Unexploded munitions a reminder of Ossetian war

It has been more than a year since the conflict with Georgia, but many areas in South Ossetia are still riddled with unexploded ordnance.

Two friends, Roman and Zamat, were out playing in the suburbs of the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinval, when one of them came across an explosive. The boys thought it was a firework and tried to light it, but it detonated. Roman was blinded in one eye and left with shrapnel wounds to his face, while Zamat lost his thumb. They still cannot believe an innocent day out playing has left them scarred for life.

“The blast was very big. And I was so scared I thought I was dreaming, everything around seemed unreal,” Roman recalls the incident.

Roman’s mother was at home and knew nothing about the accident involving her only son. She had heard a bang, but after two decades of hostility between Georgia and South Ossetia, the sound of an explosion was nothing new.

“One day a neighbor told me: ‘Your son has been taken to hospital.’ I said: ‘What? Hospital?’ And the neighbor said, ‘Yes, there was an explosion.’ I was crazy, and I went to the hospital and saw my kid. He was all covered with blood and bandaged,” Anzhela Dzhabieva, Roman’s mother says.

Every morning a group of South Ossetian engineers go out into the mine fields, aware that they may not come back, as their job is so dangerous. While they manage to neutralize hundreds every day, their commander estimates that there are still more than a million unexploded munitions in the republic. Groups like the Red Cross say they are trying their best to educate locals about the dangers, but accept there will always be those who ignore the risks.

“They are mainly children and men, who are cutting wood for winter heating, or other activities involved in going out into the forest or into the field,” explains Anna Sanakoeva, a weapon contamination field officer of the International Committee of the Red Cross mission in Tskhinval.

Despite the fact that last year’s conflict lasted only five days, the people in the Ossetian war zone will spend the rest of their lives living in fear of both where they and their children tread.