Last house in Georgia

Copyright Keith Kenney, 2011

Copyright Keith Kenney, 2011

Susanna Melo and I joined a CSJMM conflict reporting class on a field trip to three areas affected by the 2008 Ossetia-Georgia war. I visited Nikozi, which is a town in Georgia, but it borders on the disputed region controlled by Ossetian separatists and Russian troops.

Students and I walked to the edge of town, where residents warned us that it was not safe to go further. At the end of the road, there is a bunker and then a field, which is now in the neutral zone. Misha Roelashvili, 76, pictured on the right, joined us. He pointed to an unfinished house in the neutral zone and said it was his, but he has not been able to approach this house since the conflict. Before the war, this lonely house with lots of land around it belonged to him. An apple orchard had produced 15,000 kilos of fruit each year before it was destroyed by tanks. Misha can no longer farm the land, so he must rely on a government pension to survive. Fortunately, Misha also owns a house on the “safe” side of the border.

During the war, about 400 families left Nikozi for safer regions. Misha was one of the ten residents who stayed behind. Although he and his wife were very scared, they could not leave because she was bedridden. Together they bravely hid in the basement while tanks fired seven shells into their home.

After the 4-day war, Ossetians entered Nikozi, robbed all of the homes, and broke all of the windows. Misha’s house was untouched. He might not have been able to do much to fight off thieves, but he said he knew every one of the robbers: they were neighbors from the other side of the field. The only thing the Ossetians took from Misha was a military vehicle that the Georgian army had parked in his yard.

Copyright Keith Kenney, 2011

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About keithrkenney
Keith Kenney is a professor of visual communication at the University of South Carolina. He is living in Tbilisi, Georgia, for a year. This blog is about several topics. "CSJMM-Journalism" is about the students, faculty and staff members of the Caucasus School of Journalism and Media Management in Tbilisi, Georgia. "USC-Journalism" is about the students, faculty and staff members of the School of Journalism and Mass Communications (SJMC) at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, SC. CSJMM and SJMC are recipients of a "Journalism School Partnership" program grant from the US Department of State. The purpose of this $750,000 grant is to improve CSJMM and ensure its sustainability. "Tbilisi, Georgia" is about Susanna Melo and my experiences in Tbilisi. "Columbia, SC" will be about our experiences in our home town--Columbia--when we return home. "Georgia" is about Susanna and my experiences when we travel in Georgia outside of Tbilisi. "United States" is about our experiences traveling in the US. "Films and Photography" is about two documentary films I'm working on in Georgia. One story follows how Adishi handles the rapid tourism that is being developed in Svaneti. The other story follows Tamaz Jalagania, who is a craftsman of swords and guns, an opera singer, and an extraordinary storyteller. "Scholarship" is about my current books, articles, reviews, and grants.

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