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Lela Babutsidze
Lela Babutsidze. Photo: Tim Judah

Lela Babutsidze is a refugee from the August conflict in South Ossetia. She is six months pregnant. She had just finished university before the conflict began. She was born in Tskhinvali, South Ossetia's main town.

I was born in December 1987, but there is a mistake in my passport. It says I was born in 1985. Both my parents are Georgian and my father was from a village in South Ossetia.

When I was very young my father worked as a technician at the Soviet Ossetia newspaper and my mother was a housewife. Then, when the conflict broke out in 1991, we were expelled from Tskhinvali. My father was beaten up and our car was stolen.

One of my first, hazy memories is from when we were forced out of Tskhinvali. We were in the back of a Ural lorry. The Ossetians were shooting at it and they wanted to stop it because they wanted to take us hostage, but the driver did not stop.

We went to Gori for a few months and then on to Achabeti, a village just north of Tskhinvali, part of a Georgian enclave in the region claimed by the South Ossetian separatists. My parents did not have jobs but lived off the food they grew and that which they sold in the market. Sometimes we had to leave because of sporadic violence.

I had a good childhood and went to school in Achabeti. I studied music and dancing. When I was young I did not have any particular plans to leave.

In 2004 I started university in Gori. I studied law. I wanted and I still want to become a prosecutor. I graduated in July but could not get my diploma because of the conflict.

My husband is from Zugdidi. I met him when he was serving in the army as a conscript in Achabeti. Our troops were there as part of the Joint Peacekeeping Force with Russian troops and Ossetians.

In February, when I got married, my father was diagnosed as being seriously ill with cancer. He died in May. So, because my mother was alone, we decided to stay most of the time with her in Achabeti. In fact, we had just come back from a trip to Zugdidi three days before the conflict started. How could we have imagined what would happen?

Lela Babutsidze
Lela Babutsidze. Photo: Tim Judah

The shooting started just as we got back, but we were used to it and thought it would stop soon. Still, we hid in the cellar and slept there, too. Then, on August 7th the village was hit by artillery and bombed by two Russian planes the next day.

We stayed for three or four more days and then we got a call from my cousin in Achabeti, saying we were virtually the only ones left in the village and that we should leave. We were afraid to come out, but thought we might get killed if we stayed.

Our house is a little away from the others, so we did not know that the others had gone. We walked for about two hours and then we got to the main road and found a bus which was evacuating people. Then we had to drive 15 kilometres on the dirt road over the mountains and the bus was shot at.

We could see villages burning and Tskhinvali, which was devastated. There were dead along the road. We got to Tirdznisi and then my uncle got us in his truck and then a cousin took us to his home in Gori for the night. We went to other relatives for two days but could not stay there so we ended up in a kindergarten on the outskirts of Tbilisi.

We stayed there for just over two weeks. The conditions were terrible. I did not have a mattress and there was not enough food. A few days ago we came to this flat in Mukhiani, a suburb of Tbilisi, which belongs to an uncle of my husband. I don't know how long we can stay here because he is coming back with his family and now, because of the walk when we escaped, I have complications with my pregnancy. I have to stay lying down until November, when the baby is due.

Our house in Achabeti has been burned. We know that because my grandmother stayed behind when we left. Then she was kicked out. She saw men speaking Russian and Ossetian rob the house first, and then burn it. Now she is in shock and in a hospital in Tbilisi.

When we left we had only the clothes we were wearing. I grabbed a picture of our wedding, but not much else.

We had a dog. I have got a picture of him on my mobile phone. I was very upset because we could not take him. His name is Luna and I miss him a lot. We had two cows and a pig, which were taken when the house was robbed. The chickens, which were locked in the coop, might have been burned when they set the house on fire.

I suppose we will go and live in Zugdidi for now, but then I want to become a prosecutor and live in Tbilisi.

September 2008

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