Locals of both Georgian and Ossetian ethnicities support each other to survive, but report lack of medical services and fear that they will never reunite with their loved ones.
Tskhinvali issued a ten-day permit to the residents of Akhalgori (Leningor is the name called in de facto South Ossetia) to enter Tbilisi controlled territory to receive pensions and see their relatives.
De facto authorities of South Ossetia restricted movement via checkpoint in Razdakhan (Mosabruni – name called by official Tbilisi) in September 2019 in response to the arrangement of the Georgian police station near the villages of Tsnelisi-Chorchana. Georgian citizens were kept in isolation for five months.
140 days of lockdown proved that the lack of medical services and medications are the major problems in Akhalgori district.
“We worry about our mental condition,” said Eteri, a 72-year-old woman from Akhalgori.
Residents of the Akhalgori region are leaving for Georgian controlled territory. Photo: Lasha Chonkadze.
Eteri is taking her husband Rezo to Tbilisi because of his medical condition. Six months ago, he underwent surgery and had an inserted catheter. Twice a month he had to be examined by doctors in Tbilisi. But, the road was closed and his surgical wound got infected.
“You can find some medications here, but not everything is available. The problem is that if someone gets ill, there is no proper medical service. Our doctors themselves are very good professionals, but their technical capacity is so poor … They just don’t have means to cure the patients. And this is not their fault.”
According to Eteri, previously they had no need to go to Tbilisi – doctors performed operations in a local hospital. But over the time, the medical facility became unusable. Doctors were left without the necessary technical equipment.
The case of deceased Georgian citizen, Margo Maritashvili in October 2019, proved that the residents of Akhalgori are not safe. Margo had a stroke. South Ossetian side refused to open the checkpoint for emergency transportation to Tbilisi. She was taken to de-facto capital by emergency vehicle, the only one available in Tskhinvali. It took the car an hour and a half to reach Akhalgori. The same amount of time lasted the trip back to Tskhinvali. The next morning the woman passed away.
“Our issues are psychological. They are associated with fear. We are afraid that if we get sick we will not be able to receive necessary medical care. If someone gets ill, he or she must go to Tskhinvali. And the road there … is asphalted, but it is a serpentine,” Eteri shared her concerns.
Under Russian occupation and humanitarian crisis, Georgia launched a state funded programme of referral services, under which residents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia can receive medical services for free. This does not apply to residents having Georgian passports. They are automatically included in the universal health insurance system – like all other citizens of Georgia.
According to the Provisional Administration of South Ossetia under the government of Georgia, in 2019, 248 patients – citizens of Georgia living in South Ossetia, were provided with various medical services, which they received in Tbilisi hospitals. In total, 1 104 956 GEL (about 380 thousand dollars) was spent on such services.
According to official date, in 2019 the largest amount (36.3%) was allocated to cover the treatment of oncological diseases, followed by cardiology /cardiac surgery and neurosurgery / neurology.
For many residents of Akhalgori opening a checkpoint is the only way to get pension and see their relatives. Photo: Lasha Chonkadze
The mental state of people is seriously affected not only by the fear of not receiving the necessary medical care, but also by the long break with their relatives living in the Tbilisi controlled territory. The resident of Akhalgori live in a state of constant anxiety, and not just for themselves.
Eteri’s two granddaughters live in Tbilisi. They are students. Their parents are in Akhalgori. When the road was closed, the woman was very worried because the girls were left without financial support. She had nervous breakdown because of which her blood pressure was very high.
“Children are alone in Tbilisi, without parents. We are very worried and have to ask our relatives to somehow help them financially while the road is closed. All this time we have not been worried about the problems associated with our food and heating, we were worried that our grandchildren were alone. It is very difficult for me to stand it. I would better be cold and hungry than worry about my children and grandchildren. ”
There is no special psychological support program for residents of the occupied territories. This is confirmed by Roma Baindurashvili from the press office of the Georgian State Minister for Reconciliation and Civic Equality. According to him, only in individual cases the psychological support is provided by the state.
Tamaz Bestaev, head of the health and social services department at the Provisional Administration of South Ossetia, also emphasized the lack of such practices. According to him, so far none of the residents from the occupied Tskhinvali region has sought for psychological assistance service. In everyday life, people have to cope face to face with their fears.
The residents of Akhalgori, however, find support in each other. At the end of the conversation, Eteri highlighted that there are “very good relations” between Georgians and Ossetians living in the region, and that they live in unity.
“We all wish the best for each other, we help each other.” Ethnicity, as she says, does not play any role in everyday life. If someone is happy, everyone is happy: “If someone is oppressed, it is not because of ethnicity.”
When we asked Eteri if she felt isolated when the checkpoint was closed for a long time, she answered:
“My dear, we are in our homes. In this regard, we are fine. When I look out of my window, it seems to me that the whole world belongs to me. I cannot live elsewhere. ”
Habit of returning home
Izo always returns to her home in Akhalgori. Now, as well, she is going to get her pension, see her children, grandchildren and return home. “It is very difficult to be separated from your own children and grandchildren for five months. Only hear their voices by telephone…”
To be able to feed herself and her husband for more than 140 days, while the road was closed and she could not get pension, she “sold everything that is possible,” including the cow which fed the whole family.
“Before we sold it, we were not hungry. But, those who doesn’t have cattle, I don’t understand how they survived … In the shops, of course, they gave food on credit. But, now, they will have to spend the entire pension to cover this debt. ”
Akhalgori residents are trying to bring food to their relatives. Photo: Lasha Chonkadze
Izo’s family did not encounter any problems with medications, just because she didn’t need them. But she witnessed how her neighbors were unable to get the necessary medications neither in Tskhinvali nor in Vladikavkaz. At best, the relatives sent medicine from Tbilisi to Vladikavkaz, and then from there to Tskhinvali, and from Tskhinvali to Akhalgori.
Each visit to the doctor ends up with a long list of medications that you need to buy. Often, the pension is not enough to buy all the prescribed medicaments. According to Tamaz Bestaev, state funded programs do not cover the costs for medications.
“The government only finances the cost of medications related to treatment of cancer,” Bestaev said.
Problems related to health and physical condition is less important for Izo.
“We won’t die of hunger, but otherwise let it be as it is.”
The hardest thing for a retired woman is the grief over her recently deceased sister. The road was closed when it was the 40th day memorial service. Her eyes were in tears and her hands were trembling when she talked about this.
“There are no other problems in here. The major problem is lack of medications and restricted movement. We are ordinary people, we don’t harm anyone. If the road is open, we just leave for a while and come back”.
*The names of villages and cities were renamed by de facto authorities of South Ossetia after the war in August of 2008. The article contains the toponyms used by the respondents. For a wider audience, in brackets were given the names used by the other side of the conflict.
*The content of this publication /article does not reflect the official position of Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF), United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) or Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR). Responsibility for the information and opinions expressed in the material lies entirely with the author (s) of the publication.