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Beyond Russian checkpoints

Georgia, August 31, 2008

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Mercy Corps Georgia  </span>
    Photo: Mercy Corps Georgia

Today was the first time since the conflict that Mercy Corps staff entered the Georgian villages beyond the checkpoints of Russian peacekeeping soldiers. We did not have any problems passing through the Russian checkpoints, which are set up at the entrance of the Variani village, Gori district.

These villages were almost empty of population during the fighting and immediate aftermath, but since August 27, people have begun returning to their villages little by little. However, most of those living here now are elderly people and men — those who weren't able to leave in the first place and, now, those returning to see if their homes, farms and livestock are still here.

As soon as we arrived in Variani, we called the population to gather in the village center to distribute humanitarian supplies, mostly hygiene kits that contain household cleaning and health supplies.

According to villagers, we're the first group to arrive here with aid; none of the non-governmental or governmental agencies have visited them, and families are trying to survive using their own supplies. However, the issue of how long these supplies last depends on the unpredictability of the Russian military presence here.

It is widely known that this village is heavily mined. As a result, villagers cannot enter fields or orchards to harvest the summer crops. Tons of fruit and vegetables are spoiling on the trees or in the fields, and it isn't possible to supply goods to the shops.

Families' livelihoods and the local economy are both in grave danger here.