South Ossetia: Tskhinvali Photos and Reports

Global Voices Online
Friday, August 22, 2008

See Global Voices special coverage page on the South Ossetia crisis.

On Aug. 21, Columbia Journalism Review published Julia Ioffe's overview of several Russian journalists' blogging from the war in South Ossetia. Featured in her piece are reports by LJ user krig42 (Komsomolskaya Pravda reporter Dmitry Steshin) and LJ user ep-news (Evgeny Poddubny, correspondent for TV Center); also mentioned are LJ user m-romanoff (Mikhail Romanov, who, together with Ilya Barabanov - LJ user barabanch - contributed a story from Tskhinvali (RUS) to The New Times weekly) and Moskovsky Komsomolets correspondent Irina Kuksenkova.

Below are a few more blog posts from Russian and North Ossetian journalists, with photos and accounts of what they've seen in the South Ossetian capital Tskhinvali over the past week.

LJ user voinodel (Vadim Rechkalov, war correspondent for Moskovsky Komsomolets) posted seven photos of Tskhinvali, taken from different perspectives, and wrote this (RUS):

Meet Vitalik. He is my good friend who has come to defend South Ossetia right from [Khankala, a Russian military base near Grozny]. Vitalik and I will now take you on a little guided tour around the ruined Tskhinval.

[photos of Vitalik]

You can photograph Tskhinval like this:

[a close-up photo of two blown-up tanks next to a residential building]

Or like this:

[photo of the same two tanks from a different angle]

But if you photograph it like this?

[four panoramic shots of Tskhinvali taken from a hill overlooking the city]

There are four pages of comments to Rechkalov's post. At one point, the journalist found it necessary to explain the point he was trying to make (RUS) when he posted the photos:

This post has only one message, totally intentional and clearly defined. In case someone has forgotten the information of the first two days. When Tskhinval was called the second [Stalingrad] and it was said that the city no longer exists. And all that.


I've a feeling that some [of the commenters who care so much about the Motherland] would be happy to see nothing but foundations [of the buildings] in these shots. What's wrong with you, guys? Are you crazy? Have you yourselves ever lived on [nothing but] a foundation? And have you washed yourself from a cup, along with your whole family? If 2,000 dead bodies haven't been confirmed, but, say, only 300 have - don't you like that? You need 2,000? Or, even better, 10,000? So that you could [strike] at Georgians in full force? But is that you who's gonna fight with them? Soldier Bogdanov will [...]. And you'll go on [posting comments], unaware that among those who defended Tskhinval were Georgians, too, and they were good fighters, and people respect them. Because one's ethnicity has nothing to do with it.

There's one message in this post - Tskhinval isn't Stalingrad. And you shouldn't use such words as Stalingrad in vain. [...]

LJ user pro100_petrov posted eight photos from Tskhinvali and wrote (RUS):

[...] In a nutshell: yes, the phrase "has been erased from the face of the earth" is an exaggeration when applied to this city. There are buildings that haven't been damaged too much. Now that they've replaced the windows in them, they look the way they did before the war.


But in general the city looks like this:

[three photos, the last one is of a Tskhinvali school]

[photo of Hotel Alan: "Journalists were hiding in the basement here. [...] Damage is significant."]

[photo of a ruined house: "And this, they say, is the result of [Grad multiple-launch rocket system]. Hey, military folks! Is this really Grad?"]

[photo of a tank: "A blown-up Georgian tank. Lots of stuff like this all over the city. Next to the tank, there's a dead Georgian lying in the bushes. Many of them there, too. [...]"]

[photo of people on and around a tank: "Ossetian irregulars. Having their pictures taken with non-working mobile phones next to blown-up tanks."]

LJ user alan_tskhurbaev (North Ossetian journalist Alan Tskhurbaev) had this conversation (RUS) about the level of destruction in Tskhinvali with LJ user pro100-petrov in the comment section to one of his posts:


[...] High-rises in the southern part [of the city] have indeed been damaged severely. But I wouldn't say that only half of the buildings are uninhabitable. I think it's 70-80 percent. Depends on what you consider inhabitable. If a missile makes a hole in the building's wall, but the basement and one room are intact - is this called inhabitable or not?


Yes, this isn't an easy question. Let's say there is a large nine-story building, with a huge hole under the roof, made by a missile. People live in this building, many of them. Should this building be considered destroyed or uninhabitable - or not? Especially when it's likely that the hole has been there since 1991.

But the main thing is that to me Tskhinval looked like a living city, not deserted and not destroyed, as it had been described in the media.

LJ user slonopatam posted a picture of two elderly women posing next to a blown-up tank in downtown Tskhinvali. LJ user butttto commented:

Life goes on... The old people know this better than the young ones...

LJ user liza-valieva (North Ossetian journalist Liza Valieva) posted three photos and wrote this (RUS) about the cleanup efforts in Tskhinvali:


One of the first pictures taken in Tskhinval. Georgian prisoners, along with Tskhinvali residents, are cleaning up the city.

As one of the officials of South Ossetia's ministry of internal affairs told me, Georgian prisoners were allowed to wash themselves, were fed and then taken to clean Tskhinval and the surrounding areas. "Let them clean up the mess created by their fellow countrymen," he said.

I think it's a wise decision.


I entered one of the first stores that re-opened in Tskhinval, where there was nothing but colored balloons, ketchup and mayo. The vendors were having a lively discussion about something. One of them said this to me in dismay:


- Have you seen the Georgian prisoners who are cleaning up out there? If any of my relatives were killed, I'd go and kill one of them.

- They deserve pity, too, - I said, and immediately regretted having said it. I imagined the fury that would befall me. But, to my surprise, it did not happen, she agreed with me right away.

- Yes, I understand, they deserve pity, too.

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