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Helping in Georgia

 

The recent conflict in Georgia triggered a swift and steady humanitarian response from the Movement. These brief accounts from ICRC Tbilisi and Tskhinvali staff illustrate the early stages of assistance to the victims of the conflict.

 

As employees of the ICRC Tskhinvali office, Hamlet and Artur started their security shift on 7 August. It ended on 20 August, when they saw the flags on the vehicles of the first ICRC humanitarian convoy entering South Ossetia. During the fighting they kept the gates of the ICRC premises open — people, looking for shelter, were coming all the time. “The neighbours knew that this was a Red Cross building, we had planted the flag on the second-floor balcony for that reason,” recalls Artur. “Almost 40 people, mostly women and children, hid in the basement. They were terribly frightened, literally trembling with fear. I was thinking constantly ‘how are my parents?’, knowing they were worrying about me. As soon as the skirmishes calmed down a little, I ran home — just for ten minutes — and came back immediately.”

Three times armed men in masks entered the compound threatening to ransack the office and set it on fire. Each time Artur and Hamlet talked them into abandoning the idea. “We knew that closing the gates, barring them or resisting in any way made no sense. And you cannot argue much with a tank, you know! The only way to save the office, and the people who entrusted themselves to us, was to convince the visitors that the Red Cross is a humanitarian organization that aims to help people and does not take part in politics. We were lucky: we were heard and believed, although it seemed unbelievable.”

Eventually the lull came on 20 August. “People could leave the shelter. Our neighbour invited us to dinner and served us cold beer. That’s when we realized the war was over,” recall Artur and Hamlet.

Tracing from Tbilisi

At the start of the crisis, Pikria Javashvili, 22, heard the ICRC was looking for English-speaking field officers to join their protection team. Javashvili, who had studied international humanitarian law and knew about the ICRC, called her friend, Nino Berianidze. “I was fed up just watching what was happening on TV and not doing anything to help,” recalls Berianidze, 20.

Both young women applied for the job and were recruited within days.

Lela Lazishvili, 25, also heard about the position through a friend. “I wanted to come and see with my own eyes what was happening,” she says. Student doctor Keti Chichinadze, 25, and Tamar Kvaratskhelia, 23, complete the team.

Much of the women’s work involves responding to requests from the protection team in Tskhinvali for help in finding relatives of vulnerable, elderly and sick villagers living in South Ossetia, who became separated from their loved ones when younger family members left for Gori or Tbilisi at the start of the war. They then help to reunite the families.

The work has all the hallmarks of adetective story. Berianidze remembers one case in particular. “I was looking for the daughter of an old, bedridden woman from a village outside Tskhinvali. I found the daughter in Tbilisi but she thought that her mother had died. When I spoke to her and told her that we thought we had found her mother, she asked me all sorts of questions. She couldn’t believe it was really her, but it was. When we reunited them here at the delegation, I will never forget the look of joy on the daughter’s face.”

 

 


The ICRC distributed hygiene items, kitchen sets, bed linen and other household items.
©ANASTASIA ISSYUK / ICRC

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wide-ranging support From the outset,
the Red Cross

Society of Georgia distributed emergency relief to displace people, recruited blood donors and provided psychosocial support. At the same time, the Russian Red Cross Society provided hygiene articles, blankets, clothes and other assistance to people who fled South Ossetia, took care of hundreds of unaccompanied minors, gave psychosocial support and started a find-raising campaign.

 

Anastasia Issyuk (ICRC Tskhinvali) and Jessica Barry (ICRC Tbilisi).

 

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