Pastoral visit to Georgia and Russia, September 2008

From 3 to 7 September 2008, a pastoral delegation from the WCC visited Russia and the Caucasian region affected by the August 2008 war over South Ossetia. The itinerary included the Georgian capital Tbilisi and its environs, the archbishopric and damaged areas of the city of Gori and the Karaleti checkpoint into the buffer zone established by Russian forces since the August 2008 conflict. After a 4,000 km detour, the delegation reached Tskhinvali in South Ossetia. In Russia, the delegation met with the deputy foreign minister and officials of the Russian Orthodox Church.

WCC delegation at a residential street in Gori, Georgia, damaged in the August 2008 war over South Ossetia. In the foreground is Rev. László Lehel, director of Hungarian Interchurch Aid.

Four of the 2000 people in a camp for displaced Georgians in Gori. The family is from Karaleti, a community inside the buffer zone established by Russian forces. Priests of the local Georgian Orthodox diocese are ministering to people in the camp.

The new Georgian Orthodox Cathedral occupies a prominent place in the capital Tbilisi.

Father David Sharashenidze (right) and Konstantin Rogava were two members of church aid missions into the buffer zone during and after the war in August 2008.

The church brought aid in, with help from International Orthodox Christian Charities, and then brought out the untended dead bodies of soldiers and civilians they found in the zone.

Georgia's ombudsman or public defender is Sozar Subari.

The office is established by the national constitution to protect human rights and investigate related issues. It provides one forum where civil society groups and churches that are not officially recognized can be heard.

Sirana Otinashvili, 83, is one of the displaced people living in a school for the blind in Tbilisi. She fled with five of her children and many grandchildren from Kemerti, a village north of Tskhinvali that is now largely destroyed.

"Our houses were burned and our cattle stolen," she told the WCC delegation. "We had such good houses there and such good vineyards. I want to go back." With school set to open soon, she and the 147 other people sheltering in the school do not know where they will go next.

Two officials of the South Ossetian authority showing Rev. Elenora Giddings Ivory of the WCC the destroyed parliament building in Tskhinvali.

Nearly a month after the war, a fresh fire burns in this house beside South Ossetia's main highway. More than a dozen villages north of the capital, Tskhinvali, have been razed by looters, house demolitions and arson.

Estimates are that 26,000 people fled to Georgia from South Ossetia during and after the conflict.


All pictures © WCC/Jonathan Frerichs
High resolution versions of these pictures are available upon request.

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