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Wedding Dress | Elina Gabaraeva, Tskhinval

Elina Gabaraeva, 30 Years old, Tskhinvali

2008 August

After the 5th of August, all we could hear were gunshots. I told the neighbors, Come, let’s go down to the basement, we can tidy it up a bit, in case we need it. No one bothered listening to me. They didn’t think things would come to that. 

On the 7th of August, half an hour before midnight, the gunfire began. We jumped out of bed, my mother didn’t even know what was happening. We put on everything we could find to wear, even warm clothing and ran to the basement. By 1 am, the whole neighborhood was there – about 40 people with lots of kids. Someone was saying, Turn off that damn phone, they’ll bomb places where there are a lot of phone signals. 

Early morning, the shootings quieted down. We came outside, everything was littered with glass and melted metal, leaves too. Then the gunfire began again and we went back to the basement. The day passed like that. We couldn’t eat anything, we just drank water. 

We were waiting, thinking about when the Russian army would get there. No one thought we would have to wait for a few days. 

9th of August, they were shooting pretty hard again. In front of us, there was the peacekeeper office, and on this side, our army office, that’s probably why they were shooting so much over here. 

In the basement, Juliette was with us, our neighbor, Soslan Maldzigovi’s wife. Soslan was my age, we grew up together. We heard on the 8th that he was killed. He was serving in Omoni. His wife just kept calling him over and over again. She was wearing his jacket. 

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On the morning of August 10th, the bullet sounds died out again, and we came out on the street. Everything was shattered, duds were scattered everywhere – what hadn’t exploded yet. We headed down towards Moscow Street. At the Station Street intersection, a Georgian tank was blown up. The roof had exploded at least 50 meters up and had landed straight on top of the Union Building’s stairs, it had taken down all the leaves from the trees around it. Intestines were hanging off the tree branches. Then in the streets, I noticed I had stepped on something soft, and I looked at it. It was a piece of scalp, it still had skin and hair on it. 

I started thinking that Russia and the President had deserted us. Everyone was talking on the phone, telling each other, they killed this person or that person died. 

We left the city on August 9th with my neighbor’s car. I had the worst feeling. Where were we going? Were we ever going to see our home again? We didn’t know anything. We only took our papers. When we left the city – we looked back, everything was up in smoke. I started thinking I would never be able to go back again, and I started crying. 

We arrived at the Russian border by evening. I saw the Russian army by Roki Tunnel. We stayed with a relative that night, then our trekking began, going from one refugee camp to another. 

I remember calling many acquaintances. Many of my classmates ended up there. On the 12th of August, in Mikhailovski (a suburb of Vladikavkaz), they buried Soslan Maldzigovi. They buried him there, no one knew what the future held, that’s why a lot of people buried their dead in North Ossetia. 

I went to the funeral of Soslan. They had him wrapped up in a polyethylene bag. The bag was making so much crunching noise. I realized later that ants were crawling all over it. 

The next day, my classmate Zalina Kalchaeva was buried. She and her mother died in front of their house,  a cluster bomb fell nearby. It ripped Zalina’s head off. They placed her wedding dress in the coffin, she was going to be married in two weeks. I stood while she was buried without shedding a single tear. 

Even after the war, I couldn’t cry for a long time. 

_________________________
Text: Zarina Sanakoeva
From the Series, “Recalling Memories - South Ossetia 1991/2008”



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