Thursday, August 14, 2008

Running from the Law


Law today on the outskirts of Gori, involved a crazed Ossestian wielding a pistol firing a journalists, this directly in front of a Russian tank flanked by Armored Personal Carriers, the fact that the Russian soldiers did nothing is not surprising as reports of all sides in this conflict are committing atrocities. In the spirit of the Olympics car jacking and robbery are now national sports, and as journalists we are being targeted to new heights.

You can get that sense of calm and normality sitting around an army only to have it destroyed in seconds.

We managed to get through all the road blocks and arrived on the outskirts of Gori, to find the Russians taking up positions and for the first time a tank barrel was pointing down the road. The soldiers seemed calm enough and after thirty minutes of media mayhem most of us along with the Russian Soldiers were sitting under trees chatting as they asked us to make calls home for them, and let their families know that they are OK. Unlike the US and coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, few have cell phones and the concept of Internet Cafes and AT&T phone centers, these guys have nothing. A young Kazach soldier lay on the ground playing with a puppy.

After the melee of the first half hour, we had let our guard down, doubting that any trouble could happen surrounded by the Army.

It was the crack of a single round that made me look up as Steve and I walked back up the road towards the tank and up ahead our car. Anya, our Producer was still getting beseiged by soldiers giving her numbers of families to call. I thought it was strange to hear a small arm sound. But the smell of cordite drifted down to us and I commented to Steve.

"Smells like cordite!"

Another ten steps and it was revealed, the entire media pack was running away back up the road, cars with tires squealing were bearing away, and between us and our car was "the law". A middle aged man with a pistol was screaming as he wrestled with a cameraman trying to get his camera. The pistol was swinging wildly and he was between us and our car.

More shots sounded, a gun swinging around in the air.

Steve and i were running to the side as he continued to wrestle with the cameraman yelling in Russian

"Give me your camera, you jerk or I will shoot you"

You do not stop or try to establish eye contact, you simply run, as fast as you can in a flak jacket. Each step seems to get slower. The distance to safety seems to become an eternity.

Now with fifty yards between us and the gunman I yelled for Steve to start talking, the drama and tension as I ran on with the camera pointing back at Steve, at this moment in time framing and lighting even exposure takes second place. It is a matter of capturing the impact.

With a few hundred yards between us and the crazed militiaman, we slowed to a walk and for the first time I stopped and turned back , wondering where our Producer Anya was in this mayhem. I could not see her so I started walking back towards the scene. It seemed to have cooled down.

Back fifty yards, and all of a sudden everyone is running back past me at full speed away. It was going to hell again.

Cars with doors open full of media hanging out screamed off, shouts were drowned out by the sound of engines reving and horns blaring.

And I could not find my car, I could not even see it. So I ran around cars as they took off wondering if I should just jump into a half open door. This was not one of the times when life flashes past your eyes or everything goes into slo motion.

This was full body contact effort, only my own effort was going to get me out and safe.

It seemed an eternity and the sound of cars became less as they were just about all gone, when I saw our car ahead. The mere sight of perceived safety gave me a boost. This is no armored car, but as we call them "soft skins" but it is "sanctuary".

I remember my arm finally touching the handle and opening the door to scramble in and I turned the camera still rolling to my face, my eyes shot with blood, my breathing and heart rate pulsing to the maximum.

Lifting the camera I turned to Steve and said go, rolling ...

"it's a good thing Mal James is a triathlete, he just had to run
about a mile in a vest. That's how quickly things
change here. One minute you are sitting down with
Russian forces, next minute - car loads of Georgian
forces drive up, they are furious, and they seem to
take out that fury and humiliation on the people they
can, which is the journalists. We saw one Georgian,
irregular force, pointing a gun and then another
fired.I don't know the result, but I saw a pistol fat
guy pointed our way and we just had to run by that
pistol and keep running. This is an irregular,
undisciplined, chaotic, angry, humiliated Georgian
force. They don't listen to orders, they fire on
civilians from what we've just seen."

It is called Law and Un Order


Anonymous said...

The blog made us feel like we were there...only we are glad that we weren't. It should, however, inspire the young to take up war corresponding by droves, right after they are judged clinically insane!!!! Perhaps we were too quick to judge you too old for this work. I doubt many young men could do better. Too many Big Macs now days. Which is probably no problem to you and your nifty correspondent as I saw no MacDonald signs along the road in Georgia. We are grateful all of your team got back to the comparative safety of the Capitol. Please be safe as you are doing a fantastic, for lack of a better word, job. Let's hope this madness doesn't go on much longer. Thanks

Anonymous said...

Time to blow that taco stand, Mal. That was some great footage you got of Steve running from the gunfire and of you collapsed in the car too. Self portrait of a lucky man. Bet it took hours to recover from that adrenaline dump eh? I just can't imagine what that was like for you guys. PLEASE be careful! Great blog.......Thank you Mal.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mal,I enjoyed seeing your "report" on the Live Desk. That was one scary looking incident and I was truly amazed that you stayed so calm and got the footage. Steve better watch looks like he may have some competition in front of the camera there. You sounded and looked great. Did you actually let Steve run the camera? Be careful out there Mal and I will hope there are no more fat guys with guns. Your fan,Neatie

Anonymous said...

theatrics, not news.
news is what happens to the georgians, russians and ossetians.
an excited reporter is fun to watch, but its not news. theatrics.
be safe--i admire your courage.