Tshinval tragedy: eyewitness testimonies

AFP Photo / Dmitry Kostyukov
South Ossetians who survived the bombing in August, 2008 will never forget the terrible days they had to go through. And the children who saw the death of their loved ones will not remain children, they were forced to gr

Liana Zasseeva, 47 years old, tskhinval resident

Our house was located on the southern outskirts of the city, almost on the border. On August 7, in the evening everybody who lived in the house gathered in the basement.  The elderly, women and children, they were all there. We had to put chairs in the passage as seventeen people were sitting there. Some have already spent four days in the basement.

There was a terrible bombing during the night. The morning was a bit calmer so some went into the yard to see what had happened to their flats. There,  the barn was hit by a sell and caught fire, which could spill over to the building. We began to extinguish it. The entire south wall of our house was destroyed.

After 9 pm the shelling resumed and we returned to the basement. At 10-15 one of our neighbors looked out through a crack in the basement and said that there tanks with writing in Georgian on them follow by infantry all dressed in black – apparently, Special Forces. We heard Georgian speech.

The first Georgian column was passing near us until 2 am. They moved towards the centre of Tskhinval. The tanks at the streets turned around and fired at apartment blocks. The neighbor looked outside again and saw that a large number of Georgian troops had gathered near the Home for the Disabled. Then they started to search the flats.

In the nearby house an old man lived. His name was Kabulov and he was 70. The Georgian troops broke into his flat. A man for our basement went out and asked the Georgian troops not to kill Kabulov. But a Georgian soldier said that it was too late. The old man was already dead – killed after a tank fired at the building.

Larisa Gabueva, 40 years old, Tskhinval resident

On August 8, at 11-30 pm the shelling of the city with heavy weaponry began. My body is shaking when I recall these events. We thoughts it was going to be O.K. We were told that South Ossetia can cope with the aggression on its own. But we were not ready for such type of war, any Tskhinval resident will tell you this. We could not imagine that they would aim at peaceful citizens.

The shelling went on and on. It got quiet only in the morning and every body went out of the shelter to grab food, water and blankets. But then everything repeated. The massive shelling began again, and Grad “ rocket systems were used. We saw how the sells hit the nearby buildings, where our neighbours – Murat Byazarov and Lerika Tedeeva – lived. After a strike by ”Grad" the house burned to the ground in 20 minutes. We could not help them with buckets and rockets were flying in the air.  Besides, we had no water to put out the fire. There was no water in the city. Even drinking water.

I’ve been to the burial of Kachmazov sisters. They had no basement and they were hiding on the first floor. Then a rocket hit their house and they were burnt alive. The people of Tskhinval were not ready for this war. We were left completely alone. It seems we like we were sacrificed.

Zalina Tshovrebova, resident of Tskhinvali

Two members of our family have died – my cousins Diana Kadzhaeva and Hsar Dzhidzhoev. Diana worked as a teacher in primary grades at School number 5. She recently had surgery and didn’t have time to fully recover. So she could not leave the city quickly. On August 9, during the night Diana decided to flee along with the neighbors. Of course, this was very dangerous.

Most of the refugees, who left that night, were killed. A Mercedes in which Diana was traveling with the members of Gagloevyh family was burned at Zarsky road. I saw what was left of the car. I never thought that metal can burn up to such a thin shell. Only ashes were left of Diana.

Her father was blinded seven years ago and at the funeral Diana’s sister was saying: “You are lucky to have lost your sight, because you do not see what we are burying”.

Dzerassa Valieva, Tskhinval resident
On August 8, the shelling of the city lasted through the night and morning. All of the neighbours gathered in the basement of our house. In the morning there was a strong explosion near our house on the Isak Kharebov street and after it we’ve heard women screaming. The family, which wanted to leave the city, came under strong shelling, a rocket hit their car and they all were burned alive. We watched the people, parents and their children, dying inside the car and could do nothing to help them. Only after some time were we able to come out to them, but there was no one to save. After this terrible picture, we waited in the basement for our fate.

Around 10 o'clock in the morning the Georgian tanks entered the city and began to kill peaceful people and destroy their home. The bombardment by “Grad” rocket system was so heavy that we had to cover our ears, because the noise could have torn our hearts to peaces.

Once the city was liberated, the sad news came. Our neighbour, Bagaev Amiran Pavlovich, was killed. His body was brought in a coffin, with was very difficult to find. We even didn’t have candles we could light for him. The shelling didn’t stop and Amiran’s parents had to leave the coffin and hide in the basement. On the next day we dug a grave in the garden and buried him. The ceremony took place under constant fire.

After the Georgian infantry and tanks abandoned the city, their snipers, who stayed, killed another of our neighbours, Inal Gazzaev.

Sarmat Hubulov, 18 years old, Tskhinval resident

I was in Tskhinval on August 7. There were seven of us – my grandmother, grandfather, aunt, two younger sisters and a nephew. We all went to sleep, because Saakashvili, said that he declared cease fire. Suddenly explosions began. One of the mortar shells fell on our balcony. We immediately ran into the basement. Two hours after that, the shooting stopped. I got out of the basement and went to sleep, because we got used expected that the shooting would stop after some time. I was asleep when they started to shell the city with “Grads”. I returned into the basement and this time spent four days there.

In the morning at about 9 am the Georgian tanks entered Tskhinval. Lenin Street was burning. There were four tanks on our Tabolov Street and they were firing at our home.

In the evening a car appeared on our street – a father was trying to save his child from this hell. They stopped at the crossing and a tank shot at them from behind. And they knew that the child was inside the car. Everybody saw it. This incident is well known in the city.

When the shooting calmed I ran home and returned with water. Then I searched for my relatives, and I also managed to contact my uncle by phone. He came to us on the fourth day – hungry and without water. He said he had a car at his work and that he would pick us up. We were driving to the hotel in a jeep, picking up another woman in Tbet.

When we reached the Zarsky road they began to shoot at us. The two cars that took off before us, were standing on the road, burned. My uncle looked into one of them and said it was empty. After that I examined another car: its roof was torn and people inside were burnt and blood was on the seats. We returned to our car and drove further.

The car behind us was driving with headlights turned on, and the Georgian troops fired at it. But my uncle told them to switch the headlights off and the shooting stopped.

Marina Ualyty, 17 years old, student Tskhinval resident

On August 7, at 11-30 pm we were getting ready to go to sleep and expected a quite night, because Georgian President Saakashvili promised to stop the shelling and start negotiation. And then we heard the explosion. We went straight to the basement and set there in the dark, thinking that the bombardment will end by morning as usual. But it was morning already and the shooting was far from over. And this time they were using “Grad” rocket systems. It seemed they were firing straight at the roof of our house. We started to phone our relatives, to find out about their fate. Later we found out that the Georgians were tracking mobile signals and then fired at the places where they came from.

On August 9, we left Tskhinal and set for Vladikavkaz. We’ve left the city by car and then walked by foot to Dzhava. Cars that drove near us were packed. In one car people were sitting inside the cabin – two on the front seat other were on the back seat – and two more were in the trunk with their legs hanging out. Fortunately, when we were driving the road was not shelled, but those who went after us came under fire.

My relative from Moscow came to Tskhinval to her parents. She wanted to leave on August 7 but couldn’t find a car. So she had to stay. The house owner hid her in the basement behind the iron boilers. She was sitting there when Georgian troops entered the house. They drank wine and ate all the food they could find.

The house was in mourning because less than a year ago a family member had died – his photo was hanging on the wall and they were shooting at it. They were just mocking; I can’t find any other word. And when they were leaving they dropped a couple of grenades into the cellar, just in case. My relative was lucky as the iron boilers saved her.

Olga Ataeva, 30 years old, Moscow resident

My brother Alan Atayev, born in 1971, worked as a dentist in the town's clinic.  He was not in military service. During the heavy shelling of Tskhinval on August 8, he, together with my parents and sister, was hiding in the basement of our house in the city’s centre. On August 9, during a relative lull, Alan went out of the house to see whether anyone needed medical treatment and never returned. The next morning, my mother, despite heavy shelling, left the basement to search for her son. And she found his remains about 300 meters from our house. He was torn to pieces; apparently it was a deliberate shot by heavy weapons, a tank maybe. My mother identified Alan by his shoes. Together with her sister they collected the remains and a few hours, under fire, buried them in the garden. They were not sure that they would survive, the main thing for them was to bury what was left of Alan.

Laura Gabueva, Tskhinval resident

On the next morning after the shelling a neighbours son came and said that they would grab their things and hurry to the peacekeepers posts as Georgians were already in the city. My parents and I were in the basement and heard a noise. We went outside to find out what was going on. Then I ran to my sister – her family lives a few houses away from us – to find out whether they were alive. They were ok and I raced back to the cellar. And suddenly I saw our other neighbour, who looked at me very sadly from the window. I told her that she must hide in the basement because the shelling would be resumed. She said: “We have no cellar”. “Hide in ours”, I answered.

She lingered and asked in a most hopeless voice: “My husband is Georgian. Will you let him in?”

“Immediately take your husband and come to us,” I answered.

We all gathered in our basement and, under the noise of the tanks, waited for a miracle of God. And then the hail of shelling started, I don’t know how else to describe it, the noise was terrible, and the shells roared and the bullets were whistling. Everything was burning where “Grad” rockets fell. There were 12 people in the basement. None of us could eat, we only drank water. The funniest thing, if there can be anything funny in such situations, was that there were neighbours who had refused to talk to each other for more than ten years, and under the shelling got on very well together and cared for each other like they were relatives. You never know how life can turn out.

Fatima Mamieva, Tskhinval resident

On the 9th of August – when the city was taken over by panic and people were fleeing wherever they could – we also decided to leave. My family and I got into two cars. I was in one car with my husband and his parents. My husband’s sister and her close ones were in the second car. When we drove through the city, I was shaking with fear. Explosions were occurring everywhere, buildings were on fire, and everything around us was collapsing. When we left the city, we thought that the worst was over and we were saved.

But destroyed cars lined the road and dead bodies were everywhere. Past the Tbet village we noticed a group of Georgian armoured troops. We sped up. They started shooting at us. A shell landed right next to us and pieces of it damaged the car. We had to slow down, and at this moment our relatives overtook us. In a few seconds, a shell flew past us with a hiss and slammed right into them. Their car was thrown into the air, caught fire and fell back down. The shell, which hit our relatives' car, ripped them to pieces. They were only buried on the 11th of August, in a field near the road. The deceased, Miroslav and Zhanna Valiev have two daughters aged 13 and 15. Their relative Liana has a son and daughter.

Liudmila Dzioeva, Vladikavkaz resident

I was visiting a friend of mine when the Georgian bombardment of Tskhinval began. She didn't have a basement, just like many of her neighbors. Knowing that there was only one house on the Pushkin road which had a basement, we all ran there. But it wasn't that safe there either, because the basement's ceiling wasn’t made out of concrete.

One of the neighbors said that the Georgians would definitely not bomb the OSCE building on the same road. The building also had a large fortified basement, so on the morning of the 8th of August five of us ran there.

A middle-aged man in a helmet and a bulletproof jacket opened the door. We asked him to give us shelter, to help us hide the children at least. The OSCE representative only said that he had to ask his superiors for permission. He didn't let us into the building, but he heard very well that the bombardment was gaining momentum again. We waited for him by the gate for 10 minutes, even though our lives could depend on a mere second. He didn't come back to us and we had to leave. The OSCE didn't care that we were getting killed.

Valentina Kochieva, 55 years, Tskhinval resident

My son and I, together with our neighbors (8 people in all) sat in our building's basement. The basement was small, there was no water, electricity, or gas, and there was nowhere to go to the toilet. Our mobile phones ran out of batteries and we didn't know what was going on, because we couldn't call our relatives and friends.

We sat in the basement like that until 5 am on the 10th of August. In the morning, when it was quiet, we crept out. The streets were filled with dead bodies. Then we started fleeing towards Russia, and our car got stopped. So anyway, there were eight of us in the car. It's about three kilometers from Tskhinval to the village of Kurset. In that short distance I counted seventeen cars – burned and shot. My neighbor – Irakliy Kozaev – was killed – he was a deaf-mute photographer. His mother also died. His wife Eka, a Georgian, is now a refugee, just like us.

Liudmila Tedeeva, 68 years, Tskhinval resident

For three days we stayed in the basement of our house on Telman street. We couldn't even go out to get water. They shot directly at us, all the flats are destroyed. Couldn't they see that there were civilians here? If it wasn't for our Russian brothers, we would all be dead long ago. We will stay here, we won't go anywhere. They're saying, the city will be reconstructed…

Zaira Tedeeva, 51 years, Tskhinval resident

On the day that the Georgians entered Tskhinval, we drove out of the city. There were five of us. In the endless shooting and bombing, we barely made it to the railroad crossing. When we were past it, they started shooting at us. We somehow jumped out of the car and started crawling. I was glad I had trousers on under my dressing gown; otherwise I would've scratched my legs to a pulp. We crawled into the bushes and hid there. After we waited for a bit, we started running towards the forest. I ran first because I was the eldest.

When we entered the Tbet village, we saw an old man who told us that we could go towards the village of Khvets without fearing anything. We set out, but saw a column of soldiers. We thought they were Russian soldiers, and even waved at them. When it was clear that they were Georgian soldiers, it was already too late. They ran towards us shouting “Get out!” and “Stand still!” They made us form a line and started searching us. I had a little money with me and they took it. Then they put us into a car.
The only questions that we asked ourselves then were “Where are they taking us? What will happen?”

When we finally arrived and got out of the car, we saw some sort of building in front of us. We went up the steps. We were taken into a room and I understood that it was the army headquarters. There, we were searched again. Women were searching women. A beautiful young woman was especially crude and rough with us. She was shouting for us to take off our clothes. We obeyed. They were cursing Ossetians all the time. They were saying that they will destroy the whole Ossetian population. We were held and questioned in that building for several days. They didn't touch the women, but the men were beaten. Then they let us go.

Bela Tibilova, Tskhinval resident

On the 7th of August I couldn't leave work to go home – there was too much shooting to walk the streets safely. My friend and I went to our colleague's house, which was close to work, and went into his basement. We cleaned it up just in case. We didn't think that it would be necessary. In the evening, they started shooting with large calibre weapons and we had to go down to the basement. For the first two days we sat there. They were shooting at us from tanks, howitzers, cannons and were dropping bombs from planes. We were scared that a bomb would land on top of us and rip us to pieces, or hurt us, or make the house collapse on top of us. I was praying that this ordeal would end.

Our colleague managed to bring down an air mattress before the shooting began, and on the first night we sat on it in the centre of the basement. At quiet moments, we just squatted down on it and covered our faces. Sitting like that for a long time is very difficult – your legs start to go numb and hurt. Towards the morning, we took the mattress and put it under a table, in the hope that if the house would collapse, at least we could be covered. That's when a plane dropping cluster bombs flew over us. There was a one story building next to us which, within seconds, was reduced to nothing. Nothing was left, only a field of rubble. I can't describe how it was. When I try – I start crying. I was never scared of being left alone before, now I listen to every step and every noise and can't sleep at night. I'm scared of everything: shooting, silence, it all seems suspicious to me.

Ekaterina Tedeeva, Tskhinval resident

Now I feel only pain. A blast threw me against a wall and something happened to my spine. My arm and leg on the left side go numb. The doctor said I had a problem with my nerves. I remember a young man in a white shirt who ran around the city with other kids, collecting food and water for us. I gave him my father's sweater, his white shirt was too obvious a target for the Georgians. I don't know if he's alive. I hope that he is. I see in front of me the figure of my friend. She died with her mother. For me those few days lasted for years…

Marina Hugaeva, Tskhinval resident, nurse

How can anybody ever forget the nightmare that happened to us in August?! I'm still mixing up the days. My children and I – I have two sons – were sitting in a basement with our neighbors. We bore the noise as we could, but when we heard the clanging of caterpillar tracks, we thought that it was the Russians. We were so happy! My husband went up to the flat to have a look. Suddenly, he reappeared next to me and said only, “Georgians”!

What could we do? We didn't have any weapons. All we could do was wait. I don't know how long it was. My husband ran back into the basement. He said that we had to leave, because a tank had just turned a corner near our house. We all leaped up: me, the children, my husband and brother-and-law took their elderly mother by both arms, and we started running. I don't remember when we reached the Zarskaya road… We bumped into Russian soldiers. There were about 30 of them. They looked surprised when they saw us and asked: “There's still people alive in the city?”

I don't remember where I lost my slippers. I remember I looked at my feet and they were covered in blood. So barefoot, only wearing my bathrobe, I reached Djava with my family. I'm still in some sort of fog. I'm still surprised that we're all alive. It's strange…

Alina Dzhioeva, Tskhinval resident, housewife

I remember it all in fragments. I remember that in the morning after the first round of bombing it was very quiet. Only those who were in the city will understand me – when your ears hurt from the silence after the deafening noise. I also thought that the birds weren't singing, they were all gone, just like during the first war, when they were flying around in flocks at first, and disappeared a few days later. We decided that we had to find the peacekeepers. Suddenly, as though somebody had heard us, we saw a young lad with a machine gun. We started asking him questions immediately. He said, that there were no more peacekeepers left, they were all killed with bombs. Just imagine what we felt then…

After the war Gergiev and the Mariynskiy theatre put on a show for us. Who didn't dream to hear them perform? But during the show I somehow switched off and thought of everyone I hadn't called yet, to ask them about the fate of my neighbors and people I knew. To the music of Shostakovich I thought about all my family being alive, and of those families in the city, which were completely wiped out… And I was sitting there, alive and even listening to music. I was reassuring myself that it was a prayer, a requiem for those, who died. It was a sinister feeling, I can't put it into words. We are guilty for those, who we couldn't save.

Eduard, 80 years, Hetagurovo village resident

They attacked suddenly. Shots were fired, tanks appeared. I couldn't trust my own eyes. We were all in our houses, in our rooms, and then we ran to the vegetable patches – where could we hide? I didn't leave – who could I trust the house to? And the animals? I will stay at home, I will not leave the house [Eduard's house is destroyed]. Around six hundred people lived here, and now there's only a few left. When the Georgians started shooting, many of them fled. So many killed, so many injured…

Valentina Valieva, 56 years, Hetagurovo village resident

That night – from the 7th to the 8th of August – a shell blast near our house was so strong, that our wall fell down and our house caught fire. My relative, Tamara, ran out into the street and she was killed in front of my eyes. My son and I broke a window and got out through it, running barefoot through the street towards our neighbors' house which had a basement. My son clutched a phone in his hand, but it fell out in the confusion. His passport burned, and our money too… Nothing was left, we didn't have time to pick anything up. I was running, I had completely lost myself. We ran into our neighbors' basement. They had a car. They were begging us to drive them to Djava. 

Later we found out that Tamara's brother crept into our courtyard to collect what was left of his sister to bury her, when the shooting quietened down a little bit. But that's when everything started again. He didn't make it. They got buried on the third day.  They lay in the courtyard all that time… Our schoolmistress' mother-in-law refused to leave her house. She got shot on the threshold. An old man, Efim Bekoev… he was the head teacher in the village school… they got into his house and killed him, and destroyed his house. I don't remember everyone who died; so many of them… The whole street is destroyed, they were shooting houses from tanks, they crushed them, they crushed my vegetable garden…

Olga Tuaeva, 70 years, Hetagurovo village resident

The Georgians gave no warning. They came suddenly and started shooting immediately. Five tanks drove through the village several times. They were shooting right into the houses, and people with machine guns followed close behind them. When the shooting began, all my neighbors started running away, but I just lay face down in my vegetable garden. They didn't find me – they thought I was dead. We were afraid to go into the basements – the house could fall down on top of you… We were hiding in our houses, in the gardens and courtyards. Now I have to leave too, I'm too scared to stay here all by myself. I'm going to stay with my relatives in Vladikavkaz.

Amiran Kabanov, about 50 years, Hetagurovo village resident

There were 350 houses here and there are only sixteen people left. The Georgians didn't warn us about the start of the operation. About 400 people entered the village. They broke into houses looking for weapons and uniforms, shouting “are militants living here?” They thought that there were more militants here than in Tskhinval.  Actually, there was nobody here apart from us, and the women. We were asking them: why are you destroying our homes? The Georgians were saying: “don't worry about that, the state will rebuild everything.” They wanted to block the Zarskaya road and the Rokskiy tunnel to separate South Ossetia from Russia. It's difficult to say how many people were killed. Many have buried their relatives in the gardens of their homes – for example, my neighbor died at home from a shell blast. A woman died right in front of me. She was trying to catch a scared chicken. A Georgian soldier shot her in the back, her neighbors buried her in the garden.

Nikolay Dzhussoev, 54 years, Hetagurovo village resident

I live in this house. Nobody warned us. The whole three days that there was shooting, I stayed in the basement. I heard people speaking in Georgian and put on my medal – “Hero of Labour” – I got awarded it in Tbilisi. I put it on so that they wouldn't kill me. The things they were doing! Shooting, bombs… They were firing at people from tanks and mortars. I have lived here all my life and I'm not going anywhere – my home is here. I'll spend the winter in the basement.

Zaira Khurieva, 43 years, resident of Dmenis village

We were in the basement of one of the houses. A big shell landed next to the house. The basement quickly filled up with smoke. Many of us started suffocating. A nurse spent the night in the basement with us. People were calling her all the time. She wanted to get to work as quickly as possible, but the shooting was too heavy.

Look here: there are broken windows. Everything is broken. In the morning we got a call, we were all shocked. We were told: “Run away! The village is taken!” We ran as we were, through the gardens and yards. When we reached the rural administrative building we saw a machine gunner who was shooting everyone he saw. He was shooting at civilians. Our neighbour got killed. There were children and elderly people with us. We barely made it to Djava. My sick mother-in-law was with us. I carried her all the way. I can't imagine how I carried her all the way to Djava. Here, a man with the same surname as me is buried. Suliko Khuriev was just a civilian. There was so much shooting that we didn't have a chance to bury him. We dug for a bit and then hid. There were no men left in the village, we buried him ourselves. We couldn't even make a coffin for him – we wrapped him in sheets and buried him.

Marina Dzhioeva, 47 years, resident of Sarabuk village

Before all of this happened, everybody in the village was at work. We were worried, but Saakashvili made a statement, that there would be no military action and he signed something. People calmed down and got to their chores as usual. Everyone went to bed and at night, shooting suddenly began. Bullets were flying everywhere. Our windows were smashed. We all gathered in one place: the women, the children, the elderly. We chose a basement and hid there. We had collected some bedding. Some were wearing coats, others were just as they left their homes.

On the 7th of august at midnight, that horrible night began. You could even call it a new genocide against the Ossetian people. They were shooting from all sorts of weapons and not stopping for even a second. We were worn out, they were bombing us with “Grad” all night. Before then we didn't even know what that was. We thought that by the morning it would all be over, but the morning was the worst. A lad managed to get to us and warned us that the Georgian infantry was on its way. We hadn't slept at all that night – we were exhausted – but we decided to flee. We were running along a ravine towards the neighboring village of Kokhat where Russian peacekeepers were stationed. When we were running through the ravine, we had already decided to find the peacekeepers, but Georgian troops already had taken over the bridge and blocked our way. They pointed their weapons at us and started shooting us in the back.

We finally reached the peacekeepers and they told us: “Stay here for a while – we are untouchable”. They fed us and gave us a place to stay for the night and, in the morning, we went to Tsru village. Cold and hungry, wearing what we had left in, we found an empty house and stayed there for three nights.

Boris Kumaritov, 73 years, head of rural administration in Sarabur village

When the Georgian military burst into the village with their weapons, they started firing at the village. As a result, four civilians died – some of them from direct shots, others from missile wounds. One of them got a missile shard right into his forehead. Another one couldn't get help on time and died from blood loss. Five houses burnt down and many more were destroyed. Seven were completely crushed and others were severely damaged. They came from the main road and prepared trenches and everything else. There were about 500 of them. The people were very scared and left their homes to flee towards Djava.

Georgian soldiers stayed here for three days. People who couldn't escape stayed in the village – mostly the elderly. A woman from this village died – Olga Mikhailovna Tsakhilova. She died from a shell blast. It flew in through her window and she died. Andrey Guchmazov also died from a blast. The other two died from bullets. Now, people are returning to their homes. All of them were robbed.

Dmitry Bestaev, 62 years, resident of Khelchua village
It all started at around midnight on the 7th of August. My wife and I were not asleep yet. Then the shooting started. They were shooting from different weapons. We were shot with “Grad” too. Our neighbor ran in and the three of us stayed in the house. When the shooting began, one of our fellow villagers – Ibragim Feliksovich Kisiev – was killed. Four people were injured. They ran to us and we bandaged their wounds.

The shooting continued night and day. By the 8th of August everybody had left their homes and their livestock and was hiding in the forest. When the shooting calmed down we took the dead into the house. I was told that his son was here as well and maybe somebody will come up with a plan on how to bury him. We were trying to decide how to bury him – wrap him in cellophane, or do what? It was then that my wife told me: “I can't take it anymore. Let's run to the forest”. So we fled to the forest. Those, who were left buried Ibragim. After that I got a call and was told: “The people have to leave in a column”. Meanwhile, the Georgians were already in Khelchua. I saw it myself: they were speaking a foreign language and many of them didn't look Georgian. They were breaking doors, taking gold and money. They didn't leave any valuables behind.

Salimat Glagolieva, 64 years, resident of Sarabuk village
Nadya came running to us and told us that the Georgians are right at the gates. I didn't believe her and said “What Georgians? What are you talking about?” She said “Look – right here!” There were many of them right near our fence. They were holding their machine guns and standing still. They were shouting at us to come out. I told them that we are poor people so that they would leave us alone. My neighbor also started telling them the same. They demanded that we come out into the courtyard. We did. Then they took us to their superior. He had to decide what was to become of us. We begged him to let us go. We were very scared. I was shaking. They took us upstairs. They were telling us they had a medicine that would cure us quickly. We begged them a little. Then they let us go and we ran away.

Klavdia Kabulova, 70 years, resident of Sarabuk village

I saw them walking around. There were many of them, no fewer than 5,000. One of them was threatening my husband. The one threatening was a colonel. They were shooting, shooting. I was terrified. They were saying that Tskhinval, and Djava and the whole of South Ossetia is under their control. They were saying we're under their control too, and why kill us if we could be like slaves.
Elichka Gaboeva, 85 years, resident of Satikar village

I didn't know that the Georgians had entered the village. I was walking down the road, leaving my cow. They asked me: “Where did you get her from?” I told them that I was just speeding her along. Then they started beating me hard. I couldn't see anything. My rib is broken. They were saying that the Ossetians have a place to live and they don't have room anymore. They were probably hitting me because I am Ossetian. If I was Georgian, why would they hit me? My whole house is upside down. My face is black and blue. It's all swollen. I have a bruise on my arm as well. My rib is broken. When I walk around, I feel my bones crunching. When everybody left the village, I was left alone. I didn't even have bread – nothing. I'm still shaking. People are surprised that I'm still alive.

Nato Basaeva, 72 years, resident of Satikar village

When the Georgians entered the village, we thought that they were people from Khsuis, the neighboring village. They were shooting a lot from different weapons. I was hiding in my basement. Then one of them jumped in. The others were standing behind the house. There was an acquaintance of mine amongst them: I worked at the club house in the Khsuis village for a long time. The first one put a gun to my head and the second one, my acquaintance, asked him not to kill me. He said in Russian: “You can't kill her, don't kill her”. They left my house. Then I ran to my neighbor and told her: “Marusia, for the sake of God, let's run away”. Then they entered her house as well. She begged them in Georgian not to kill her. My acquaintance again told them not to kill us: “These are old people – don't kill them,” he said. Then they left. We ran for the forest. They started shooting us in the back. We were crawling around the forest. We found out that two people got killed in the Dmenis village when they ran for the forest, trying to save their lives, just like us. At night we arrived to Naniauri. We got into an empty house and hid wherever we could. Then the Georgians left and we went back home.

Zelimhan Tamaev, 69 year, resident of Satikar village

When the Georgian troops arrived at the village, they were shooting a lot. We ran away and hid. This lasted for a very long time. Then all was quiet again. We thought they left. I walked into one of the houses. I had a look and saw that everything was turned upside down. Then I saw Georgian soldiers. I crawled under the bed immediately. I lay there, looking out for when they would go back out. Nearly one and a half hours had gone by. They went to the second floor. I lay under the bed thinking: “What should I do?” When they were going upstairs, they were saying “Pidem, pidem”. I think that's Ukrainian. I could only see their feet. I couldn't see their faces. I could only hear what they were saying . They were speaking in Georgian, but in Ukrainian too. Then, when they were all upstairs, I ran away.

Alan Sipolis, 38 years, British citizen

Diana Grigorievna Kamchazova (my mother) and Zaira Grigorievna Kamchazova (my aunt) lived in Tskhinval. Zaira was a neuropathologist – a very highly demanded person in Tskhinval after the events of the 90's. Most people who lived through the horrors of war needed qualified medical help. In the beginning of August 2008, when the situation in the region became very tense, when Georgian snipers killed several people, I insisted that my mother and aunt temporarily move to Russia. But they hoped that war wouldn't happen and remained in Tskhinval.

On the 9th of August, sometime between 13.00 and 16.00, during another heavy shooting spree in the city, a shell landed in our garden, on the western side of the house. It exploded, sending a huge amount of small sharp pieces flying. A large part of the garden had burnt down and a crater formed in the ground. It was a directed explosion. Lots of hot pieces of shrapnel flew towards the house, mostly at the ground floor level, penetrating metal walls and cardboard, My mother and aunt were hit by this shrapnel. I can't describe what was left of them, God forbid anybody sees anything like it. The bodies were severely damaged and not all the pieces were immediately located. We had to bury part of the remains after the funeral. We couldn't bury my mother and aunt next to their parents in the Tbet village like we planned. The shells which fell down near that village destroyed my grandparents' grave.

Marina Bestaeva, 63 years, resident of Tbet village

When the horrible shooting began on the night to the 8th of August, we all understood that the worst had happened. At four in the morning a neighbour ran in and shouted that Georgian tanks had surrounded the nearby village of Khetagurovo and were heading our way. We decided to go to Vladikavkaz, together with my 73-year-old husband, my little granddaughters aged 4 and 7 and my daughter-in-law. We got into the car, but before we’d got a hundred meters two missiles landed in front of us. We hid in a basement, together with two women who were escaping from Tskhinval. This was right on the road from Tskhinval. There were already people in the basement. The Georgians were already in the village. They probably noticed people moving, so they surrounded the house and started singing songs and shouting “Long live Georgia!” They were trying to make us come outside. The children were crying. Us, the women, were crying too. There's howling all through the basement. I thought then: “this is it, this is the end”.

Then tanks started shooting at the building, there was shooting from all sorts of weapons around us. My granddaughter Anna lost consciousness several times. I was only praying to be the first one to die and not see the death of my children. After a while the Georgian tanks which stood near the house drove off towards Tskhinval. Along the road they shot at two cars which were driving away from Tskhinval. In one of them, my friend's son died. I also saw a dead woman in a car standing by the road. The others were badly injured and were asking for help. There was a woman amongst them, her name is Mzia, her daughter was with her. They were bleeding heavily and crawling into a wide concrete pipe by the road. I couldn't do anything to help them, I couldn't leave the children. We ran towards another basement and kept hearing cries for help. My little granddaughters were holding on to their crosses and praying all the while when we were going through that hell. We didn't want this war, we didn't start it. People were only protecting their homes and their children. Don't we have the right to live?