Scars of war still hurt in Georgia

Jewish community focuses on rebuilding after summer battles.

georgia man 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
georgia man 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
For hundreds of Georgian Jews the memory of last summer's war with Russia is still as fresh as ever. "We are still suffering psychologically from the effects of war," said Katinou Orjonikidze, whose apartment here was destroyed by Russian air strikes. "Everything of ours was destroyed." Orjonikidze added that the family had received scant help from the government, although the local municipality in Gori was currently in the process of rebuilding their tiny, two-bedroom dwelling, situated in one of the town's concrete apartment blocks. The economic situation in Gori, which is located one hour north of the Georgian capital Tbilisi, hasn't been stable for several years, but since the August conflict, levels of unemployment and poverty have increased dramatically. Combine its sixty percent unemployment rate with clear symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) left behind by the war, and Gori's population is facing insurmountable hardships. "I don't know what we would do if we weren't Jewish," said Violetta Orjonikidze, Katinou's mother-in-law, who also lived in the bombed-out apartment together with her son, Dato, and two grandchildren Vika, 12, and Dito, 9. The two children are part of the Children's Initiative, a social welfare program run as a partnership between the American-Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ). Its aim is to provide a wide range of assistance to Jewish families in Former Soviet Union states where the children are considered at risk. In Gori, the program treats roughly 120 Jewish children and their families. "The period of the war was awful," said Dato Moshiashvilli, Director of the JDC Hessed Center in Gory. "We evacuated as many people as possible but there were some who had to stay behind because of old age or illness. Then we had to come back and deliver them food or aid packages," he said. At one point during the two-week conflict, Moshiashvilli said that Russian troops stopped him as he drove from the capital to the besieged region and threw him out of the car before he could reach his destination. Since August, he said that most of the Hessed center's work had been focused on rebuilding the community and helping families get over the trauma. "Did you hear the helicopter flying overhead today?" asked Dato's wife Tea Moshiashvilli, who also runs programs for children at the center. "People here were frightened all over again when they heard it. They thought the war was coming back again," she said. Psychologist Svetlana Siordin, who has been hired by the JDC to provide emergency treatment for PTSD to community members in Gori, said many of participants in both her group and individual treatments still find it "difficult to sleep at night." "Their state of mind is much better than it was in September but it is still not easy for them," she says. "The children were left aggressive afterwards and very frightened. The parents were worried about their children. We have been working with all members of the family to improve their inter-family relationships," she said. "The group therapy is definitely the best way," she added. "I think the community is stronger now than before the war," finishes Dato Moshiashvilli. "There was panic during the war period and people are still afraid that it could start up again, but we've been working very hard here to restore the calm."