The Russian army is reported to be finally withdrawing from Georgia after more than two weeks of conflict, but the humanitarian toll left behind is grave, as the UN reports that at least 150,000 people have been displaced by the violence and are now in need of urgent support.
Nino Gvedashvili, an activist from the Human Rights Centre in Georgia and one of the participants of WITNESS's Video Advocacy Institute (which took place earlier this month in Canada), had just returned home from the VAI in Canada when the war broke out. In text messages, she described the situation on the ground and the humanitarian toll of the fighting (see more here). Now that she is safe, we have received her permission to share those messages with you. Below is a compilation of her notes as well as excerpts from blog posts written by her colleagues at the Human Rights Centre:
Aug. 11 - Nino G: "it's quite tense situation in Georgia. I am in the village with my family, my brother is in the war, we are just praying, lots of people are killed and plenty of IDPs" (...) "Let's hope negotiations will start and fire will be ceased. I ask everybody to pray for us and for peace in Georgia..."
Aug. 13 - Nino G: "Hi, i am ok. I just got email from Prem suggesting to film the situation. I am planning to Tbilisi tomorrow and will stay for couple of days to film idps, etc. For safety reasons, i can't go to conflict zone as there is still shooting..."
Aug. 17 - Nino G: "hi, I am filming IDPs, wounded soldiers, hospitals, places where IDPs are settled, etc. they is a very terrible situation. almost 60 000 IPDs and there is not enough administrative and financial resources and people are suffering much. I could not bear everything I saw and heard and was almost crying with them. (...) When there is possibility, I will go to Gori as well but now it's impossible as Russian troops are occupying the territory... all the infrastructure is destroyed there... I'll try to keep you updated about the situation... nino"
Aug. 18 - blog post from Nino Tlashadze, also from Human Rights Centre
"Tskhinvali [capital of South Ossetia] is destroyed completely. Nobody knows how many locals died during Russian and Georgian bombardment (maybe they know but do not say). [...] On my way to Gori I was shocked at the very entrance. Recently painted residential buildings are half-burnt down and destroyed. The streets are empty; everybody has abandoned the city. No transport, no shops, even drug-shops are not working and people cannot get medicine if something happens. I have feeling that life has stopped in my home town..."
Aug. 18 - dispatch from Human Rights Watch
"On August 7, Georgian military used indiscriminate and disproportionate force resulting in civilian deaths in South Ossetia. The Russian military has since used indiscriminate force in attacks in South Ossetia and Gori, and has apparently targeted convoys of civilians attempting to flee the conflict zones. Ongoing looting, arson attacks, and abductions by militia are terrorizing the civilian population, forcing them to flee their homes and preventing displaced people from returning home. [...] Human Rights Watch has also confirmed the Russian military's use of cluster bombs in two towns in Georgia."
Aug. 21 - blog post from Eka Kevanishvili, Tbilisi
"A wave of IDPs is increasing day-by-day. Part of them are settled in the tents in the [Orkhevi Settlement], suburbs of Tbilisi. You must try hard to get to the place and then to escape from there. There is such dust in the air that you cannot stand going outside. There are nearly eight tents on the field; 30, 40 iron beds are setup in each tent. Children, women, men, strangers, neighbors are lying all together; they try to sleep in clothes but they cannot. Here, nobody wants to sleep, not even to eat. Humanitarian aid delivered from IDPs is now being distributed. According to final data there are 200 000 IDPs in Georgia now."
Aug. 24 - report from Gela Mtivlishvili
According to Givi Targamadze, chairman of the Defense and Security Committee of the Georgian Parliament, this is the toll of the war thus far:
- 215 people killed
- 1,469 wounded
- 70 people still missing
However, witnesses of the military operations claim that the number of victims is actually much larger.
Aug. 26 - Nino G: "The situation currently is not full of perspectives yet. there is no bombing taking place but Russian troops are still in Georgia occupying quite a large territory. In addition to that, Russian recognised the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia [today]... We are not able to move to the villages as it is controlled by Russians at checkpoints and it's quite dangerous. two days ago, our correspondent and other journalists entered Tkviavi (a nearby village of Gori still under Russian control). inside, they were attacked by Ossetian military men and robbed, they took away our photo camera, fortunately journalists were not abused.
Aug. 26 - Nino G: one more thing I would like to pose your attention is that the Russian aggression overwhelms the Georgian eco system. they bombed Georgian National park (Borjomi-kharagauli gorge) with fire making bombs and did not allow firemen to work during several days. [...] it threatens not only the eco system, but civilians as well. Russian soldiers are also mining the whole territory. two days ago, a mine caused the burst of oil train (three vans) and many people already suffered from it.
Read the full reports at The Human Rights Centre, where several eyewitness accounts of the war have been documented. To learn how to take action and help provide humanitarian relief, click here and here.