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What they couldn’t steal they burned

By Shorena Labadze
Tuesday, August 26
One facet of Russia’s cruel plans has turned out to be the devastation of Georgian ecology. Georgian officials, together with fire brigades and the local population are trying to extinguish fires resulting from arson attacks by the Russian aggressors.

It is unknown so far what kind of devices Russia used to start these fires. Only one thing is clear: They activate either at once, or after several hours. Russia has breached international standards and has committed the crime known as “ecocide”, a recognised offence which may be described as the ruination of flora and fauna during wartime.

Fire is raging furiously in Ateni Gorge in Gori region and now covers over 40 hectares. “I hope we’ll manage to put the fire out very soon. We have new equipment from Ukraine which will very effectively help us in this process. The coniferous forest, covering 40-50 hectares, has already been burnt down. Fire brigades, Environment Protection Ministry employees, inspectors and the local population are involved in the fire fighting efforts. We hope the fire will be localized soon,” Environment Minister Irakli Ghvaladze announced. Turkish aviation is being used to fight the fire as well.

The Police are also trying to quench the fire. For full localisation several days will be necessary.

As a result of Russian aggression 500 hectares of Borjomi-Kharagauli forest park have also been devastated. Since August 15 the fire has been fought for 8 days, 24 hours a day, yet there are still areas where the fire is burning. According to Forest Department Professor Gia Gagoshidze “species of trees of international importance are on fire now”. As he says, we need to be concerned not only about the trees, but also the soil, which is damaged by the fire and whose regeneration takes time.

Borjomi-Kharagauli Forest Park is one of the great nature parks of the world. It covers 85,000 hectares. It was the first national park in the Caucasus created according to international standards and is a member of the PAN Park international network. “This national park is unique in the whole world. We have spoken with the World Fund for Natural Protection and it is ready to help us,” Deputy Chairman of Environment Care Committee Zaza Gamtsemlidze said.

The PAN Park Secretary General has sent a special address to Russia’s Environment Minister. The World Bank has also expressed its deep concern over the burning of the forests. The World Environment Care Fund has called on special organizations to help Georgia to solve the problem as “it is a problem not only for Georgia, but also for the whole Caucasus”. According to specialists at least 50 years will be necessary to renew the Borjomi forests

Environment Minister Lado Gegelashvili told The Messenger that the fire has been quenched everywhere for now, only Ateni Gorge is a problem, but he hopes it will be put out soon. Yet according to the Interior Ministry Russian aggressors have burned the unique Kiketi forests as well. On August 19 Russians also burned the Ganmukhuri Patriots’ camp down. They poured benzene on the buildings and then set them on fire. They also took the camp inventory and burned that too. Another forest was set on fire in Khikhani-Shauamini in the Marneuli region. The fire has burned down tens of hectares of trees. According to Marneuli Governor Zaza Dekanoidze Marneuli and Bolnisi fire brigades and the local population worked together to localize the fire, which broke out only 600 metres from a populated area.

Tbilisi has also faced the danger of fire. There was a fire in Varaziskhevi, near the Zoo. According to the Special Situations Service one fire machine was sufficient to dowse it although 200 square metres of grass was on fire. The cause isn’t known, though “a subversive act isn’t ruled out,” says the Service.

Environment Minister Ghvaladze considers the loss to Georgia is so immense, that at least 50 years will be necessary for the forests to be renovated. The financial loss resulting from these fires isn’t estimated so far, but according to preliminary data, it is tens of millions. Consequently the Minister has requested that Russia be expelled from the Black Sea Protection Convention, and has already addressed it.

“Russia has brought great loss to Georgia. It has blown up several ships in Poti Port. As a result tonnes of the oil have poured into the sea. The Black Sea’s ecological condition is protected by the Black Sea Protection Convention and its members are obliged to ensure the sea’s safety. Besides Georgia and other countries Russia is also a member of the convention. We have turned to the convention and asked it to discuss expelling Russia,” Ghvaladze said.

On August 24 a fuel train exploded on rail tracks near village Skra close of Gori. Georgian officials say the train detonated a mine left by Russian troops. According to most reports no one was injured, though some said at least two houses were damaged. On August 12 the main east-west rail link had been destroyed when a bridge near Kaspi was blown up. The Georgian side blamed Russia, but our neighbour says it is innocent. Georgian Railway said that a train using the rail link, though on an old line bypassing the blown up railway bridge, was hit by the blast. Both fuel trains belonged to Azpetrol, an Azerbaijani company which operates petrol stations in Azerbaijan and Georgia.

Shida Kartli residents Nana Matrasidze and Mikheil Kaidarashvili were also blown up in Tsmindatskali by land mines Russian aggressors left in the villages. Nana Matrasidze died 15 minutes after being taken to hospital. Kaidarashvili was operated on, but his life remains at great risk. Nana Matrasidze was picking blackberries when she was blown up. About half an hour later there the deafening noise of a blast was heard, a victim of which turned out to be Mikheil Kaidarashvili, working in his kitchen garden.

Georgia’s loss during the Russia-Georgia war will be estimated by a US delegation which will arrive in Georgia on August 25. The delegation will be led by the US Assistant Secretary of State for Economics, Energy and Agriculture Ruben Jeffrey.