Civilians were only targets left as Russia kept bombing

McClatchy NewspapersAugust 12, 2008 

GORI, Georgia — On the day that Russia declared an end to its war in Georgia, Jumberi, a taxi driver who gave only his first name, took a long drag on a Marlboro Red cigarette and said that after the first bomb hit, all he saw was body parts.

He motioned to the shattered windshield of his Toyota Corolla and the bloody handprints on the side of the car — left there when the wounded and dying collapsed as they begged him to take them to the hospital.

"I heard the sound of the jets, but I did not see them," he said. "They were just bombing and bombing the city. Everything was out of control."

It wasn't clear what military targets were left for Russian aircraft to hit on Tuesday. Georgian soldiers had fled their positions sometime overnight and all that remained of their presence were abandoned vehicles _two transport trucks crashed in the middle of the road and the charred remains of an armored personnel carrier, its bits blown across the street.

Yet explosions boomed across Gori and the valley around it, and their toll was grimly evident.

Jumberi pointed to his backseat, where blood was pooled on the floorboard — left, he said, by a man who staggered over to his cab before an ambulance took him away.

A few minutes later, three Russian helicopters launched missiles over a ridgeline in the distance. The clouds overhead, dark with rain, flashed with every explosion.

Eteri Tatishvilli marveled at the continuing attack.

"The Georgian troops have withdrawn completely," she said. "The last time I saw them was last night."

Miles away, at one of Tbilisi's main hospitals, doctors struggled to care for the wounded, who arrived in waves throughout the day. Many were elderly. None was a soldier.

"Just now, we admitted eight patients," said Tamara Saria, a doctor. "The age of all of them was no less than 80."

"Do you see any military people here?" asked Nikoloz Kvachatze, another doctor. "These are all civilians."

He was walking past an 80-year-old woman who had shrapnel wounds across the right side of her face. The woman, frail with thin white hair, was gasping and wheezing into an oxygen mask

"They are punishing us," Kvachatze said of the Russians. "They are punishing us for trying to be independent."

The Russian defense ministry told state news reporters in Moscow that reports of continued fighting were propaganda.

Ministry officials said they had "not been surprised by Georgia's reports alleging that Russia is still continuing to fire. ... We have expected similar informational provocations and are sure that they will continue, including the use of previously prepared TV and photo shots."

Stretched across a bed inside the Tbilisi hospital, Erna Lapachi was a bloody refutation of the Kremlin's rhetoric.

On Tuesday, she'd been walking toward the military hospital in Gori, where she works as a nurse, when a bomb fell. "The last thing I saw was people torn apart," she said.

Her legs were bandaged, with dark red spots leaking through where the shrapnel had torn her flesh.

"They were bombing civilians," said an ambulance driver, who was standing in front the Tbilisi hospital with colleagues after they'd made their runs back from Gori.

"Anything can be expected of the Russians," said another driver, Giga Kenkadze.

Inside the hospital, Kvachatze, the doctor, looked at a 70-year-old woman on another bed. "This is their war," he said with clenched jaws, referring to the Russians.

In the next room, Irakli Takhov said he was cleaning up the glass from a prior bombing when another bomb crashed down. His legs, chest and arms were ripped open.

Takhov, who said he was about 90, was shaking from the pain.

"I'm very scared," he said in a hoarse voice, tears starting to roll down his face. "I'm very scared. May God give us peace."

A nurse who was listening sat down and started to cry. In the hallway outside, there was a commotion. Another ambulance had arrived.

More from McClatchy:

Unchallenged air power was Russia's trump card

Images of War II

McClatchy Newspapers 2008

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