Image: Georgian Zhenya Rusishvili
Dmitry Lovetsky  /  AP
Russian emergency workers help Georgian Zhenya Rusishvili, 86, to leave her village of Kekhvi, populated by ethnic Georgians, some 6.25 miles north of Tskhinvali, capital of the breakaway Georgian province of South Ossetia, Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2008.
updated 8/20/2008 3:58:54 PM ET 2008-08-20T19:58:54

Since she clutched her two children by the hands and fled the war in Georgia, Frosia Besayeva has found shelter, food and comfort in the house of a Russian family. But she said the Russian government was slow to help.

"I was hoping Russia would help me," Besayeva, 30, said as she waited for humanitarian aid to be distributed at a community center. "But so far we haven't seen anything except for promises."

Many of those who fled the Russia-Georgia conflict share her view, despite Kremlin promises of massive aid, and its trumpeting of rescuing those uprooted from South Ossetia, the Russian-leaning breakaway province inside Georgian borders.

Russian officials have promised $265 million to restore the bombed-out capital of South Ossetia and compensate refugees and victims of the war.

Tons of food already distributed
Russian emergency officials say they have already distributed 2,000 tons of food, water, clothes and other humanitarian products donated by Russia, the United Nations and several former Soviet republics.

In a goodwill gesture, Russian emergency officials also traveled Wednesday to deserted villages in South Ossetia and helped move elderly people who had been unable to flee.

The Russians took the victims to the central Georgian city of Gori, where they were placed in a local kindergarten while Georgian officials tried to get in touch with their relatives.

On the other side of the conflict, the U.S. and other Western nations have poured aid into Western-backed Georgia, where the United Nations says more than 100,000 people are displaced.

An estimated 37,000 South Ossetians fled across the border into Russia after Georgian forces bombed and shelled the regional capital of Tskhinvali earlier this month — an offensive that drew a massive Russian military response.

Many of them were put up in refugee camps, hospitals, sanitariums and other government-run places. But many others, like Besayeva, were left to fend for themselves.

With her husband missing, Besayeva ended up alone in Beslan with a 7-year-old daughter and a 4-year-old son. They had no money, no personal documents, no extra clothes and no place to stay.

She said she was grateful to the family who took her in and fed her, but said she had been hoping for more support from the Russian government, which has backed South Ossetia since it broke away from the Georgian government in the early 1990s.

On Wednesday, she was one of about 150 exhausted refugees at a community center in Beslan to get help. It is a city that knows trauma: In 2004, more than 330 people, most of them children, died in a terrorist hostage siege at a school here.

Refugees need clothes, food, money
At the community center, all Besayeva got was a children's school bag and a pack of sweets — Russia has pledged to place refugee children in local schools. Besayeva would have happily traded the aid package for clothes, food or money.

Other refugees got nothing: Emergency officials ran out of packages and suggested refugees file official requests with city authorities.

Sofiya Driyaeva, 25, fled her home in a small village outside Tskhinvali with her toddler son and 6-day-old daughter. The family hid in the woods for six days while the fighting raged, before Russian forces evacuated them to the southern Russian city of Vladikavkaz. She was put in a local children's hospital, where the infant was treated for pneumonia.

On Wednesday, emergency officials handed her two bags of diapers, a baby quilt and a pillow, along with about $4.30 in rubles that local residents had slipped into the package. She said she had no idea where she would go after her daughter leaves the hospital.

"We are grateful that we remained alive," she said. "We don't know how to live on, and nobody talks about it."

In the nearby town of Ardon, Galina Gabayeva, 36, said her family of four took in as many as 15 refugees from South Ossetia. She said later had to send four of them elsewhere, because she couldn't house so many people and there was no government help.

"We condemned ourselves to such immense suffering," Gabayeva said bitterly. "We hoped for help, but there isn't any."

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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