“I had been working in North Africa and been home about a week when things went from bad to very bad. What I had been hoping for was a little time with my son Leo during his college break. But instead we ended up on holiday in a war zone.
There had been tension for some time between Georgia and it's ex colonial master, Russia. But when things eventually escalated it was with frightening speed.
My wife Tsira and I awoke one morning to find we were living in a much different world to the one we expected to wake up too, and very different from the one that we had gleaned so much happiness from over the past 10 years. I turned on the radio to catch some news while I made the coffee. During the night Georgian troops had entered the break away Georgian region of South Ossetia and were already in control of about 50% of it. The so called Capital Tskhinvarli was under heavy bombardment, and casualties were rolling in.
Really from the Georgian viewpoint there is no South Ossetia, it simply doesn't exist.
The Ossetians came originally from Ossetia in Russia. Some were kicked out of their homeland by the Mongols and fled in part to Georgia. Some were brought down from the North of the region by David Agmashnebeli (The builder) who employed them as soldiers in his army. Either way the Georgian monarchy let them stay, and in good faith told them, they could keep and maintain their own community in their chosen area. so it remained until around 1921, when the Soviets arrived. They created the South Ossetian region (It's real name being Samachablo), and then declared it an independent region. Things remained the same up until Georgian independence in 1991. They then took this opportunity while Georgia was at low ebb to declare themselves an Autonomous Republic thus attempting to separate themselves permanently from Georgia.
As the Russian armed forces inevitably retaliated near panic spread through the whole country. Because of Ossetia's location in the centre of the country many people were cut off from their families. This was because in August the main population is always on holiday on the Black Sea coast, and their homes are in Tbilisi, in the East of Georgia. The main East-West road passes through Gori just a few Km's from the border. This whole area soon became occupied by Russian Tanks and Armored personnel carriers.
Then the bombing started.
Although no bombs were dropped on Tbilisi, at the time we didn’t' know this would be the case. At night time we often heard MIG's over the city sometimes at quite low level. Several times we were woken in the night by loud explosions just outside the city, sometimes as close as 5kms from our house.
One night an airplane factory close to the International airport was leveled. Gori (Stalin's birthplace) was bombed almost continuously.
Refugees streamed into Tbilisi from many outlying regions. As the schools were not in use at this time they were opened as help centres for anyone without shelter. People from all over the city took whatever they could from their homes to give too these poor people, who were not wealthy before but now only had what they stood in.
Another prime target for the Russians was Poti, which is Georgia's main commercial port on the Black Sea. Troops moved into the town from Abkhazia and successfully barricaded it so it could not be accessed by land or sea. This meant that even when American aid did finally arrive there where no good port facilities to offload the much needed food and medical supplies. And so it has stayed for several weeks, and still is at the time of writing.
We are ready and prepared for conflict to begin again at any time. Many people are convinced this will be the case, and many are preparing to leave the country to bring up their families in a safer climate.
All original pictures taken by Leo Bewick on “Human Chain Across Georgia” day. On the 1st of Sept 2008. (This document and pictures are for the sole use of the Wellwise Group)