Destruction in Tskhinvali
'I've never heard anything so monstrous as
people shelling a hospital'
Tom Parfitt travelled to Tskhinvali, in a trip organised by the
Kremlin, to witness first hand the destruction caused by the
battle for South Ossetia
By Tom Parfitt
Guardian" - -- A convoy of three buses and an
escort of armed Russian Special Forces soldiers travelled across
the border with Russia into South Ossetia yesterday, in a trip
organised by the Kremlin for foreign media to witness first hand
the destruction in Tskhinvali.
At the village of Dzhava 20 miles
beyond the border a huge queue of Russian military hardware
stood pointing south, testament to the might of the resurgent
Several truck-mounted rocket
launchers were a sign of Moscow's intent to hold Tskhinvali at
all costs. Approaching Tskhinvali, the group of reporters was
transferred to armoured personnel carriers because of the risk
of fire from Georgian snipers, said the Russian officers leading
In villages close to the city
there were many burned out houses, and others were still ablaze.
In the city itself it was clear that claims the city had been
levelled to the ground by artillery were exaggerated. However,
it was also evident that while some neighbourhoods were intact,
there were patches of terrible destruction.
At a crossroads in the north of
the city there was evidence of a fierce fire fight. Three
destroyed Georgian tanks were slewed across the road, a mess of
ash and twisted metal. The heavy turret of one tank had been
tossed across the street, falling through a shop front. Nearby
on the ground lay a human foot.
Colonel Igor Konashenko of the
Russian army said: "There were Georgian attacks overnight but
our troops are in full control of the city. So far we've had no
orders to move south into Georgia."
Hearing of a ceasefire
yesterday, civilians began to emerge from bunkers and basements.
At the crossroads, Izolda Deppiyeva, 50, looked out on the scene
of ruined ground floor apartment in a block riddled by gunfire.
She recalled the moment when Georgian artillery first hit the
"There was a great wave of
pressure which twisted me and flung me against the kitchen
A former theatre stage actress,
Deppiyeva said she had lived for four days in a cellar with her
relatives without food and water.
"I could not leave," she said.
"This land is my body, my home. We are a proud beautiful people
and we are not leaving. I survived, I am alive!"
In the yard behind the apartment
block a group of Ossetian fighters were seated at a wooden bench
eating mutton and drinking wine: "We are raising a toast to
those who are left," said Ruslan Kostoyev, 33. "Those tanks in
the street, we hit them with rocket propelled grenades from the
Kostoyev accused Western leading
countries of arming Georgia in the conflict: "A Georgian only
knows how to ride a cow," he said, "the aeroplanes which
destroyed the building were Ukrainian," he said.
Another fighter said: "The
Georgians were 30 times stronger than us. They wanted to kill us
to destroy everything. But we held them off."
Outside in the street, a priest
in an immaculate black cassock walked through the scene of
devastation. Saurmag Bazzate, an Ossetian prior, arrived in
Tskhinvali on Monday. "I came to be with my people," he said.
"Those who perpetrated this horror are criminals who must be
punished by God. This war is a result of Georgian fascism, which
has flourished with the support of the West."
Russian officials in the city
say their main aim is now to contain a humanitarian disaster by
repairing water supplies insuring that bread factories are
working and re-establishing an electricity supply.
Close to the centre of the city
Russian officers led the group to the city's main hospital which
was hit by small arms fire and shells during the first days of
fighting. Doctors at the hospital said they had been forced to
carry out operations in corridors and the basement of the
building without electricity, water or light.
Tina Zakharova, one of the
doctors, pointed out chunks of shrapnel which had hit the
"This is the humanitarian aid
that Georgia sent us," she said, "and that," she said, pointing
at a field hospital nearby, "is the help we received from
Russia. Which do you think we should chose?" She added: "I've
never heard anything so monstrous as people shelling a
In total, said Zakharova, 224
injured people had been treated at the hospital and two people
had died there. Just south of the city centre a group of
reporters were shown a street entirely destroyed by a Grad
missile attack. Homes along the 100m street had been reduced to
One man showed the Guardian the
metal casing of a Grad rocket lodged in the ruins of his home:
"We managed to escape to the shelter just in time," he said,
pointing at the mouth of a cellar protected by huge chunks of
Colonel Konashenko said: "The
Georgians could not get tanks through these narrow streets. So
first they turned it to ruins with a Grad attack and tried to
punch through here to the centre of the city. There was heavy
fighting in the streets. I think more than 500 bodies were
pulled out of this part of town."
Asked if there had been
atrocities against civilians the Colonel replied: "I personally
saw one man beheaded lying in the street and others say they
witnessed civilians who had been finished off with a shot to the
back of the head."
Back at the hospital there were
sounds of gunfire and then the crump of mortars landing
somewhere in the city. First one explosion, then a second. When
a third hit, sounding louder, the Colonel said: "It's time to
move. Let's go."
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