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Georgia: victims of conflict hope for a brighter year ahead

05-01-2009 Feature

As Orthodox Christmas approaches in Central and Eastern Europe, many displaced and isolated families affected by the armed conflict between Russia and Georgia five months ago remain in need of help. For elderly people, like 60-year-old Nunu Doliashvili, the holiday season would have been very bleak indeed, were it not for some much-needed assistance from ICRC.

  ©ICRC/M. Galter    
  Volunteers helping ICRC distribute food and hygiene items in Megvrekisi village, near border with South Ossetia, 22 December 2008.    

  ©ICRC/M. Galter    
  Volunteer shown during distribution of food and hygiene items in Megvrekisi village, 23 December 2008.    

  ©ICRC/K. Khasaia/ge-e-00399    
  ICRC truck arrives with food and hygiene items for distribution in Svaneti, western Georgia, 18 December 2008.    

" During the hostilities, tanks drove over my fields and destroyed the crops that were due for harvest, " says Nunu, who lives in the village of Megvrekisi. " I'm a housewife and am grateful for the food we received, especially the flour, because I will be able to bake a cake for my grandchildren on Christmas. " Orthodox Christians, like Nunu, will celebrate Christmas on 7 January.

As part of its " winterization program, " the ICRC continues delivering food and hygiene items to around 20,000 of the most vulnerable people in conflict-affected villages, which remain cut off from services and support. Most of the people were displaced by the fighting but have since returned home to the villages bordering South Ossetia, which was particularly hard-hit during the war.

The first round of distributions started in November and provided assistance to about 11,000 people as winter set in. A second round for around 20,000 people is currently taking place. In addition to food and household items, 1,800 families will receive firewood in January.

 Hope and warmth  

Jenia Mchedlidze is 85 and lives in Zemo Nikozi, just outside Tskhinvali in the region of Shida Kartli. She lost all her food stocks and households items because of the conflict.

" I was afraid I would have to beg this Christmas, " she says. " This food will give us not only something to eat but also a sense of hope… thanks to the wheat flour, I can make traditional cheese bread, or khachapuri, which will make it feel more like Christmas. "

On 23 December, the ICRC also distributed medicines and oil heaters to the medical clinic in Tirdznisi. The weather was cold and rainy, and the heaters provided welcome warmth for the patients, who were waiting to see a doctor. According to the medical staff, it had been too cold to examine children at the facility due to the extreme temperatures and lack of heat.

" We've been going to families'homes to vaccinate children because it was freezing in the clinic, " said one of the staff members. " Now that we have heaters, the children can be vaccinated here. "

 A tireless team effort  

During the past five months, teams of Georgian Red Cross and ICRC staff, including assistance, medical and protection specialists, have been working tirelessly to help repair homes, reconnect water supplies, visit the sick and reunite separated families.

Since August, the ICRC and its partner National Societies have provided vital aid to those in need throughout Georgia, as well as to victims of the conflict displaced from South Ossetia to North Ossetia in the Russian Federation.

The ICRC remains the only international humanitarian organization with a permanent presence in South Ossetia, where it has more than 60 delegates and national staff.

The organization has also offered victims of the conflict a shoulder to lean on and a chance to talk about their painful experiences. For some, the passage of time has not eased the memories of last August.

 Emotional healing  

During the fighting, 66-year-old Nona and her family from Gogh eti were abducted and kept by armed men for several days. They were eventually released.

" I can't explain what it was like to see the fear in my son's eyes, when he was about to be separated from us, and not knowing what was going to happen to my whole family, " says Nona.

" During the first month after our release, I felt strong and positive. I was focused on ensuring my family would survive and that everyone was okay. But now I find it harder to deal with the emotions and anxiety, so I am grateful to be able to talk to people from the ICRC and share my story. "

People like Nona will no doubt continue to face some difficult weeks and months ahead, as the physical and emotional scars of the conflict continue to heal.

Yet, despite the ongoing difficulties faced by many residents, there is a general sense of hope that the New Year will be more peaceful than the last and that things will gradually improve.