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Autumn Lilacs | Ella, Tskhinval

Ela, 45 years old, Tskhinvali

Throughout the summer of 2008, we were under fire, but on the night of the 1st of August there was a particularly heavy shelling. It was then, for the first time in 18 years, that we slept on the floor. Then it dawned on me that the situation was serious. That night, our dog, Sara, got ill.  She fell over and had a nosebleed. I worried that a shrapnel had hit her, but finally I realized that it was like a panic attack. I gave her medicine until August the 3rd, she got a little bit better. 

Then it seemed to calm down a bit, during the day, we lived normally. On the 6th of August, we were at the cafe, Farn, in the city center. Who would’ve thought that a bomb would fall out of the sky and hit the cafe in two days? 

We couldn’t wait for the Olympics to start on the night of the 7th. We had a tradition as a family to watch it together, both winter and summer. My sister, my brother and I would spend the night with our father. Mother and Father lived apart, my mother was working that night, she works at the hospital. Father was with his friends in Gelenjik. At 10pm, Mother called to tell us to pick up all of our documents and go to the basement. We were too lazy to go to the basement so we went to the first floor, to our neighbors. Later, when the bombings started and all the windows and doors were shattered, we went to the basement. Sara fell over again and started bleeding from the nose. We couldn’t help her in any way, what to do? We just stared at her while she laid in a pool of blood. My brother, Misha, kept running off somewhere from time to time. I ended up being alone in the basement with dogs. All of the neighborhood dogs gathered there. They sat there dead silent. 

On the morning of the 9th, I heard Georgians speaking, I was surprised, it turns out that the military were hiding out and listening to Georgian radio to see what information was being sent over. They told my brother to take me, his sister, somewhere towards the city center since it was dangerous here. We were close to the entrance to Tskhinvali from the Georgian side. 

We left. All the trees were ripped apart, the houses were burning. The worst scene emerged at the office of the OSCE! Children, women were screaming, crying, sitting on top of each other, there wasn’t a place to stand. I regretted leaving the basement a million times. No one was going to let us go back, they said the Georgian army was roaming the streets. Mothers would cover their children’s mouths so shut them up. They were bringing in wounded. Oh, how I wished to be in the dog and tick filled basement. 

At night Misha left, I stayed until the morning. It was already the tenth of August. Artillery wasn’t firing anymore. I went home to see Sara. She was really bad, her nose was pale, lying in a pool of blood and whimpering. I ran to the hospital, I couldn’t stand leaving her like that. 

On Gorky street, you might think that a war never took place. The houses were standing without a scratch, the trees, too. But, near the hospital, everything was destroyed. I wanted to see Mother. Our house was devastated when I went back. The neighbor told me not to worry, my mother hadn’t returned home so I ran to the hospital. I found my mother in the basement. Everyone was there, the wounded, the doctors, residents of neighboring streets. The building itself was very damaged. 

My mother fearfully quizzed me. Sara is unwell, she needs medicine, I said. She chuckled. Ask the nurses, they may or may not give you any medicine, she said. I, apologetically, approached one of the nurses. Do you have something that will stop bleeding? I asked. Who is injured? She asked. I want it for my dog, I said. She looked at me like she was going to make me regret the day I was born - to dare ask for medicine for a dog in this insane time! She went and brought me ampules, cotton, bandages, and explained in detail how to apply it, and told me to make the dog feel better. I left to treat Sara. She got well pretty soon, but in October, suddenly her fur turned white. She lived another year and then she died. 

Thank God nothing was lost at the house, a Grad rocket hit the neighboring house, part of our house fell, the chicken coop was destroyed, the chickens were scattered everywhere in the vineyard, the vineyard was burnt down, too. Two weeks before the war, Mother had lost an egg-producing hen. When all settled down, she showed up with little hatched chicks. 

In October, suddenly apple trees bloomed. In autumn of that year, in many gardens, trees bloomed, lilacs were blooming too. 

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From the Series, “Rebuilding Memory - South Ossetia 1991/2008”
Text: Zarina Sanakoeva
Photo: Ella Avagimova