He describes how his friend, also a journalist, traveling unarmed and unmarked, gets out of a truck to find himself staring into the muzzle of a machine gun. Behind it is a female Georgian soldier. “I’m a journalist!” he yells. She lowers the gun and “folds in half,” shot dead. Another colleague, Sasha Sladkov of Vesti, a state-owned news program, is wounded while hiding in a roadside ditch.
Romanoff posts an ode to Grigol Chikhladze, a soft-spoken Georgian photographer who worked for the Russian language edition of Newsweek. Although Romanoff barely knew him, he is pretty shaken up by Chikhladze’s death. (“I knew Gia only casually,” Romanoff wrote, “but you don’t need much time with him to realize that you’re talking to a solid, intelligent and kind person. He was riding with the Georgians, but fell behind and was gunned down by the Ossetians.”)
Steshin also posts the wartime observations of his colleagues. There’s a triumphant sense of camaraderie here as journalistic competition falls away in the hell they’re all witnessing. Via Steshin’s LiveJournal, in a post that was picked up across the Russian blogosphere, Moskovskiy Komsomolets special correspondent Vladimir Sakirko recounts how his friend, journalist Alexander Kots, was wounded:
Someone yelled ‘Incoming! Incoming!’ Two Georgian jets hit the column of troops with a couple of rounds. We fell to the ground. The battle began. One Georgian plane was hit. We decided to stay close to the center of the formation, started moving and ran into the film crew of ‘Vesti’ - Sasha Sladkov and the guys. We thought that, by lunchtime, we’d get to the city with the troops. But that didn’t last long. The shooting was getting worse and worse.
Crawling through the bushes with a few other officers, they come under fire again.
We fell to the ground. On one side, a battalion was repelling an attack; on the other side, firing soldiers. And we lay right in the middle. I raised my eyes towards Sasha, and he’s suddenly so pale. ‘Is everything okay?’ I ask him. ‘No,’ he says, shaking his head. ‘D’you get nipped?’ I reached for his hand and saw blood. We had no bandages, nothing. You couldn’t raise your head, bullets spraying from both sides. All we could do was wait.
As the official Russian press trumpets the Kremlin’s line—something to the tune of “March on Tiflis” and “Georgia is America”—the Internet sings a different, more conflicted song. Much has been made of the liberals’ flight to the Web, but it is by no means a liberal haven. Online, one will find as many people cheering for Karadzic as for Obama. What is surprising is that, in the face of the near unanimity of official press coverage, there is a very lively debate going on in the Russian blogosphere. Commenters debate questions that the Kremlin has already answered for them: Who really started this war and what does it mean for Russia’s geopolitical future?
To be sure, there are plenty of people advocating “showing Georgia who’s boss” in a way that resembles sodomy, plenty of people who echo nationalist fears of American meddling, bias, and double standards. But there is also a good number of more introspective commenters who are critical of Russia’s role in the conflict. And for all the bloggers going crazy over Saakashvili’s embarrassing dive on Monday (he was roundly reviled as unmanly on various LiveJournals), mostly everyone is horrified by the images coming out of Georgia and Ossetia, which these young journalists, thrust by fate into war, are readily providing them. Take Steshin’s ghost photograph of Tskhinvali before the war. Though it is a tacit condemnation of the Georgian forces that first attacked Tskhinvali before the Russians arrived to finish the job of leveling it, Steshin is more stunned by the enmity between two cultures that used to adore each other. He arrived in Gori hours before the war because he wanted to hear the Georgian side, and he comes away feeling that they too have lied. “Everyone,” he wrote after his escape, “got what he deserved.” Although his commenters ask, he’s unable or unwilling to assign blame. He’s too caught up in the horror.