Ossetia Conflict Stays Out of Moscow

MTSlava Tsakagov, right, and Khugayev unloading humanitarian aid near Moscow's Ossetian center on Thursday.
Staff Writers

The South Ossetia conflict has not spilled over into hostilities between Moscow's Georgians and Ossetians, who are busy collecting clothes and medicine for their compatriots and seem united in their dislike for Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili.

Georgians and Ossetians living in Moscow said they were united by grief.

The two diasporas are preparing to stage a joint rally on Pushkin Square on Friday to mourn the 1,600 civilians that Russia says died in the fighting, said Zemfira Tsakhimova, deputy head of Moscow's Ossetian community.

"We hope that time will heal the wounds, and the peoples of Georgia, Ossetia, Abkhazia and Russia will build their lives as good neighbors," the Union of Georgians in Russia said in a statement. "Rulers like Saakashvili leave, but there will always be fraternity, faith and love between us."

Moscow's Ossetian community numbers some 50,000 people, while there are about 300,000 Georgians in the city, spokespeople for the communities said.

Most Georgians and Ossetians interviewed for this report said they had no enmity toward each other and blamed Saakashvili for the conflict.

Since last Friday, an Ossetian community center outside the Novoslobodskaya metro station has been turned into a transfer point for dozens of carton boxes and plastic bags of humanitarian aid. A dozen Ossetian, Russian and Armenian volunteers, mostly young men and women, hustled around the main room and up and down narrow stairs to the second floor on Wednesday afternoon, packing boxes and bags and carting them out into the street, where they loaded them into a truck.

The volunteers said many had not slept for two or three days as they sorted through donations for South Ossetian refugees.

A member of the community's council, Irina Dambegova, said the fighting had drawn the Ossetians and Russians closer together.

"Now, we are one people," Dambegova said. "Russians understand that if Russia gives away Ossetia, it will start losing territories up to the Rostov region."

Ossetians had sent four trucks with medicine, clothes and bed linen -- things that the refugees needed most -- to South Ossetia by Thursday, she said.

Dambegova was among a few Ossetians interviewed who voiced a negative attitude toward ordinary Georgians. "They greeted this fascist!" she exclaimed, referring to a rally of tens of thousands of Georgians in Tbilisi on Tuesday in support of Saakashvili. "The people have the ruler they deserve."

Ossetian volunteer Levan Gagiyev, 21, lashed out at Saakashvili: "This was done by a certain ruler, not the Georgian people."

Another Ossetian volunteer, Alan Khugayev, 18, said he had a negative attitude toward the Georgian people. "There are certain Georgian youth groups in Moscow and Tbilisi that support Saakashvili," he said.

The Union of Georgians in Russia has collected 270,000 rubles ($11,110) to buy medicine for people who suffered in the conflict, said Igor Gvritishvili, a member of the union's council.

"The source of the conflict is not Saakashvili's actions but some shortsighted leaders of small groups of people ... who decided to take advantage of the troubled times after the fall of the Soviet Union by becoming leaders of separatist republics," Gvritishvili said, speaking at the union's headquarters outside the Sukharevskaya metro station.

Few of Moscow's Georgians seemed to share his views. In the union's statement, union president Mikhail Khubutiya called Saakashvili "a little fuhrer."

"We curse the Georgian leadership that used the slyest way to hoist deadly weapons on a peacefully sleeping Tskhinvali," he said.

An unknown group of activists proposed holding an unsanctioned rally in support of Georgia in Red Square on Wednesday, but the Union of Georgians refused to take part.