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South Caucasus


Temuri Kiguradze
Temuri Kiguradze
How did you end up in the zone of military operations?

Everything began on the morning of august 8th. That was the second day after the beginning of the operation in South Ossetia. We were receiving contradictory information from the very start of the morning, up to even that, Interfax had informed that Tskhinvali is under the control of Georgian troops. I came to the newspaper editorial office where I am employed, and met with a fellow who introduced himself as Giga Chikhladze. We began conversing; he said that he works for the Russian branch of the “Newsweek” magazine …

Was he the one that was killed?

He was the one that was killed. We began conversing, and he said that he has an automobile and that he and his friend Sasha Klimchuk…

Was he also killed?

He was also killed. Giga said that they were preparing to go into the conflict zone. Not to Tskhinvali, to the conflict zone. There was such a phrase” will go as far as they will allow us”. That’s when I asked for it. Since the two of you are going then you will have place, so take me with you. Later, my editor approached, and when he found out there is such an opportunity, he also decided to go with us. The editor’s name is Winston Fatherly. He is an American.

Sasha Klimchuk is a photo reporter. As far as I know he worked for ITAR-TASS and Newsweek. We left from Tbilisi around half past one. We were moving towards Gori. Already in Gori it turned out that the road up to South Ossetia was free. There were no posts military there. So we decided to take advantage of the situation. Further away we saw Georgian troops, not many of them but they were present. Everything was calm. People in the Georgian villages of the conflict zone were standing around on the streets and conversing while eating sunflower seeds. We passed two posts where we didn’t stop; generally no one tried to especially stop us.

Were they Russian posts?

No they were Georgian posts. We didn’t stop. We naturally had the “Press” sign on our vehicle.

So then you were on the territory of South Ossetia?

Yes. We drove up to the outskirts of Tskhinvali and stopped there. Talked over with a Georgian soldier who said something to Giga that wasn’t fully clear, we didn’t quite understand if it’s calm there or the opposite. Giga was the one who talked with him since he was the one behind the wheel. We went further to Tskhinvali itself. We heard gunfire in a faraway distance. We decided not to stop and we parked the car as we pulled up to the city entrance. We decided to enter into the city take some snapshots of the buildings and generally what’s going on in the city and leave.

We entered the city on foot, we spent about fifteen minutes there, took a dozen photos. The fights were in the center of the city far away from us. As we were walking we saw a group of armed people in uniforms a hundred meters away from us. Sasha Klimchuk said, “He is holding an American m-4 rifle. It’s a Georgian”. Which is exactly why he said “ Hi guys. Don’t shoot.” In Georgian… turned out to be the Ossetian patrol… Which started shooting into the air and yelling something unclear. That’s where we began runing. We decided to turn into an alley. Perhaps we would have made it to the car. But the Ossetians opened fire to kill. Sasha and Giga were killed instantly. Winston was wounded in the leg; I got wounded in the arm. We were held for questioning of course... When they figured out that we were journalists they bandaged our wounds and took us to the Tskhinvali hospital. Nicely said “Hospital” because the only thing that remained from the hospital was a bombarded basement. Three days we lived in a basement under constant fire. As it turned out the Georgians and the Russians both bombed us. Three days later there was a full evacuation of the hospital…

What was the date?

That was on the eleventh. A full evacuation of the wounded. They took us to Vladikavkaz along with that bunch. We remained under fire all the way to “Vladik”. The American began suspecting that he might have an infection and will have to have his leg amputated. But thank God everything worked out. They did a surgery in “Vladik”.

As for me, I had problems starting the hospital in Vladivostok. And there were problems in Tskhinvali because I am a Georgian and came from Tbilisi. About three times they tried to whack us. A crowd of the wounded and their relatives In Vladikavkaz surrounded me, and they began to figure out what to do with me. Fortunately the Russian Militia came in time and furthered me from there, for which I am grateful. And after that I lived at the station for five days. I lucked out because half of the population at the militia station was local Georgians from Vladikavkaz, and they cared for me. Then the embassy got involved and I received a Russian visa. I began to collect finances from local journalists. “AlJazeera” gave me four hundred bucks. I flew to Yerevan through Minvody and from Yerevan I got here to Tbilisi.

They didn’t let you out of Vladikavkaz?

They wouldn’t let me out of Vladikavkaz because I sort of crossed to Russian border illegally. Because I didn’t have a visa stamped. Then the Georgian consulate got involved and I received the visa. As for the American, they immediately took him to Moscow on the third day.

Those who shot at you, they did not say, why they did it?

They said that if we didn’t run all of us would have been alive. They bandaged our wounds and took us to the hospital themselves.

You didn’t have anything on your person that would have said that you are journalists?

All of us had cameras and photo cameras hanging, along with press tags.

The incident in Tskhinvali happened in the evening?

- No, it was around three o’clock or half past.

What was the approximate distance?

There were approximately forty to fifty meters between the shooters and us. As far as I know they didn’t take aim when they shot they just let out a round, wherever anyone would get hit. The fellows got buried in Tbilisi. By some miracle it was possible to transfer their bodies. Giga still has two little children left.

As a human being how do you evaluate this conflict yourself?

As I understand it was impossible to know who is on whose side where are ours where are theirs. In Tskhinvali, as the doctors were saying, they received Ossetians that were shot down by Ossetians. Then the bombings, Russians, Georgians and the very same Ossetians.

Whose «Grad» launchers were at work?

The «Grad» was at work on both sides the Russian and ours. When ours would stop the Russians would start, when the Russians would stop vice versa. On many television channels it’s being said right now that some one’s soldiers executed some child. But I talked to people and I didn’t see any immediate witnesses.

jja_verner's journal

Published: 03-02-09