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The voices of people affected by the war one year on

By Mariam Betlemidze
Wednesday, August 12
Their thoughts are of their homes; their eyes look forward to seeing their villages again. Despite the fact they are sure that their homes have been destroyed or burnt out they are ready to return there at any time.

Shalva, Nargiza, Nino and Mtvarisa are from villages which Georgia lost control of in last year’s war. Now they live in new IDP settlements in different villages and give us their memories, still hoping that the day will come when they can return to their homes.

Shalva Gabrielashvili, 78, from the village of Kheiti, who is now residing in the new Tsilkani new settlement for IDPs in the Gori district: “A year has passed but I still feel as if it were yesterday. I am an old man and have seen many good and bad things in my life, but would never have imagined that in the last years of my life I would be forced to leave my house. I left my house after the war was over. Our enemies robbed not only our houses but also took our cattle, all we had for our living. But even if somebody gives us cows, we won’t be able to keep them because this place is useless for cattle breeding. There is no grass here, no trees to give them shade. The only things you can see here are these one-room cottages.

“My grandchild Tsotne, 5, like many others here, is coming down with sanitary disorders. The water supply is very poor here and the temperature is usually over 40 degrees in summer… Medical centres are too far away... We have no income to even buy medicines.”

Tsira Terterashvili, 41, from Karaleti village in the Gori district: “When the war began, we left for my brother’s house in Tbilisi. Now we are back in our half-ruined village. Despite all the damage we still can live in this house and try to rebuild our lives. But now I am an ill woman. Since the war, my health is bad, I feel my nerves are weak and I cannot continue to cultivate the land as I used to. Although CARE has done a blessed job to support us with firewood and food and this has really helped us survive the winter, it is still hard for us to make ends meet. We are five in the family and there is not enough food for all of our family members. Usually my husband and I go to bed hungry to save some food for our grandchildren and our pregnant daughter-in-law. The only income is my son Archil’s salary who, thank God, survived the August war and is still in military service. I am afraid that the war will start again and this time my son may not come back...”

Nargiza Kristesiashvili, 65, from the South Ossetian/Russian controlled village of Eredvi, Gori district, now residing in the new Karaleti settlement: “I have become a refugee for the second time. I had to leave my three room apartment in the city of Tskhinvali when the first conflict broke out in the 1990s. Then I moved to the village of Eredvi and started a new life. Together with my husband I used to cultivate land and grow apples and vegetables, which were easy to sell in the North Caucasus. We also had cows and a chicken farm. All that was more than enough for our family. But now you see where I am – living on barren land, in a tiny cottage. If it was not for CARE International, this ceiling would have fallen down because there is no insulation in the roof. Now with CARE and USAID support we have installed proper insulation, but still our state is far from what it was in the past. No jobs for me and my husband. No kindergartens for my grandchildren, who live with my children and daughters-in-law in neighbouring cottages. The only income we have is 78 GEL (approx. $47) of social assistance for my husband, me and my mother, who is aged 88.”

Nino Bibiluri, 22, from the South Ossetian/Russian controlled village of Kvemo Artsevi in Gori district, now residing in Kvemo Kartli in the village of Sovkoz Samgorski: “I was five months pregnant when the conflict began. Our village is the nearest to Tskhinvali and the shooting reached our village in the very first days of the conflict. My husband and I did not wait until the situation deteriorated further and came straight here to Kvemo Kartli to my mother’s place. My mother has four other children apart from me and one of them is two years old. It was very rarely possible to have enough food for all the members of the family. But CARE’s assistance came right on time. It supplied us with basic food and non-food items. Bedding was very important for us. My husband’s parents returned to the village and my husband goes there from time to time. But I am still afraid to go back. There are Ossetian block posts in the village. What if war starts again? I may not manage to escape with my seven-month-old son Matt.

“The local municipality have done us a favour and let us live in this old former police building. Conditions are terrible here - no water, no sewerage, but it is much safer than in Kvemo Artsevi. My husband has now found a job in Tbilisi, thus we have enough money to feed our baby.”

Mtvarisa Kochkiani, 25, from the Kodori Gorge village of Omarishali, now residing in the former Military Hospital in Tbilisi: “Last year I became an IDP for the second time. The first was when the war broke out in Abkhazia in 1992. That year was the most horrifying in my life as I lost my mom in the conflict, who was pregnant with her ninth child. As soon as the situation calmed down my family returned to the village. Then I got married and moved to Tbilisi. But last year I divorced and went back to Kodori Gorge with my two sons. After two months of peaceful life in the mountains, the August conflict started and bombs started to fall near my village. I had to flee again, this time with my children.

“When I arrived here in Tbilisi the first days were terrible, there was no food, no water, no bedding. CARE was one of the first NGOs to provide us with emergency items like food and hygiene kits. Later on we also received beds and mattresses. Now we do not receive anything. If it were not for kind people and relatives, we would have died of hunger, as the humanitarian NGOs ignore our situation. The only thing Government officials are promising us is new settlements, where we can cultivate our land and grow vegetables, but nobody knows when these will be built.”