August 8-12 marks nine years from the Georgia-Russia five-day war of 2008, which left Georgia’s South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions occupied by Russia, and resulted in around 170 servicemen, 14 policemen, and 228 civilians from Georgia losing their lives with a further 1,747 wounded.
Life of IDPs after Georgia-Russia War
By Tea Mariamidze
Friday, August 11
The August war displaced 192,000 people in Georgia. Many were able to return to their homes after the war but around 20,270 people still remain displaced.
The Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) from breakaway South Ossetia, living now in the old kindergarten building in the town of Gori, Central Georgia, claim their lives have not changed for better during these nine years.
After losing all their property in occupied South Ossetia villages, IDP families live now in one or two-room flats, given to them by the government after the war.
However, the residents of this building, often referred by locals as “kindergarten IDPs,” have only one demand from the state at present – they want the government to register these rooms as their property.
The majority of them say they are unemployed. They are grateful for their flats but believe that the government should also worry about the employment of IDPs.
“All we want is jobs and these flats to be registered on our names,” one of the IDPs said, while playing dominoes in the yard.
There are more job opportunities for the female IDPs, who work as babysitters, vendors or sell snacks in the parks.
Despite the fact that all the IDPs living in this building and in other parts of Georgia receive from the state a 45-GEL monthly assistance payment, the IDPs complain that this is a miserable sum, which is not enough to cover even their utility payments.
Zamira Kulumbegova is an IDP from a village of Little Liakhvi Gorge, South Ossetia. She is ethnic Georgian but her husband was Ossetian and her children are Ossetians as well.
“My husband died before the war. I have four children. Two of my daughters got married in Georgia before the war, but the other two still live in Tskhinvali,” she said, adding that when the war started she was made to leave the village because of her ethnicity, but as her son and daughter were Ossetians they were forced to stay.
“This war divided my family into two. I miss my children who live in Tskhinvali. I hope one day we will be reunited,” she cried.
The back side of the building has some extensions, built by the IDP families themselves, in order to make their flats larger.
Some families even have little gardens here, where they grow greens, flowers and vegetables.
“Most of the families here used to have tens of hectares of lands and big farms, but the war turned us into IDPs and all we have now is what you see,” an old woman said while cleaning her little vegetable garden.
Another IDPs settlement is located near the entrance of Gori, which features hundreds of little cottage houses built especially for IDPs after the war by the former government in 2008.
All the cottages are similar in size and shape and are of 57 square meters each. There are several similar settlements of IDPs in various parts of Georgia.
Nejna Jojishvili is an IDP from the South Ossetian village of Vanati.
The woman remembers that the situation escalated in early August 2008 when the Russians started to shell the villages, her family had no other choice but to flee.
“We had two huge houses, a farm and hectares of agricultural lands. The Russians and Ossetians burnt our houses and took our poultry and crops. We had to leave everything and escape,” she said.
Shorena Askilashvili, 30, is an IDP from the Atsriskhevi village in the Small Liakhvi Gorge, South Ossetia.
She now works as a shop-assistant in a supermarket near the settlement. She says the majority of the IDPs from the settlement are unemployed and she was lucky to get the job near her house.
“We left the village two days before the war escalated. Many people lost their family members in the war and we were lucky to escape unharmed,” she says.
She explains that nothing has changed for her and her family during these nine years.
“All I dream about is a safe return to our homeland. We have many relatives there who refused to leave their houses and land. I know that our property does not exist there but I do hope that one day we will go back and start everything over,” she said.
Relations between Russia and Georgia began to deteriorate following Vladimir Putin’s rise to power in Russia in 2000 and a pro-Western change of power in Georgia in 2003, reaching a full diplomatic crisis by April 2008.
By 1 August 2008, Ossetian separatists began shelling Georgian villages, with a sporadic response from Georgian peacekeepers in the region. To put an end to deadly attacks and restore order, the Georgian Army was sent to the South Ossetian conflict zone on 7 August.
The Georgians took control of most of Tskhinvali, a separatist stronghold, in hours. Georgia later stated it was also responding to Russia moving non-peacekeeping units into the country.
After this, Russia accused Georgia of aggression against South Ossetia and launched a large-scale land, air and sea invasion of Georgia on 8 August with the stated aim of “peace enforcement” operation. Russian and Ossetian forces battled Georgian forces in and around South Ossetia for several days, until Georgian forces retreated.
The French presidency of the European Union under Nicolas Sarkozy negotiated a ceasefire agreement on 12 August, which obliged Russia to withdraw its forces from Georgian territories and freed the conflict zone.
Russia recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Georgia on 26 August; in response, the Georgian government cut diplomatic relations with Russia.
The Russian Federation mostly completed its withdrawal of troops from undisputed parts of Georgia on 8 October. However, 20 percent of Georgia’s territories still remain under Russian occupation, which has violated the ceasefire agreement by refusing to take its forces out of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.