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'There's No Reason For Us To Be Fighting!' -- Voices From Gori

A wounded Georgian woman leaves Gori.

Despite Russia's promised pullout from Georgia, numerous cities and sites throughout the country remain under Russian control. This includes the city of Gori close to the de facto border with South Ossetia, where reports continue of dwindling food supplies, looting, and a Kremlin clampdown on press access.

RFE/RL Russian Service correspondent Alan Tskhurbayev was able to travel from the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali to Gori on August 17 and spoke to some of the city's increasingly desperate residents -- Georgians, Ossetians, and Russians among them. This report was broadcast in Russia the following day.

RFE/RL: The road from the destroyed South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali to Gori takes half an hour by car. On our way, we pass by Georgian villages, where only the elderly remain. Gori looks just as deserted -- empty streets, bullet holes in the walls, curtains billowing in the wind, and the crackling of broken glass under our feet.

The majority of the city's population fled with the arrival of Russian troops, and those who remain are mainly the elderly, who have nowhere to go. They gather at a church bakery, where every morning free bread is given out. According to Tina, a Georgian resident of Gori, there is no other food in the city.

Tina: There is nothing! No butter, no bread, no light, no gas! There isn't even anyone in the city administration building.

RFE/RL: There are Russian residents in the city, too. This woman, who asked to remain anonymous, came to Gori 60 years ago.

Russian woman: We haven't had light for several days, and no television since [August] 8th. We've lost everything. There are no windows left anywhere. The local administration? There is none -- it's just us, ordinary people. I’m the only Russian left, everyone else is gone.

RFE/RL: Georgy, an Ossetian, is very emotional. He doesn’t understand why, for so many years, outsiders have tried to make mortal enemies of what he calls brother nations. Under former Georgian President Zviad Gamsakhurdia, he was forced to leave his home in Gori. He returned, and now, again, tragedy has struck.

Georgy: There's no reason for us to be fighting! I don't understand! I was born here, I live here, and I've always loved it. Tell me any street -- I'll take you there, any place around here -- I'll take you!

The Ossetians have lived here for a long time. Under Gamsakhurdia we were forced out of our homes, myself included. Eighteen years have passed and I’ve never held a grudge against the Georgian people. My wife is Georgian; we've been together for 30 years, and we have five grandchildren: two are Georgian, one is Russian, and two are Ossetian.

An elderly Georgian woman who fled from the village of Korta lies on the ground to rest at an abandoned gas station outside Gori.
RFE/RL: Are there Ossetians still left here?

Georgy: Yes, there are.

RFE/RL: Naina, a Georgian woman, says she has nothing against Russians, but appears to suggest Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is to blame for the devastation in Gori.

Naina: It all happened because of one person.

What person?

Naina: You know very well what person! Russians are the kindest, most likeable of people, but look at all the killing! We are supposed to be brother nations.

RFE/RL: Later, I met with an Ossetian scholar and public figure, Ruslan Zarov. He thinks the armed conflict of August 2008 shows yet again that Ossetians should remain part of the Russian Federation.

Ruslan Zarov: During Soviet times we were part of two different republics, which was a temporary and forgivable phenomenon. The events happening right now, the military phase, are an unforgivable, criminal act. We hope that this phase will be over soon.

RFE/RL: While the former residents of Gori are fleeing to Tbilisi, displaced villagers from South Ossetia are arriving in Gori. They are being housed in a local kindergarten building. The last 40 refugees are mainly sick elderly people and women.

Maria, from the Georgian village of Achabeti, had this to say:

We were bombed, our village was destroyed, it was terrible.

RFE/RL: Did troops enter the village?

Maria: Yes, they did. They came through, and left. Then the Ossetians came. There were still people trapped under the rubble. We couldn't get them out. They just set everything on fire…

RFE/RL: Where did you hide?

Maria: In our basement.

RFE/RL: How did you get here?

Maria: Somebody came down and told us there was a bus to take people to Gori. We left immediately. I didn't think we’d get here so soon. We cannot live there anymore. I don't know what will happen next. We’ll have to see.

RFE/RL: The road back to Tskhinvali and on to Vladikavkaz serves as further illustration of the devastation wreaked by Russian and Georgian forces in the fighting that began August 7. Ossetian and Georgian villages, shuffled together, are lifeless: one burned-out heap after another, ravaged by tanks and grenade launchers. You can see the bullet-riddled building of the Georgian police, where Russian troops currently hold watch, and beyond it the highway that leads to the Roki Tunnel, the gateway to North Ossetia.

An endless column of armored vehicles stretches past us. Between the tanks we occasionally spot an automobile: Ossetian refugees returning to their homes. Many of them have heard apocalyptic news reports that Tskhinvali has been wiped off the face of the Earth, but when they see their city again they'll know it's not true.

According to my observation, about half of the city is uninhabitable. Most of the damage was absorbed by tower-block buildings. The residential sector was significantly less affected.

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