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13 Years in Ruins of War – A Report from Zardiantkari

Wednesday, 13 April 2022 17:45 hits 667 times
Giorgi Gablishvili in the burnt house in Zardiantkari
Society
Giorgi Gablishvili in the burnt house in Zardiantkari

The barbed wire laid by the Russian military cuts Zardiantkari in the middle. The window of the burned house of the Gablishvilis also shows the Russian base of Disevi and the new road connecting Tskhinvali and Akhalgori. The sound of gunfire and explosions can be heard frequently. Families returning to the village after the 2008 war are particularly concerned about how the war in Ukraine will end.

"I did not sleep at all last night. I'm more stressed now. It reminds me of the trouble we went through in 2008. Whenever we saw planes, we would run away from here. Above, one house had a concrete basement; we were hiding there. I'm afraid we are close, "Nani Gablishvili left Zardiantkari in 2008 on August 11, the fourth day since the start of the war. Her husband, George, stayed in the village. He witnessed how their house was burnt down: "I heard the voice of the soldiers, they were in the yard. I found shelter in the bushes. When they left, I came in and took a bucket. Here is a small river - Charebula. I wanted to put out the fire. I hit a bucket on iron while running. They heard a voice and turned around and started shooting. I ran and got into the canal. I watched as our house burned down. The following day it was completely burnt. "

During the war, Zardiantkari was emptied of the Georgian population. About 20 families were housed in Gori kindergartens. In October 2008, after the Russian Armed Forces left part of the Shida Kartli area, IDPs whose houses had not been burnt slowly returned to their permanent residence. In Zardiantkari, it failed. Although the Russian-Ossetian side did not claim the village, Georgian law enforcers could not regain control of the area. As a result, Zardiantkari became a buffer zone, and the houses of the Georgian population were completely looted.

The Georgian government regained control of Zardiantkari in the summer of 2012. The Ministry of Internal Affairs placed two checkpoints at the entrance and in the middle of the village. The northern part of the village remained uncontrolled, where 6 Ossetian families found themselves between Georgian and Russian posts.

Giorgi and Nani Gablishvili returned to Zardiantkari in the spring of 2013 with their son. In 2008, only three families were compensated for GEL 25000. During their five years in exile, the Gablishvilis spent all this money. After the war, Nani was diagnosed with diabetes, and Giorgi needed heart surgery.

After returning, they lived in a roofless house for ten years. Last year, they covered it with tin. Shell holes can be seen on every wall of the house. It is windowless and has no flooring. The only thing the fire could not wholly destroy was the kitchen room on the first floor. Nani says the 9m2 area is the entire house now.

"When we bathe, we go out one by one. I took out the gas stove now, and I used to cook here. It was the kitchen, and it was the bedroom. My husband and I were sitting on the bed here, and the boy was sleeping on the other bed. Water was coming down here too. Sometimes we covered it with cellophane. The oven can not even heat up. So cold.

What should I hope for? There is nothing left for so many years, and what is my life? What is left. I always say that I am already tired, I am drained... I am mentally exhausted. If I had at least one room, I would get out of there and sleep in that one room.

I have no hope for anything. What did I do wrong ... I am in the same room. I still prefer it here, in Zardiantkari. Nor will I ever leave. We were in "prison" for five years."

The family of Nani and Giorgi Gablishvili is not on the list to which the government has been promising to rehabilitate houses damaged during the war for several years. The reason for not being on the list is the compensation issued in 2008. Last year, before the elections, a meeting of the temporary government commission was held in Gori. Ministers Irakli Karseladze and Tea Akhvlediani said that at the initiative of Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili, rehabilitation of the village would begin in the village of Zardiantkari to return the IDPs displaced by the war. Nearly eight months after this promise, we asked the Office of the State Minister for Reconciliation and Civic Equality why it did not begin rebuilding homes.

"Gori Municipality has signed a written agreement with the owners of 28 damaged houses who did not receive compensation that in case of rehabilitation, they will return to the village of Zardiantkari and vacate the currently occupied areas in state-owned buildings. At this stage, Gori Municipality is preparing appropriate projects for rehabilitation. Furthermore, the State Minister has started consultations with representatives of international organizations to attract possible co-financing."

In 2022, neither the Gori Municipality nor the central budget has allocated funds for the rehabilitation of houses in Zardiantkari and has not been issued.

Before the war, they survived by harvesting apples in Zardiantkari. During a five-year absence, the gardens dried up without water. They have been trying to renew it for the 9th year. If they can not sell the apples, they have no income other than a pension or social assistance. Nani and Giorgi Gablishvili's apple orchard is 50 meters from the occupation line: "We have about one hectare. Last year we collected only 100 boxes, 2.5 tons. If we could not enter for five years, the trees withered. Income from apples can be 2 thousand GEL per year. We sell 12kg boxes for 7-8 Lari in the Gori market. You will have no apples and no other income with us. Without a little support from the government, this village will probably be emptied. Every day you expect something that will not be good."

In terms of security, the situation in the village is stable. Police are constantly patrolling, though the feeling of calm is still low. Tsitsino Elikashvili from Zardiantkari explains this for several reasons.

"We are still under psychological stress along the occupation line. The sound of gunfire and explosions is often heard. It is said that the military is being trained. Sometimes it is daytime; sometimes, it is midnight. It works. At the end of the village is a Russian military post, a prominent Russian base in a neighboring village.

We are so close to the so-called border that we see Russian soldiers when we work in the gardens. We cultivate the land together; we watch together so that nothing happens. 

Several of our fellow villagers were arrested and even kidnapped. Especially now, when there is a Russian-Ukrainian war, we are tenser. This is how this bloodshed started with us, the massacre of innocent people and the seizure of territories. My brother, then 42, was hit in the head by a cluster bomb and killed there. Three children are left, and the mother, 85 years old, still has no tears in her eyes. What we went through in 2008 are hellish days in Ukraine now."

Gennady Bestaev was from Zardiantakari. The occupation line runs through his yard, one meter from the house. After the war, Gennady's wife and children moved to Tskhinvali, where he stayed with his sister in the Georgian-controlled area of ​​Mereti. Every time he would return home, Russian soldiers would arrest him for crossing the. Relatives and neighbors would collect money to pay the fine and release him. Finally, in November 2019, he was arrested for the fifth time. Tskhinvali court was charged with illegal border crossing and smuggling of marijuana and sentenced to 3 years and two months in prison. On November 15, 2021, 53-year-old Gennady Bestaev developed a stroke in Tskhinvali prison. The next day, Bestaev, who was in a coma, was handed over to the Georgian authorities. After several months of treatment, he died on February 16. He was buried in Zardiantkari Cemetery.

Mirian Taziashvili, who was arrested by the Russian military on November 20, 2020, is also from Zardiantkari. He was also alleged to violate the so-called border. The Tskhinvali de facto court sentenced him to two months in prison, but he was released on December 22 within a month due to the efforts of the Georgian authorities.

"There should be more hope and support for the government. People living here who lost their source of income during the war, our household items, our houses burned down, and in 2013, we started living from scratch, need more support. Yes, the government has laid asphalt on the road and restored electricity, we also have drinking water, but the most important thing is the rehabilitation of houses. This is urgently needed. If we leave the village, they will move, move, and more territory will be lost," - Tsitsino Elikashvili counts how many children there are in the village - "Zura has a son, one-year-old; Jaba Gablishvili has a girl, two years old; Kakha Razmadze has twins, 4-year-old daughter, and a d son; Dato Taziashvili's child, Saba goes to school, in the 3rd grade - this is the offspring of 33 families. We have to support young people somehow. "

How does the state help the population of the villages adjacent to the borderline with the occupied territories?

  •  Each family receives 200 GEL for heating during the winter;
  •  Students' tuition fees are funded by ;
  • To alleviate the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, in 2020-2021, 3,353 families across Georgia were given baskets of hygiene items and food, including people with disabilities, large families, orphans, and the elderly.
  • Part of the villages near the dividing line has been granted the status of a highland settlement, and the population receives a 40 GEL supplement to the pension;

The Office of the Minister tells us that within the framework of the "Produce in Georgia" program, micro and small businesses are being encouraged for the population of the affected villages. Unfortunately, no such project was funded in Zardiantkari.

Gela Mtivlishvili

Editor at mtisambebi.ge, a lawyer by education. Gela works on topics related to human rights, ethnic minorities, conflict zones and terrorism. E-mail: Mtivlishvili@gmail.com

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