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Truck | Irina, Vladikavkaz, 40

Irina, 40 years old, Vladikavkaz 

 My father was working in Vladikavkaz back then, but our house was in Tskhinvali.. We were all back and forth, though my sister and brother were more often there, and my youngest brother, mother, and I were usually in Vladikavkaz. I went to school there too. It got so cold there. We had twenty-minute lessons only if they managed to turn on the heat.  

In 1992, we went back to Tskhinvali exactly two months before the 20th of May. But when Father saw the situation had gotten worse, he came down from Vladikavkaz on the 19th. I must take you back with me, he said. Mother didn’t want to go. I won’t be able to take you any other time, I barely got one day off work, I have to be there tomorrow, Father said. We left early on the 20th. It was a cold and foggy day.  

On the way, we ran into our father’s elderly aunt near our house. She begged us, Please wait for me, I will come with you, but Father said, We won’t be able to wait for you, we’re in a rush. We left. Right when we got to where Hero and Kharebovi Street cross, a truck stopped for us. 

The driver made it clear to all of us that he was only going as far asJava. My little brother, my father, mother, and I climbed into the trailer. It was full. We were hanging on to each other, there wasn’t a place to sit. Most of the others were elderly, most of whom had come from the Java region to do errands and shopping in Tskhinvali. 

My brother, who was only five then, fell asleep on the way. So my mother sat on the luggage and held him in her lap, I sat down next to her and put my head against her. There were cars trailing the truck behind. We were going slowly because of the crumbling roads. 

Suddenly, just as the truck was taking a sharp turn, there was gunfire. People didn’t even have time to scream let alone escape. When the shooting stopped, it was followed by an explosion. They had either thrown a grenade, or something even more fatal. The bomb hit a tree, it didn’t reach the car. It burst into flames. Besides us, only a couple of people survived in the trailer. You couldn’t move, we were packed so tightly. Corpses fell on top of my brother and mother. Many were shot in the head. At that moment, they were shooting exactly from the side I was sitting on. Shots from that height hit anyone standing straight in the head.

I only got hit with a kind of a little shrapnel on the side. Wearing my brother’s thick coat helped a lot too. 

They probably thought then that no one was left alive, so they moved onto the cars behind us. I saw from the crack in the truck, two came up to a car and one of them opened the door, an old man fell out, already dead. If they had come close to the cargo bed, we wouldn’t have been spared. Some people were calling to them from the forest to hurry up, so they scurried off.

The fact that corpses fell on top of us saved us. Nothing could save those who were following us in their cars. My father was also injured, but he was the first one to wriggle out of the cabin. I don’t feel good, he said. We waited for a long time until my mother and brother crawled their way out. That was the worst moment – the crawl. Everything was drenched in blood, some were still alive and still gasping for air. The road was muddy up to our waists, and blood was streaming down on top of it.   

There were two other women, two cousins – boys  also severely injured – and one woman, wounded on her side, who came with us. We headed down, towards the city. We lost sight of our father. All of a sudden, we heard the sound of an ambulance, we thought they were coming to kill us, and we hid in the ravine. It passed by us, they were coming from Vladikavkaz, maybe someone saw this horror and raced towards Tskhinvali to tell them what was happening, I thought. 

The injured woman lost a lot of blood, but she still helped me get out of the ravine. She pleaded with my mother to not leave her behind. I have one child, he has no one besides me. He did have a grandmother, but she is now lying there dead in that car, she said. My mother told my brother and me to hold each other’s hands, and not to go anywhere, and to walk in a way so she could see us the whole time. She, herself was helping that woman. We headed towards Dzari. Close to the town we spotted a man, he was running toward us with a hunting rifle. Then cars appeared, they put us in and rushed us to the hospital. The injured woman passed out and never came to her senses again. 

We were searching for Father in the hospital. It was like the earth had swallowed him up. We went to the morgue and to the trauma section, he was nowhere to be found. We never went to Vladikavkaz, we looked for Father here for a long time. During negotiations, the Georgians would sometimes tell us he was with them, sometimes tell us he wasn’t, and sometimes they said they had killed him and dumped his body in the river. 

The cousins that were injured who were with us, one couldn’t walk so the other one threw wood chips on him to hide him, but the Georgians found him anyway. They later exchanged him for bullets. We had hoped that we would find Father like that, but we never did. 

They gave us a place for our father in the Memorial Cemetery located in the yard of School No. 5 in Tskhinvali. That’s all there is. There is a giant stone placed on top of an empty grave. 


Text: Zarina Sanakoeva 
Photo: Vladimir Svartsevich, from the book, South Ossetian War, 1991
Thirty-three people were killed on the 20th of May in 1992 on the road to Dziri. 
20th of May is considered a National Day of Mourning in South Ossetia

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