South Ossetia: Tskhinvali’s Apocalypse

by Tanya Lokshina, 31 – 08 – 2008

With the fighting over, this researcher for Human Rights Watch hitches lifts between checkpoints around South Ossetia’s wrecked capital Tskhinvali chronicling the grieving and burying, looting and burning, the unexploded bombs, disenchanted militias and Russian troops struggling to protect what remains of abandoned Georgian villages.

“Tskhinvali today, right?” I raise my head from the pillow, and try to open my eyes. At least one eye, my left… Over the past few days – I don’t remember how many – we have been getting about three hours of sleep a night. The days blend into a succession of pictures in a viewfinder: armoured personal carriers, tanks, infantry vehicles, ‘Grad’ emplacements, ‘Uragan’ emplacements, shells, shards, rocket fragments, ruined houses, burning houses, houses burnt to the ground, broken glass, holes in walls, rockets flying up in flames into the bright blue sky… When the phone rings and a journalist asks how long we have been here, I ask after a brief pause what day it is. We flew to Ossetia on Sunday morning, the 10th of August… Is that only three or four days ago? It seems like a month or a year…

Tskhinvali yesterday, Tskhinvali today… As I finally manage to focus my gaze I see the round face of our hostess, and behind her – o God, not that, please, not in the morning! – an unshaven guy in camouflage gear with an AK-47 slung over his shoulder. I draw the blankets up: “Please, go away for a second! Let me get dressed!” “What?” the guy asks, “You need to go to Tskhinvali, don’t you?” The hostess says reassuringly: “He’s a good boy! He’ll take you there!” Across the room, something’s stirring. My colleagues blink sleepily: “All right! Let’s get going! We’ll have tea and get off right away!” The guy leaves the room, and the woman follows him. “What was that?” comes a voice from the bed next to mine. “I think the guy said he was prepared to take us for a ride…” I put one foot on the floor, then the other…


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