very last, we all held out hope that the children would have managed to escape," said Pavel Orlinsky, the head of the school, who described the girls as very lively and active participants in school life.
The schoolgirls had been accompanied by a teacher and two fathers who stepped away for a walk as the girls sat in the cinema. When the fire broke out and they tried to return to the children, they were not allowed up from the ground floor, Galina Stepanova, the school cook, said.
"This isn't a big village," said Vladimir Yevdokimov, head of the local Osinogrivsky rural settlement. "These girls were visible everywhere, they went to school, they were in school clubs, they spoke to everyone. That's why of course for us this brings us big grief."
The fire has focused attention on lax health and safety standards and stirred public anger over corruption, sentiment echoed by some residents in Treshchevsky.
"Corruption is to blame for this, that's all that I want to say," said Maxim, a workman sitting on his haunches outside his workshop. "Innocent people suffer and we see this happening for many years. Everything is covered in corruption."
The portraits of the six schoolgirls had been hung in a school hall in tribute.
"Just last Saturday I set tables for them, I saw them," said Stepanova, the school cook. "If we had known that we wouldn't see them again after Sunday and that all this would happen, who would have let them go?"