Page last updated at 16:02 GMT, Tuesday, 9 September 2008 17:02 UK

South Ossetia's abandoned villages

By Rupert Wingfield-Hayes
BBC News, South Ossetia

Until a month ago, South Ossetia was a patchwork of picturesque villages, some Ossetian, many also Georgian.

An Ossetian woman in her destoyed house in Tskhinvali
Many grieving Ossetians say they hope the Georgians never come back
But, in the aftermath of last month's war, the Georgian population fled, and now the Ossetians are making sure they will never return.

I have come to a village about 10km (six miles) north of the capital Tskhinvali, a very pretty little place just at the foot of the mountains.

There are large houses, surrounded by ample gardens filled with orchards of pear-trees, heavy with fruit.

There are tomatoes ripening in the vegetable garden and cabbages, roses and grapevines growing up the side of the house.

The strange thing about this village is that it is completely deserted.

A month ago, it was filled with hundreds of Georgian families. Now, everybody has gone and every single house, bar none, has been systematically burned, looted, and in some cases, even bulldozed.

Along the village's main road, the casual destruction continues - Ossetian children throw rocks at a Georgian shop window and two young boys are carrying off what looked like weights from a gym.


Behind them, some Ossetian pensioners pull handcarts loaded with wood and metal looted from Georgian homes.

There is no embarrassment in this village about what is being done.

Georgians are cruel and evil people. They want our land. They want to take this place away from us, to destroy our entire nation
South Ossetian woman

"God forbid that the Georgians ever return," one old pensioner says.

"They're beasts. They killed my neighbour and her little baby. They are too dangerous to have living here next to us."

This sentiment is shared by every single Ossetian I meet. There are few high-rise buildings in Tskhinvali, the capital of the self-declared Republic of South Ossetia.

The sides of the few old, Soviet-style apartment blocks are peppered with bullet holes.

There are also some very large black, gaping holes - the result of Georgian artillery fire on the night of 7 August, when the military moved in to try and take this town.

A Georgian woman from South Ossetia holds her baby in Tbilisi, Georgia
Many Georgians from South Ossetia have no homes to return to

By most accounts it was a terrifying night for the city's population, beginning with shelling and followed by wild and indiscriminate machine gunfire.

A group of women sitting outside one of the blocks describe how they fled to the basement with their children when the shelling began.

"Georgians are cruel and evil people," one says. "They want our land. They want to take this place away from us, to destroy our entire nation."

Though the woman's anger is perhaps understandable, South Ossetian and Russian claims that Georgia was planning a genocide now seem wildly exaggerated.

Even Russia has now backed down on its initial claim that 2,000 Ossetians died in the Georgian assault.

The biggest losers from this war appear to be the Georgian villagers who have lost everything and now have little prospect of ever returning home.

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