`I was praying for my child to die quickly...'

The Georgian military operation to capture the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali was code-named Clean Field. It seems that if it had been brought to completion, little would be left of Tskhinvali or its residents. After the two-day shelling, every tenth building in the capital was beyond repair and practically every building in the city was damaged by the shelling.

Georgia started the attack when many people were asleep or getting ready for bed. Some of them died instantly, others were buried in basements.

Eyewitness reports are shocking. The Georgian military was shooting at cars carrying refugees trying to flee the city. They blew up the water treatment plant, and it flooded the basements where people were hiding. They levelled Ossetian cemeteries with tanks and burnt the Holy Virgin Church, where civilians had taken shelter.

In a village in the Znaur District, they burned several girls alive. "They herded them like cattle into a house, shut it up and set fire to it," eyewitnesses recalled.

On the first day of the attack, Russian President Medvedev called it genocide. Under his instructions, the Russian General Prosecutor's Office started criminal proceedings on charges of genocide of Russian citizens (many residents of Tskhinvali have Russian citizenship). A total of 1,215 people have already been questioned in connection with the investigation. The committee's representative, Vladimir Markin, said: "Our investigators often have to call for doctors to calm witnesses down. Many start weeping when they recall their killed relatives and friends"

The number of casualties is likely to increase as the rubble is cleared.

Anna Kokoyeva, a former employee of the Joint Control Commission for the settlement of the Georgian-Ossetian conflict

"Terrible shelling started close to midnight. It was completely unexpected. Our building was close to a peacekeepers' camp, and these camps were one of the main targets. Together with our neighbours we went into the basement. I have a three-year-old daughter. She was terribly scared and did not sleep the whole night. Then they started shelling our building, and our basement started collapsing. I was sitting there, waiting to be killed by fire or crumbling walls. I was only praying for my child to die quickly, without suffering."

Inal Pukhayev, head of the South Ossetian Znaur District

"Dozens of women and children were killed by the Georgian military in my district. Georgians destroyed the villages of Khetagurovo and Sarabuk, leaving women and children under the ruins of buildings. Georgian soldiers drove off with many young women from Khetagurovo in an unknown direction. We still don't know what happened to them."

Ilona Djioyeva, a resident of the Dmenis village

"Georgian planes were bombing houses. On the morning of August 8, people started fleeing into the forest. About a thousand people dressed in Nato uniforms encircled half of the village and shot at those who were trying to flee. They had no mercy for old people or women. Very few people survived."

Nelli Bikoyeva, deputy principal of Tskhinvali's state Lyceum of Arts

"From August 7 to 9 we hid in a basement. We had no water. The shelling was so heavy that we could not go out to get a bottle of water. Luckily, there were no babies there, only adults."

"I don't understand how Grad multiple rocket launchers could be used against a peaceful city. How could they be used against a peaceful city? The city is in such a state... Not a single house is intact... Not a single one, can you imagine? There are just stones left from Ostrovsky Street..."

Marina Kozayeva, department head at the South Ossetian Printing Association

"In the morning, tanks entered the city from the south and drove down our street. We were very happy to see them because we thought that the Russians had finally made it... We even rushed towards them.

"Two tanks separated from the column, and we suddenly saw Georgian writing on them. Tanks went around our building and opened fire on it... I don't even know where my daughter-in-law is.

"Neighbours said that on the morning of August 8, Georgians went down into the basement and took the young women away with them. They also said that they shot the men... They killed a lot of men. All those who went through [the village of] Tbet are talking about one burnt car where five children's skulls were found."

Valentina Kochiyeva, a teacher at a boarding school in Tskhinvali

"We stayed in the basement until August 10. At five in the morning, when it was quiet, we went out. There were corpses in the streets.

"There were eight of us in the car.

"It's three kilometres [two miles] from Tskhinvali to the village of Kusret. I saw 17 cars on this stretch. They were all burnt out and shot up..."

...In an interview with a German radio station in 2005, Saakashvili enthusiastically described his meeting with a group of children from South Ossetia.

"We should become closer, step-by-step. These children will never become our enemies. They were so happy about our meeting!

"Now that I've seen them, I'll never be able to order shooting at them. Otherwise, any one of them could get hurt."

With his own eyes

The reports from the fighting in Georgia's breakaway province of South Ossetia may have differed in content, but not in style. Both locals and visitors to the province were horrified.

Joe Mestas

Joe Mestas, a Florida native holidaying with his Ossetian wife and five-year-old daughter, was caught in South Ossetia on the day Georgian troops invaded: "When tensions began to escalate a few days ago, I wanted my wife and daughter to leave the area. My wife said they'd be safe in Java [a town in South Ossetia - RBTH].

"The next morning I got a call from her saying that a Georgian plane had bombed the town. The bombs fell only a few hundred feet from her parents' home. She grabbed our daughter and her parents told her to get some of the neighbours' kids and get out of there. They left in a car and, on the way, told me how horrified they were.

"When my daughter sees an plane now, she's afraid. She yells `the planes are coming again!' I'm very thankful that they got out with their lives."

The Mestas family was lucky: "After my wife fled, I met them on the border. I never thought this could happen. I always thought that, since the United States were supporting Georgia, there would always be some control over the situation.

"Today, it's not just war going on here. There are war crimes being committed. Innocent people are being killed. The Georgians are killing civilians, committing genocide."

Mestas sends this message to his fellow countrymen: "America does not need to intervene in this war and needs to stop supporting Georgia. After these events, I can say confidently that Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili is no better than Saddam Hussein."

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