For South Ossetians, Bitterness Follows Attacks

By Peter Finn
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, August 17, 2008

TSKHINVALI, Georgia, Aug. 16 -- The windows were blown out of the old synagogue here, and the wooden bimah splintered and partially collapsed. Shattered glass covered the floor, and parts of the ornately painted walls were ripped off.

But the old building held, and it protected 40 people who took shelter in its spacious basement as the neighborhood above them was reduced to rubble.

"Three days we were here, without water, without bread," said Zemsira Tiblova, 60. "We had 14 children with us."

"Unforgivable," said her husband, Georgi Bestaev. "It was inhuman to bomb us."

The war between Georgia and Russia was centered on this town of at most 10,000 people, and it cut a swath of destruction, severely damaging many homes and apartment buildings. Gaping holes scar five-story blocks of apartments, the detritus of what was once ordinary life blown onto shattered balconies.

In one neighborhood, along Telman Street, house after crumpled house was a scorched shell, bricks piled high in basements exposed to the sunlight. The area is about 200 yards from destroyed separatist government buildings in central Tskhinvali, an acknowledged target of Georgian forces.

A school, a library and a kindergarten were blackened and pockmarked from small-arms fire, as were the houses around them. And the city was strewn with the ruined armor of both Georgian and Russian forces.

At certain moments, in certain places, the smell of rotting corpses was in the air.

Here in Tskhinvali, there was no doubt that Georgia started the war with Russia and much bitterness about the rain of artillery and rockets that the government of President Mikheil Saakashvili used in its efforts to capture the city. The Georgian government said much of the destruction of Tskhinvali was caused by a Russian counteroffensive, but that argument carries no weight with residents here, some of them clearly traumatized.

People insist that a terrible barrage struck the city late Aug. 7 and continued into the morning -- accounts supported by Western monitors who were also forced into their cellars. Indeed, buildings used by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe were damaged, one severely.

"Grad came and hit us," said Garik Gabayev, referring to the fearsome BM-21 multiple rocket system employed by Georgian forces. "Grad" is a word that has entered the vocabulary of this town, cited by one resident after another as they described what they experienced.

Gabayev sat outside Saturday afternoon, just down the street from his father-in-law's pancaked home.

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