Destitute and traumatised, the refugees forced to flee South Ossetia

The human cost of the short, vicious conflict over South Ossetia can be seen at the building of the former finance ministry in Tbilisi. Dozens of shabbily dressed Georgians, from mothers cradling crying babies to shrivelledold women with walking sticks, sitdejectedly on the steps and stare blankly into the middle distance.

The building – an abandoned shell with bare, grimy offices, musty corridors and peeling paint – now functions as one of several makeshift centres for Georgian refugees who have fled their homes in South Ossetia. Technically, they are not refugees but "internally displaced persons", because South Ossetia is still officially part of Georgia, but it is a distinction that matters little – their suffering is the same.

Mzia Revazeshvili came with 11 relatives, from a village near Gori. She does not know if her house is safe from reported looting. They did not witness any atrocities but her three children are nevertheless traumatised. "Every time they hear the noise of a car, they think it is a Russian plane," she said.

There are about 500 Georgians in this building, which has no running water and few toilets. Two floors have no electricity. No one has showered in days and they sleep on pieces of newspaper laid out on cold, dirty floors. The building is not stuffed with suitcases or bags of hastily assembled belongings usually associated with refugee camps. Most people came only with the clothes they were wearing as they fled the advancing separatist forces.

One man said he was watching television in the morning in his slippers when he had to flee – he had not even had time to put on shoes and socks.

Many people here are from the village of Tamarasheni, which is inside South Ossetia and less than a mile from the capital, Tskhinvali, but until last week was controlled by Georgia.

Last year, the Georgian government flew in the 1970s pop group Boney M to the village to give a concert and boost morale. Locals remembered the concert, when the strains of "Ra Ra Rasputin" were audible in Tskhinvali, with fondness. Today in Tamarasheni, it is a different scene. There are reports of looting and burning by separatists, but many of the refugees refused to blame the Ossetians, saying they had always got on well.

"This is the fault of the Russians," said Georgi Mendiashvili, 66. "They were the ones that started this. But the Georgians were also at fault – they mined the road before we could get out; the whole village left in a convoy and three or four cars exploded. Innocent Georgians were killed by Georgian mines."

One man, who did not want to be named, had defiantly waited at home, refusing to be pushed out of his village. But then looters, who he claimed were irregular Chechen paramilitaries searched the house as he hid in his cellar, stealing everything of value, firing random shots around the rooms and setting fire to his car. He later escaped on foot through a forest.

Tengiz Maisuradze, 56, has the unenviable status of being a "double refugee". He was born in Tskhinvali and spent his first three decades there. After the 1991 conflict, he was forced to move to an outlying village under Georgian control. Last week, he fled his home as it came under Russian fire. Like the rest, he left behind his documents, money and belongings.

Yesterday, there were 72 centres like this in Tbilisi alone, according to Dwayne Mamo, a Western aid worker. By tonight, the number of those staying at such centres is expected to rise to about 20,000, and this excludes the many more Georgians who are staying with friends or family and have not officially registered.

Dmanisi is 60 miles out of Tbilisi, far away from the fighting. Four hundred of the town's 5,000-strong population were refugees from the 1990s wars in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Now another 90 people have arrived from the current conflict.

Dali Kvitsiani is co-ordinating help for new arrivals. She herself is a refugee from Sukhumi, the de facto capital of Abkhazia, and fled after the first war. "Until last week, we always had the hope of returning one day," she said. "Now, it seems we have lost that hope forever."

The peace plan

* No recourse to the use of force

* Definitive cessation of hostilities

* Free access for humanitarian aid

* Georgian forces to withdraw to theirnormal bases

* Russian forces must withdraw to the pre-conflict lines. While awaiting an international mechanism, Russian peacekeepers will implement additional security measures

* Opening of international negotiation on the modalities of security and stability in Abkhazia and South Ossetia

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Sir David Attenborough
people
Life and Style
Young girl and bowl of cereal
food + drink
News
Comic miserablist Larry David in 'Curb Your Enthusiasm'
peopleDirector of new documentary Misery Loves Comedy reveals how he got them to open up
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Sport
football
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Life and Style
David Bowie by Duffy
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
Hell, yeah: members of the 369th Infantry arrive back in New York
booksWorld War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel
News
advertisingVideo: The company that brought you the 'Bud' 'Weis' 'Er' frogs and 'Wasssssup' ads, has something up its sleeve for Sunday's big match
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
i100
Environment
Dame Vivienne Westwood speaking at a fracking protest outside Parliament on Monday (AP)
environment
Life and Style
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: This post arises as a result of the need to...

Tradewind Recruitment: Class Teacher Required ASAP In Uminster

£120 - £150 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: I am recruiting on instruction o...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wimbledon, SW London

£24000 - £28000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wim...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness