A trail of destruction greets returning IDPs
By David Matsaberidze
Monday, August 25
Russian occupiers are gradually departing from the territory of Georgia, leaving behind bombs, ruined buildings and devastated infrastructure and ecology. They still maintain several military checkpoints near Gori and refuse to leave the port of Poti, claiming this is a “necessary measure for ensuring free distribution of humanitarian aid.”
Due to Russia’s procrastination the Ministry of Internal Affairs has imposed restrictions on free movement of transport in the direction of Gori and western Georgia, although Tbilisi city municipality has organized the safe and systematic return of refugees to Gori and adjacent villages. As Governor of Shida Kartli Lado Vardzelashvili stated, there is now traffic in the city again, markets have been reopened and the registration of damage is underway so compensation can be paid. According to his statement, several construction companies have already expressed interest in participating in the restoration of the city infrastructure, while the Mayor of Tbilisi Gigi Ugulava stated that the Tbilisi City Municipality will finance restoration works on two residential apartment blocks which have been totally annihilated.
Georgian state police first restored their control over Gori on August 23, after 10 days of its occupation by Russian troops. Civilians are returning to their homes, but police have warned them to be very careful as mine clearing operations are underway. On the morning of August 23, mine clearing operations began all over the formerly occupied territories. After the mine clearing is over, the MIA will make an official statement about the resumption of movement towards the Shida Kartli Region. Reportedly the whole territory has been mined by the Russians – railway bridges, military bases, highways and forests.
Russian still maintains several military checkpoints near Gori and in western Georgia. They also still operate illegal checkpoints in the Samegrelo region, in Chkhorotskhu, Tsalenjikha and Khobi, and remain on the strategic heights they occupied during the invasion.
The withdrawal of the Russian forces is being accompanied by heavy environmental damage all around the country. Areas flown or driven over by Russian troops are being set on fire. As a result, several acres of forest are burning in Borjomi Gorge, as is a kilometres-long stretch of wheat across the Shida Kartli region. On August 24 two explosions took place. Arms and shells the Russians took away from Georgian military bases exploded in Tskhinvali and a gas transport train suddenly caught fire along the Gori-Khashuri sector of the Georgian Central Railway. The police have been unable to say what caused the fire, but according to one version, splinters of the land mines detonated on the military base beside the railway reached the train and when hitting the oil caused the fire.
In parallel with the Russian withdrawal, the organized return of IDPs from Gori and Shida Kartli region has been organized by the Tbilisi Municipality. Up to four hundred special buses a day are carrying refugees back to their homes. As MP Koba Subeliani, responsible for the return programme, stated, “IDPs should carry all their belongings (food, clothes, blankets and mattresses) with them and in case of misunderstanding immediately contact the hotline to the Mayor’s Office.” Reportedly, unknown persons have been demanding that IDPs leave everything received as humanitarian aid behind.
According to the latest information the term of every Georgian school and kindergarten would begin, arguably, by the end of September. Mr. Ugulava said there was no necessity to alter the academic year, as in general schools have not been damaged during the Georgia-Russia conflict. As for those which have been damaged, in the conflict zones, both pupils and teachers will find shelter in neighbouring schools.