Madona Okropiridze, 61 years old, Disevi/Koda

We have been at war since 1991 and we defended every inch of our land with our own lives. My husband’s life was also sacrificed to this struggle in 1992.

We knew that Eredvi had been attacked the day before and the captives had been taken away. As it’s known, a prison breaks from the inside. We, several families who have been active leaders, have been betrayed by Georgians themselves, they gave out information about our addresses, and the next day they came to Disevi too. At three in the morning, a number of IFVs encircled our house, we couldn’t hear anything and they attacked us in our sleep. We had a guest from Tbilisi – a friend of my husband, they took him and my husband in front of our three children. They put him in the vehicle. At first, I resisted and didn’t let them close to my husband. Then they took me too, dropped me in the IFV, but finally, they left me at home. At that night, I decided to go to Eredvi, to tell people about our boys taken from Disevi. The assailants suspected that I wouldn’t leave it this way and they patrolled the exits of the village with two IFVs. As soon as I tried to leave, they took me to Tskhinvali. I was in captivity for 5 days in the same prison as my husband, but we didn’t see each other there. I was under terrible psychological pressure. Every day they would make me watch a big pot of boiling water and tell me they were going to boil me in it. Many international organizations got involved because of me, and since they didn’t want to spread the news that ”The Russians killed a woman”, they decided to let me go. I was ”stolen’’ from the prison and, I was thrown unconscious in the outskirts of Tskhinvali. It was 5 o’clock in the morning when cold woke me up lying there. A woman pulled out a calf to graze in the garden and she found me. It turns out I was somewhere in some garden of Eredvi. I didn’t remember how I got there. In Little Liakhvi everyone knew me, but when they saw me barefoot, dirty and in such a condition, they couldn’t recognize me. After this, I became so sick that I spent a month in the National Railway Hospital in Tbilisi.

That was the last time I saw my husband. He was killed with inhumane torture in Tskhinvali prison. He didn’t commit any crimes, he always defended both Georgians and Ossetians; he was against the conflict and even Ossetians confirmed that. When they tortured him by hanging him on a tree – Ossetians protested that “their Andro” was treated that way! Do you know why they tortured him? He was told to say that he wasn’t on Georgian land, but on Ossetian, part of Russia, and they asked to kneel and kiss the so-called South Ossetian flag. He answered that he would only kneel in front of the Georgian flag. They tortured him for a month. What I’ve buried was only a third of the body. What I went through was very difficult. I loved my husband immensely and I realized that we were one soul in two bodies. Even now I live under his inspiration and I used to say to my children when they were in pain and started crying – the right side is the mother and the left – the father. So, don’t cry, you have both – a mother and a father. After all of this, I still stayed in Disevi with my three small children – the eldest one was 9 years old and the youngest – two and a half. My husband had great friends, they would put me in a car, drive me around and talk to me a lot. Without them, I probably wouldn’t survive.

The municipalities were formed back then and elections were called. I have always been very active in public life and everyone could see that. Therefore, they offered me – maybe I should take over my husband’s position. (author – husband was the chairman of Disevi’s council). I ran in the elections and was elected in 1993, where I worked until 2006. I always had a relationship with the whole community and couldn’t even imagine not being by my people’s side. We grew up there and we love every inch of our land. I swear, I still miss even the muddiest streets of my village.

We always lived through shootings and fighting, but the 2008 war was still very hard for me and at the same time, unexpected for everyone. As soon as the airstrikes started, we were forced to leave the village, on the 9th of August. There was complete chaos, the government didn’t help anyone and we were trying our best to survive. When we went to the then-governor – Vardzelashvili to ask for help, he insulted us there – he asked who told me that there was a war and to go back to our homes. Arrived in Gori, on the 10th of August, I returned back to the village. The elderly were left there and a few people organized to take them out of there. The elderly were released with a big car, but when we were returning, the Russians caught us. I was waiting to be captured again, but on the way the car overturned, we took time and ran away. When we arrived in Tkviavi, was saw naked soldiers ran away, while the bombers bombed the military equipment and soldiers from the air. We, ordinary citizens, didn’t get attention from the state, but they didn’t care about military people either. Finally, we followed them and I still can remember the picture – when we were coming to Tbilisi, there were three wounded soldiers lying on my lap. At the exit of Gori, a wounded boy was lying on the ground, asking to take him so desperately, that I can still hear his voice and it kills me. We couldn’t stop because the bomber was following us til Shavshvebi and was dropping bombs in our vicinity on us nearby. When we arrived in Tbilisi, I was so confused that I couldn’t even think about anything. When I realized, instead of Saburtalo I was standing on the road to Rustavi. When I stopped the taxi, out of shock I couldn’t remember my own address. That night I came home devastated.

After this war, we could never return to our valley. We lived in a kindergarten in Didi Digomi for a year. After this one year, we were settled in Koda, a mixed population of different villages and communities. This was also a political decision. We were a cohesive community and could mobilize easily, which probably didn’t suit the government. Adapting to mixed people from different villages and communities wasn’t easy and took quite a long time. I remember there was a fight every day. Living in Koda turned out to be very difficult because of many other things as well. No one had a job or anything other to do. I had two students with me who lived in Tbilisi and I had to take care of them. Finally, women started collecting special plants in the yard, making brooms out of it, and selling it for 80 Tetris. We did this for a year. Then, community education centers have opened and I started working here, I thought I was born anew and started everything from the beginning. This saved me this time – taking care of others helped me to save myself.

Throughout this center our entire settlement has undergone adaptation, many of us have acquired a variety of knowledge and skills. It’s an adult education center and we have many programs for both children and adults. Everyone around me knows that I’m alive today thanks to this center.

I have always been against war. The earth is big enough to fit everyone. The main thing is to be peaceful. What does it matter if you are Georgian or Ossetian? If you live in Georgia, then it’s your country as well. In our region, there was almost no family where Georgians and Ossetians families weren’t related. My mother-in-law was also Ossetian and I have other amazing Ossetian relatives as well. In this war, Ossetians were suffered as much as we Georgians did. I understand that the Ossetian youth who grew up in the 90s grew up under different propaganda, that we are the aggressors and not the Russians. But the previous generation knows how we all lived together. Ossetians and Georgians shouldn’t blame each other for what happened on both sides. Georgians and Ossetians were both victims of this war.

Since I went through so much trouble and the Ossetians killed my husband, everyone thought I would raise my children with hatred. After the death of my husband, I even sheltered an Ossetian refugee in my home for six whole months. I know many people said bad things about me because of that, but I wasn’t scared of it. This particular person did nothing wrong with me except that he was Ossetian. I always taught my children, that the most important thing is to treat people fairly and never make someone pay for things someone else did. I would never let the hatred of Ossetians be in my children and therefore they have the same friendly relationships with Ossetians, as I do.

Author: Ida Bakhturidze
Photo: Nino Baidauri
Translation: Mariam Kajrishvili