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21 August 2008

“We screamed from the horror of it all”

Eyewitness accounts of the conflict in Georgia

By Svetlana Graudt

Elena Zaseeva, 43, a widow from Tskhinvali

“When the conflict broke out, after midnight, the explosions were deafening. It felt as if all the shells were hitting our house. Then one huge shell did hit our house. We were screaming, crying and praying. The entire house shook, the room on the ground floor filled up with smoke. We screamed from the horror of it all.

“My eldest son ran outside and when he returned he said that the first floor of the house was destroyed. ‘They want to kill us,’ I remember thinking. ‘Why aren’t the Russians coming?’

“During a quiet moment our neighbours came running and told us to join them in their basement. We spent two days in the basement, in complete darkness. I put my 12-year-old son on one of the shelves that lined the walls of the basement, amid jars of home-made compote. Even though the shelf was uncomfortable, he was so exhausted that he slept all night and all day.

“Then the Georgians entered Tskhinvali. Some Ossetian guys came by in a car, we grabbed some documents, ran outside, and without any possessions we tried to leave the city.

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“When we got back to Tskhinvali from Vladikavkaz, I found my house partially ruined. A house opposite mine burned down. Everyone is crying non-stop. There were many funerals. A woman I know had to collect the bits of her son’s body into a box – he was hit by a shell. She buried him in her garden.

“Russia protected us from Georgia’s aggression. If they hadn’t come, we would not have survived such heavy shelling. But I have many friends among the Georgians. I feel sorry for those who had been killed. I worry a lot about them.”

Leo Kachmazov, 41, an Ossetian from Tskhinvali

“The Georgians shelled peaceful people who were asleep. It was direct artillery fire from 80, 100 and 200mm guns. They entered Tskhinvali in their tanks and killed women and children.

“I am in a Jewish part of town at the moment. Everything is ruined and destroyed. Tears are coming to my eyes. There is nothing left from the house where my friends used to live. There are tea kettles scattered around, and the metal beds are burned and twisted.

“I would like to ask Saakashvili what he wanted from this small piece of land of ours. Why did you come here, at high speed, with your weapons? Almost everyone here is a Russian citizen. Our state language is Russian. We have nothing to do with Georgia.”

Lubov Volkova, 37, lawyer, Moscow

“In Russia people believe what the mass media says 100 per cent. The television here talks about the conflict as a result of the United States’ anti-Russian policies.

“I found out that the Russian army had bombed Georgia from independent news sources. They showed the decomposing corpses of Georgian soldiers but I couldn’t watch this stuff, I changed channels.

“This is Putin’s victory. He wanted everyone to think: ‘You don’t mess with Russia.’ This is exactly what we are thinking now.”