South Ossetians who survived the bombing in August, 2008 will never forget the terrible days they had to go through. And the children who saw the death of their loved ones will not remain children, they were forced to grow up too quickly.
Zasseeva Liana, 47 years old, tskhinval resident
Our house was located on the southern outskirts of the city, almost on the border. On August 7, in the evening everybody who lived in the house gathered in the basement. The elderly, women and children, they were all there. We had to put chairs in the passage as seventeen people were sitting there. Some have already spent four days in the basement.
There was a terrible bombing during the night. The morning was a bit calmer so some went into the yard to see what had happened to their flats. There, the barn was hit by a sell and caught fire, which could spill over to the building. We began to extinguish it. The entire south wall of our house was destroyed.
After 9 pm the shelling resumed and we returned to the basement. At 10-15 one of our neighbors looked out through a crack in the basement and said that there tanks with writing in Georgian on them follow by infantry all dressed in black - apparently, Special Forces. We heard Georgian speech.
The first Georgian column was passing near us until 2 am. They moved towards the centre of Tskhinval. The tanks at the streets turned around and fired at apartment blocks. The neighbor looked outside again and saw that a large number of Georgian troops had gathered near the Home for the Disabled. Then they started to search the flats.
In the nearby house an old man lived. His name was Kabulov and he was 70. The Georgian troops broke into his flat. A man for our basement went out and asked the Georgian troops not to kill Kabulov. But a Georgian soldier said that it was too late. The old man was already dead – killed after a tank fired at the building.
Gabueva Larisa, 40 years old, Tskhinval resident
On August 8, at 11-30 pm the shelling of the city with heavy weaponry began. My body is shaking when I recall these events. We thoughts it was going to be O.K. We were told that South Ossetia can cope with the aggression on its own. But we were not ready for such type of war, any Tskhinval resident will tell you this. We could not imagine that they would aim at peaceful citizens.
The shelling went on and on. It got quiet only in the morning and every body went out of the shelter to grab food, water and blankets. But then everything repeated. The massive shelling began again, and Grad " rocket systems were used. We saw how the sells hit the nearby buildings, where our neighbours – Murat Byazarov and Lerika Tedeeva – lived. After a strike by “Grad” the house burned to the ground in 20 minutes. We could not help them with buckets and rockets were flying in the air. Besides, we had no water to put out the fire. There was no water in the city. Even drinking water.
I’ve been to the burial of Kachmazov sisters. They had no basement and they were hiding on the first floor. Then a rocket hit their house and they were burnt alive. The people of Tskhinval were not ready for this war. We were left completely alone. It seems we like we were sacrificed.
Tshovrebova Zalina, resident of Tskhinvali
Two members of our family have died – my cousins Diana Kadzhaeva and Hsar Dzhidzhoev. Diana worked as a teacher in primary grades at School number 5. She recently had surgery and didn’t have time to fully recover. So she could not leave the city quickly. On August 9, during the night Diana decided to flee along with the neighbors. Of course, this was very dangerous.
Most of the refugees, who left that night, were killed. A Mercedes in which Diana was traveling with the members of Gagloevyh family was burned at Zarsky road. I saw what was left of the car. I never thought that metal can burn up to such a thin shell. Only ashes were left of Diana.
Her father was blinded seven years ago and at the funeral Diana’s sister was saying: “You are lucky to have lost your sight, because you do not see what we are burying”.
Valieva Dzerassa, Tskhinval resident
On August 8, the shelling of the city lasted through the night and morning. All of the neighbours gathered in the basement of our house. In the morning there was a strong explosion near our house on the Isak Kharebov street and after it we’ve heard women screaming. The family, which wanted to leave the city, came under strong shelling, a rocket hit their car and they all were burned alive. We watched the people, parents and their children, dying inside the car and could do nothing to help them. Only after some time were we able to come out to them, but there was no one to save. After this terrible picture, we waited in the basement for our fate.
Around 10 o'clock in the morning the Georgian tanks entered the city and began to kill peaceful people and destroy their home. The bombardment by “Grad” rocket system was so heavy that we had to cover our ears, because the noise could have torn our hearts to peaces.
Once the city was liberated, the sad news came. Our neighbour, Bagaev Amiran Pavlovich, was killed. His body was brought in a coffin, with was very difficult to find. We even didn’t have candles we could light for him. The shelling didn’t stop and Amiran’s parents had to leave the coffin and hide in the basement. On the next day we dug a grave in the garden and buried him. The ceremony took place under constant fire.
After the Georgian infantry and tanks abandoned the city, their snipers, who stayed, killed another of our neighbours, Inal Gazzaev.
Hubulov Sarmat, 18 years old, Tskhinval resident
I was in Tskhinval on August 7. There were seven of us - my grandmother, grandfather, aunt, two younger sisters and a nephew. We all went to sleep, because Saakashvili, said that he declared cease fire. Suddenly explosions began. One of the mortar shells fell on our balcony. We immediately ran into the basement. Two hours after that, the shooting stopped. I got out of the basement and went to sleep, because we got used expected that the shooting would stop after some time. I was asleep when they started to shell the city with “Grads”. I returned into the basement and this time spent four days there.
In the morning at about 9 am the Georgian tanks entered Tskhinval. Lenin Street was burning. There were four tanks on our Tabolov Street and they were firing at our home.
In the evening a car appeared on our street – a father was trying to save his child from this hell. They stopped at the crossing and a tank shot at them from behind. And they knew that the child was inside the car. Everybody saw it. This incident is well known in the city.
When the shooting calmed I ran home and returned with water. Then I searched for my relatives, and I also managed to contact my uncle by phone. He came to us on the fourth day - hungry and without water. He said he had a car at his work and that he would pick us up. We were driving to the hotel in a jeep, picking up another woman in Tbet.
When we reached the Zarsky road they began to shoot at us. The two cars that took off before us, were standing on the road, burned. My uncle looked into one of them and said it was empty. After that I examined another car: its roof was torn and people inside were burnt and blood was on the seats. We returned to our car and drove further.
The car behind us was driving with headlights turned on, and the Georgian troops fired at it. But my uncle told them to switch the headlights off and the shooting stopped.
Ualyty Marina, 17 years old, student Tskhinval resident
On August 7, at 11-30 pm we were getting ready to go to sleep and expected a quite night, because Georgian President Saakashvili promised to stop the shelling and start negotiation. And then we heard the explosion. We went straight to the basement and set there in the dark, thinking that the bombardment will end by morning as usual. But it was morning already and the shooting was far from over. And this time they were using “Grad” rocket systems. It seemed they were firing straight at the roof of our house. We started to phone our relatives, to find out about their fate. Later we found out that the Georgians were tracking mobile signals and then fired at the places where they came from.
On August 9, we left Tskhinal and set for Vladikavkaz. We’ve left the city by car and then walked by foot to Dzhava. Cars that drove near us were packed. In one car people were sitting inside the cabin – two on the front seat other were on the back seat – and two more were in the trunk with their legs hanging out. Fortunately, when we were driving the road was not shelled, but those who went after us came under fire.
My relative from Moscow came to Tskhinval to her parents. She wanted to leave on August 7 but couldn’t find a car. So she had to stay. The house owner hid her in the basement behind the iron boilers. She was sitting there when Georgian troops entered the house. They drank wine and ate all the food they could find.
The house was in mourning because less than a year ago a family member had died – his photo was hanging on the wall and they were shooting at it. They were just mocking; I can’t find any other word. And when they were leaving they dropped a couple of grenades into the cellar, just in case. My relative was lucky as the iron boilers saved her.
Olga Ataeva, 30 years old, Moscow resident
My brother Alan Atayev, born in 1971, worked as a dentist in the town's clinic. He was not in military service. During the heavy shelling of Tskhinval on August 8, he, together with my parents and sister, was hiding in the basement of our house in the city’s centre. On August 9, during a relative lull, Alan went out of the house to see whether anyone needed medical treatment and never returned. The next morning, my mother, despite heavy shelling, left the basement to search for her son. And she found his remains about 300 meters from our house. He was torn to pieces; apparently it was a deliberate shot by heavy weapons, a tank maybe. My mother identified Alan by his shoes. Together with her sister they collected the remains and a few hours, under fire, buried them in the garden. They were not sure that they would survive, the main thing for them was to bury what was left of Alan.
Gabueva Laura, Tskhinval resident
On the next morning after the shelling a neighbours son came and said that they would grab their things and hurry to the peacekeepers posts as Georgians were already in the city. My parents and I were in the basement and heard a noise. We went outside to find out what was going on. Then I ran to my sister - her family lives a few houses away from us - to find out whether they were alive. They were ok and I raced back to the cellar. And suddenly I saw our other neighbour, who looked at me very sadly from the window. I told her that she must hide in the basement because the shelling would be resumed. She said: "We have no cellar". "Hide in ours", I answered.
She lingered and asked in a most hopeless voice: "My husband is Georgian. Will you let him in?"
"Immediately take your husband and come to us,” I answered.
We all gathered in our basement and, under the noise of the tanks, waited for a miracle of God. And then the hail of shelling started, I don’t know how else to describe it, the noise was terrible, and the shells roared and the bullets were whistling. Everything was burning where “Grad” rockets fell. There were 12 people in the basement. None of us could eat, we only drank water. The funniest thing, if there can be anything funny in such situations, was that there were neighbours who had refused to talk to each other for more than ten years, and under the shelling got on very well together and cared for each other like they were relatives. You never know how life can turn out.