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21 August 2008

“Our treacherous neighbours”

Why South Ossetians no longer say "Georgians"

By Larisa Sotieva

At the moment, South Ossetia is like a ship after a terrible storm. Many of its crew are dead. Others are trying to repair the ship and set a course in one direction: north, towards Russia.

People are in deep shock. Every day, there are funeral ceremonies in Tskhinvali and the surrounding villages, many of which have been burned.

At the funerals, people tell the stories of when and how their relatives were killed. People blame the Georgian government, even Georgian soldiers’ mothers – how could they allow them to terrify and kill children and elderly people? But people do not say “Georgians”. It is hard for them to articulate the name. Instead, they call them “our treacherous neighbours”.

The South Ossetian government reported that 2,100 civilians have been killed by Georgian troops. It is difficult to verify the number because many are still buried in the rubble of the cellars where they were hiding. There is a putrid smell in the streets of Tskhinvali.

Local volunteers and Russian constructors are repairing schools, houses and hospitals and clearing the streets. The Ossetian home-guard men are resting – sleeping at home or, for those whose homes were destroyed, in vehicles captured from the Georgians.

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The Russian military are nowhere to be seen in Tskhinvali. Instead, the streets are littered with incinerated Georgian tanks. It must be hard to throw them away with the rubbish.

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