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South Ossetia

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Travel Warning WARNING: Open warfare has ceased in South Ossetia, but you may wish to research whether now is a good time to travel since emergency consular assistance will be very limited. (Nov 2014)
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A church in Tskhinvali behind the monument to those killed in the Georgian-Ossetian conflict

South Ossetia (Ossetian: Xussar Iryston) is a partially recognized state in South Caucasus, which is considered as a separatist region of Georgia, mostly located in Shida Kartli. It is a partially recognized state, only recognized by Russia, Abkhazia, Nauru, Venezuela and Nicaragua.


  • Tskhinvali, also called Chreba in Ossetian — the capital and the largest town in the region, home to the government of South Ossetia.
  • Alkhagori / Leningor — a small town to the East with connections with Georgia.
  • Java, also called Dzau in Ossetian, — nominally the administrative centre of Georgia's Java (Djaua) and South Ossetia's Dzau.

Other destinations[edit]


There are few monuments to see in South Ossetia; nor is there a straightforward procedure to gain an entry permit from the authorities. Nevertheless, the mountains in the regions to the west and east (Racha and Kazbegi Region) are beautiful.

South Ossetia's street crime rate is relatively low because of the heavy presence of the Russian Army and security forces.

South Ossetia was an autonomous region of the Georgian SSR under the Soviet Union. In 1989, amid rising nationalist sentiment throughout the Soviet Union, when Georgian nationalist Zviad Gamsakhurdia's independence movement came to power, the government of the South Ossetian Autonomous Region passed a resolution to merge with the North Ossetian ASSR in Russia. However, the Georgian SSR government promptly overturned this resolution. In 1991, the president of Georgia declared that Russian would no longer be an administrative language of the new country, and that Georgian would thus be the sole administrative language. Alarmed Ossetes pressed for official status for Ossetian and either greater regional autonomy or full secession from the Georgian Republic to join with North Ossetia in Russia. Nationalist tensions escalated on both sides until violent conflict broke out between the formerly neighbourly ethnicities, resulting in a full-scale war between Ossetian separatists and the Georgian government.

Under Russian pressure, the Georgian government agreed to a ceasefire policed by Russian peacekeepers. In August 2008, the army of Georgia launched a military offensive into South Ossetia in order to regain Georgian control. Several South Ossetians and Russian peacekeepers were killed and Russia immediately became involved in conflict. Russian forces started a fully-fledged military offensive and defeated the Georgian forces within days. The Russian backed South Ossetian government took over administrative control. The war was brought to an end by a ceasefire agreement, calling on both sides to withdraw to the positions they held before the conflict. The government of Russia now recognizes South Ossetia as an independent country, angering Georgia and its western allies but causing celebration among the Ossetians.

South Ossetia is one of two territories responsible for a complex relationship between Russia and Georgia because South Ossetians seek to secede from Georgia and unite with neighboring North Ossetia into one whole region. As a result, many South Ossetians display intense bitterness and hatred towards Georgians.


The people of South Ossetia can speak Ossetian, Russian and Georgian. Most people will refuse to speak Georgian and may act hostile towards you if you do owing to the conflict between South Ossetia and Georgia. Bitterness, fear and hatred against Georgians remain high. If you can't speak Ossetian, Russian is what you should stick to.

English is rarely spoken among locals.

Get in[edit]

South Ossetia is accessible from Russia only. Small buses frequently leave from the bus station in Vladikavkaz to the capital Tskhinvali. Private or shared taxis leave on request. In the afternoon the prices often drop as the Ossete drivers want to return back to Tskhinvali in the evening and not spend the night in Vladikavkaz. You can often negotiate and pay around €35 (RUB1,500) for the 4 hour ride.

The distance is 176km on paved road, but the passport control on the Russian side is very formal and takes time. Then you have to wait at Roki tunnel for a traffic light which changes approximately every 30 minutes. Following this tunnel is the Ossetian border post; here, communication is poor and entry officers most likely will have no idea that you have approval to enter the country. Officers may question you regarding your personal information, accommodations in South Ossetia, and local contacts. Approval can take some time but is routinely given without trouble. The trip from this post to the capital of Tshkinvali is approximately 70km.

Use care not to arrive late in the day or on weekends. The border offices are routinely closed and you will be unable to gain entry to South Ossetia.

If you are not a Russian citizen you must receive permission from the Foreign Ministry to travel to South Ossetia. Contact the consular section of the Ministry of Foreigner affairs in South Ossetia by e-mail: [email protected] You must secure a multiple entry visa to Russia prior to this. Allow plenty of time and insist in the end if your visit has approved to give the reply also in Russian.

Get around[edit]

The former Railway station is now a well organized bus station. There are bus routes to most cities in South Ossetia (and Vladikavkaz) but frequency varies. Leningor is connected only twice a week with bus. In many cases you have to negotiate with the taxi drivers who wait outside.

See[edit][add listing]

By far the easiest places to visit are Tskhinval and Leningor. Tskhinval A quite provincial city with only a couple of places to visit. The old cathedral of the 9th century near by the river The central square with various soviet buildings and the square in front of the railway (bus) station. You can explore the local market and walk the streets spotting old architecture.

Leningor (Akhalgori in Georgian) A town to the east of Tskhinval (90 minutes by taxi) where mainly live ethnic Georgians. You will notice the difference in the goods sold in the shops coming mostly from Georgia than from Russia . Even you can spot a couple of cars with Georgian plate numbers , meaning that under certain conditions some people (not foreigners though) enter from Georgia to the eastern part of South Ossetia. The town has two 18th century castles of the local Georgian nobility (one is restaurant) a church , and a couple of old houses with wooden balconies. If you have your own transportation you can drive up the valley exploring other parts of Leningor


Day 1 Drive in the morning from Vladikavkaz to Tskhinvali stopping on the way to various scenic spots. In the afternoon visit on foot the church in Tshkinvali and the squares. Day 2. Day tour to Leningor with side trips to the valleys . Visit the castle and the town and the upper valley. Return to Tskhinvali for overnight. Day 3. day tour to Kvaisa to explore the western mountains of South Ossetia. Return to Tskhinvali for overnight. Day 4 Departure to Vladikavkaz

Do[edit][add listing]

Eat[edit][add listing]

Ossetian food is delicious, a Caucasian cuisine similar to, but significantly different from Georgian cuisine. Be sure to feast on Ossetian pie, a dish similar to khachapuri, but with meat and mushrooms instead of cheese.

Drink[edit][add listing]

Stay safe[edit]

In Leningor and other areas you may attract the attention of the police while taking photographs. Use common sense and avoid photographing government or other sensitive areas.

The Russian Internal Service (FSB) at the border crossing to Russia has been ordered to interrogate foreigners in a separate room following passport control. Don't panic and merely answer their questions.

Stay healthy[edit]

While the war and conflict has just recently ended, the situation is far from over and medical supply is not always going to be reliable and efficient. Heating, electricity, plumbing are basically commodities owing to years of failing infrastructure damaged by years of warfare. Likewise, the health care system is dilapidated - be sure to bring the necessary medical equipment and only buy bottled water.


  • The Ossetians have a fairly conservative culture so do keep an eye out for what is accepted or not.
  • At all costs do not mention Georgia or make any comments about the very bitter Georgian-Ossetian conflict that has been raging on since the break up of the Soviet Union. These people have lived next to Georgia for a long time and have had plenty of time to form their opinions. Similarly, do not speak Georgian with any of the locals. Bitterness and hatred against Georgians and the Georgian government run very high.

Get out[edit]

  • The fastest and safest way out of South Ossetia are the public buses or private taxis departing from Tskhinvali towards Vladikavkaz.
  • The Russian border crossing at the Roki Tunnel is very formal and if many passengers are crossing it may take some time to clear.
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