The bodies of dead Georgian fighters were being burned in the streets of the war-ravaged capital of South Ossetia Wednesday as claims emerged that civilians were targeted in last week’s assault.
Residents contacted by The Times on the phone from Moscow alleged that Georgian troops had killed women and children, although their claims could not be verified.
Parts of the town of Tskhinvali were still in flames several days after the Georgian attack last Thursday and the fierce fighting that followed the Russian counteroffensive.
Russia said that it was gathering evidence for charges of genocide against Georgia, accusing it of driving 30,000 refugees out of South Ossetia.
Georgia responded by filing a case against Russia at the International Court of Justice in the Hague for ethnic cleansing between 1993 and 2008.
Ada Alburova, 32, said that she had seen bodies of women and children after emerging from two days’ hiding in her grandparents’ basement in Tskhinvali from the initial Georgian attack.
“We will write down it all and the guilty should pay,” Alburova, a charity worker from Vladikavkaz, the capital of Russian-administered North Ossetia, said.
People “could not believe that Georgia was capable of that,” she said. “Russia should pay for the fact that they were late but if they did not come we would not exist as nation."
She alleged that Georgian troops deliberately killed civilians as they went along the Zarsky road to escape from South Ossetia.
It “was full of bodies, whole families died there, children, the elderly,” she claimed. “Everyone who went out on the Zarsky road saw it.”
Tblisi has denied that its soldiers committed any atrocities.
Natiya Gogichaeva, 33, who ran a children’s center in the village of Khvtse that became a meeting point for refugees as they escaped from the region, said that she had seen a Georgian plane try to drop a bomb on fleeing refugees.
Initially refugees thought that the jet was Russian. “They thought that it had come to help,” she said, but when they saw that something was dropping, the refugees scattered and there were only a few light wounds.
Five thousand refugees came through her center, said Gogichaeva, and many had tales of indiscriminate attacks against civilians.
“I am ready to cry at the whole of the world. I am ready to go to Europe to tell,” Gogichaeva said, slamming Western newspapers for not covering the Georgian assault on South Ossetia.
Elza, a nurse working in Tskhinvali, told The Times that she had treated many civilians with bullet wounds. “They were shooting at them,” she said before hanging up.