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Georgia/South Ossetia: Surviving the peace

24-09-2013 Feature

Following the 2008 South Ossetia conflict, the ICRC has been helping people rebuild their lives as they struggle to adapt to a new situation, often cut off from services they used to take for granted, and from those they love.

Five years of aid

Restoring family links

Over the last five years, separated families have exchanged 9,841 Red Cross messages and the ICRC has organized 356 family reunifications.

Missing persons

The ICRC supports the families of people who went missing in 2008 or during the 1989-1992 conflict. Cooperation with the association of families of missing persons allows the ICRC to give families practical and psychological support.

We continue to urge all authorities to provide families with information on the whereabouts of people who went missing during the August 2008 conflict.

The ICRC helped set up a tripartite "Coordination Mechanism for the Clarification of the Fate of Persons Missing from the August 2008 Armed Conflict" and chaired seven meetings involving Georgian, South Ossetian and Russian participants. So far, the remains of ten people have been exhumed under the Mechanism. Six of these sets of remains could be identified and returned to their families for burial.

Detainee welfare

The ICRC visits detainees in South Ossetia and in Georgia, to assess their conditions of detention. ICRC support has enabled detainees in Tskhinval/Tskhinvali and Tbilisi prisons to receive parcels from their relatives, with 29 detainees able to see their relatives during 154 visits.

Health

The 2008 conflict left many people without medical care.

Mobile medical clinics operated from 27 August 2008 until the end of October that year, carrying out well over 6,000 consultations, mainly for elderly people with chronic diseases.

The ICRC:

  • ensures that the most vulnerable people in South Ossetia can obtain medical services;
  • renovated four clinics and one hospital in the former buffer zone during 2008;
  • has enabled 217 people living in and around Tskhinval/Tskhinvali to receive hospital treatment by supporting 239 medical evacuations;
  • has provided hospitals in Shida Kartli, western Georgia and Abkhazia with emergency supplies;
  • has provided hospitals in Shida Kartli with medical equipment, material, infusions and drugs;
  • has built or renovated 10 medical stations, making it easier for people in country areas to receive health care;
  • supports the work of the Georgian Foundation for Prosthetic and Orthopaedic Rehabilitation, enabling that organization to provide rehabilitation services to the victims of mines and explosive remnants of war;
  • ensures that people who need artificial limbs can use the Vladikavkaz physical rehabilitation centre.

Humanitarian aid and economic support

2008

The ICRC distributed food and essential household items to 14,000 people in 27 villages in Shida Kartli along the ABL as winter approached.

2009-2011

The ICRC supplied seed and fertilizer to 10,000 people in 158 villages.

2009-2013

A microeconomic initiative programme launched in 2009 is giving families a permanent source of income from their own small businesses. So far, around 2,200 people have taken part, some of them victims of mines and explosive remnants of war.

2009

Over 11,000 vulnerable people received food, clothing, footwear and firewood, helping them survive the winter.

The ICRC provided seed, fertilizer and chemicals to 7,600 people in the villages of Shida Kartli along the ABL.

2010

In January 2010, the ICRC started delivering flour to remote districts so that people could buy it at affordable prices. This had become impossible in many such districts, due to the poor condition of the roads and the lack of public transport. In close cooperation with local people, the ICRC trucked 401 sacks of flour to seven villages of the Tsinagarsky and Zakkorsky municipalities of Leninogorsk district, allowing people to buy flour at market prices established in Tskhinval/Tskhinvali.

The ICRC distributed firewood to 380 families in districts still contaminated with mines and unexploded ordnance, so that they would not need to enter dangerous areas in search of firewood.

Since 2010, the ICRC has been able to move from providing relief in Shida Kartli to providing some of the supplies that people need in order to regain their self-sufficiency, such as seed and fertilizer.

2011

The ICRC enrolled more families of missing people and mine/ERW victims in the assistance programme.

2012

Assistance focused on the microeconomic initiative programme, with 856 people joining.

Renovating dwellings and ensuring access to safe water

2008

The ICRC:

  • renovated water and sanitation facilities in two collective centres in Shida Kartli, which were sheltering about 200 people;
  • provided tarpaulins, wooden battens and plastic sheeting for making temporary repairs to houses, benefiting over 8,300 people in the former buffer zone along the ABL.

2009

The ICRC:

  • installed 35 showers and toilets in the Metekhi IDP centre, improving the living conditions of over 140 IDPs;
  • repaired the water distribution systems in the villages of Shindisi, Pkhvenisi, Brotsleti, Ditsi, Mereti and Sakasheti, improving the water supply for almost 4,400 people.

2010

The ICRC built a water distribution system, providing clean drinking water for some 2,450 people in the village of Sakasheti (Shida Kartli) and 4,800 in the districts of Gori and Kareli.

2011

The ICRC drilled boreholes and repaired the water network in three villages along the ABL, bringing clean drinking water to over 1,300 people.

2012

The ICRC:

  • worked with the United Water Company of Georgia to provide an improved water supply for over 4,000 people in eight villages along the ABL;
  • improved the water system for some 2,400 people in two other villages, by drilling boreholes and installing pumps;
  • renovated two buildings of the former hall of residence of the agricultural school in Tskhinval/Tskhinvali, where eight displaced families were living.

Elene Gablishvili

Grandmother Elene Gablishvili and her husband twice had to flee their home in Zardiaantkari. Now they are back, and the ICRC has helped them renovate their home ... and buy a pig!

Elene Gablishvili, who was able to renovate one of her rooms with a grant from the ICRC. 

Zardiaantkari, Georgia.
Elene Gablishvili, who was able to renovate one of her rooms with a grant from the ICRC.
© ICRC / E. Lotishvili

When Elene Gablishvili and her husband fled their home in August 2008, they had to leave in such a hurry that they could take only their ID cards … and a photo album. Her husband smiles as he recalls how she rushed back into the house from the garden gate saying she had forgotten something very important. He thought she would emerge with something valuable, but instead his wife joined him and the other neighbours bearing a photo album. She had remembered hearing from relatives who fled during the first conflict how heartbroken they were to have lost their family photos.

Like many in the area, her family was affected by the conflicts of the 1990s and of August 2008. Twice they fled, and twice they returned, to restart lives interrupted by conflict.

For 25 years, Ms Gablishvili was a local government employee in Mereti administrative unit, which includes her home village of Zardiaantkari. Everyone in the villages of Mereti knows and respects her for her professionalism and carefulness. At some point, she decided to leave her job and just look after the house and the garden. "When I was young, I could combine work with housework, but not now!" she explains.

When Ms Gablishvili and her husband finally returned to Zardiaantkari in summer 2012, they were among the first families to do so.

The ICRC launched a micro-economic initiative programme and another programme to help people who had returned to the village renovate the interiors of their homes. In autumn 2012, Ms Gablishvili obtained grants from the ICRC under both programmes. She used the renovation grant to renovate a first-floor room, to the delight of both family and guests. The other grant enabled Elene to buy a pig, which is soon to be the proud mother of piglets!

Her  grandchildren love staying at their grandparents' house and enjoy helping with the farmwork. They are eager to learn and to make their grandparents happy. Every time her grandchildren visit, Ms Gablishvili prepares their favourite food. "What I’d really like," she tells us, "is to see Zardiaantkari full of happy children again, like it was before the conflict."

Music of silence

Along with others like her, Auntie Tina receives food from the ICRC every three months. She lives alone, with just an old piano for company.

Tina-deida with Giya, the ICRC field worker who has been delivering aid to her and others since the 2008 conflict. 

South Ossetia.
Tina-deida with Giya, the ICRC field worker who has been delivering aid to her and others since the 2008 conflict.
© ICRC

We found Tina-deida (‘Auntie Tina’) asleep in a rickety chair on the balcony of her dilapidated one-room house. Tina-deida lives in complete solitude, relying on help from her nearest neighbours: the Parniashvilis on the left and the Gergaulovs on the right. Meeting her was like taking a trip back to the atmosphere of my beloved home town, where doors were never locked and neighbours were always the closest relatives.

“Makvala is angry with you because you haven’t brought her anything again!” Tina-deida teases Giya, an ICRC field worker who has been delivering aid to those in greatest need since the 2008 armed conflict. Makvala is Tina’s neighbour and long-time friend. She is a little better off than Tina, in that she gets State benefits and help from her relatives, so she needs no help from the ICRC. The ICRC delivers food aid once every three months to the most vulnerable people in South Ossetia: ill and elderly people with no support from relatives, families with many children and single mothers with no regular income.

With child-like enthusiasm, Tina tells me she will be celebrating her 80th birthday in January, before adding sadly: “It’s unlikely that I’ll see my grandchildren on my birthday …” Tina’s grandchildren and daughter-in-law live in the Georgian town of Lagodekhi. They are her only relatives, and they used to be part of a large and close-knit family, but she has not seen them since August 2008. Her son remained with her during the 2008 hostilities, but died a year later. His family were unable to attend the funeral. Tina lists all the people she used to rely on, but has lost over the years.

The old piano with the Tsibili maker’s name has stood in Tina-deida’s home since time immemorial. Even though she doesn’t play, the 79-year-old grandmother would never part with it. 

South Ossetia.
The old piano with the Tsibili maker’s name has stood in Tina-deida’s home since time immemorial. Even though she doesn’t play, the 79-year-old grandmother would never part with it.
© ICRC

Her room contains a relic of happier times – an old black piano with a Tbilisi maker’s name on the inside of the lid. I have kept glancing at it since I arrived. “Do you play?” I finally ask. Tina answers shyly that the instrument has been here from time immemorial and that she could not bring herself to part with it. “No, I don’t play the piano, but when I was young I played the guitar…” I look at her and suddenly see a young girl timidly strumming the strings of a guitar and softly singing some old Georgian love-song.

Micro-economic initiative brings more than just money

The 1991 conflict forced the Romelashvili family to leave their home town of Tskhinval/Tskhinvali. Then, during the 2008 conflict, sons Giorgi and Gela disappeared. Now their parents Muraz and Nanuli live in Gori, in a centre for internally displaced persons, along with Muraz’ elderly, bedridden father and Giorgi’s daughter Mariam. Living conditions are poor.

Two of Muraz Romelashvili's sons have been missing since the August 2008 conflict. The ICRC has helped him set up a bakery. 

Gori, Georgia.
Two of Muraz Romelashvili's sons have been missing since the August 2008 conflict. The ICRC has helped him set up a bakery.
© ICRC / D. Japaridze

Muraz became involved in an ICRC psycho-social assistance programme for the families of missing persons. One day, he attended a meeting about a new ICRC micro-economic initiative, and decided to apply for funding to set up a bakery. During the selection interview, he told us "One of the main goals of my application is to get my wife Nanuli interested in some activity that will distract her from her dark thoughts. She’s very depressed and doesn’t even want to attend the psycho-social meetings. I’m really worried about her."

The family got the grant and Muraz was soon able to report that Nanuli had become more motivated and was playing an active role in the business. The project has been a success economically as well, with income higher than projected in the business plan. The family has bought all the baking equipment they need, and the bakery is producing a range of different types of bread.

A mug of tea for a young poet

ICRC staff have known Aleksandr "Sasha" Sergeyevich since he was 9. He often visited our office, and we were always glad to see him. His mother Ira is bringing up her five children on her own. Listening to her incredible story, you cannot help but feel very fortunate. The ICRC found Ira and her children living under inhuman conditions in what had been a hostel for workers at the local textile factory, and for five years we have been giving them all the help we can.

ICRC staff began bringing them food and clothes. Ira tells us of water pouring out of the ceiling when it rained, of children trying to keep warm by huddling together under one blanket in winter. She could not expect help from anyone. The authorities responsible for the building seemed to have forgotten about its existence and about the 15 families that were still sheltering there. Now, Ira and her children are living in a new cottage in the north of Tskhinval/Tskhinvali, the children are neat and well-fed, and it is as if the nightmare had never happened.

This year, the ICRC has included Ira in its programme of microeconomic initiatives. "I'm not afraid of hard work. Now that I have the equipment – a microwave oven, a mincer and a refrigerator – I can cook take-away food and generate a small but steady income," she tells us. Her business is so successful that the family will be leaving the ICRC food aid programme next month. Ira tells us about all her children's successes, but we want to hear about our favourite, who is now 14. "Sasha? Did you know that he's started writing poetry?" Ira proudly brings me a battered notebook filled with a child's handwriting:

A mug of tea on the table
Is quietly cooling off…
I'll motion to my sister:
Come up here and see -
The kitty in the dark
Is sleeping on the ground,
Purring slightly in its sleep
It must be after a mouse…

Like his great namesake, Aleksandr Sergeyevich Pushkin, Aleksandr Sergeyevich Matveyev enjoys life!