Tako Robakidze

'Peacekeepers'

Georgia

'Peacekeepers'

Georgia today has become home to internally displaced refugees from two regions of Georgia (Tskhinvali / South Ossetia and Abkhazia), Ukrainian refugees, as well as Russians who have fled the current regime and are on a so-called “black list”. Each photograph and its story contrasts the parallel portrayal of events by the Russian media, highlighting the difference between fact and fiction, between real lives and propaganda.

The invasion of Eastern European countries by Russia’s so called “liberating” and “peace-keeping” missions is a land-grab strategy which can be traced back decades and even centuries. Military aggression and the weaponisation of propaganda have been a highly effective deadly duo employed by the Federation to further its interests.

Having somewhat underestimated the intensity and efficacy of Russian disinformation prior to the events that unfolded in Ukraine, the outside world could not have predicted the severity and depth of the problem, one that remains critical in all countries still under the Russian thumb. Every generation that grows up in such a deceitful environment is at risk of losing whatever smattering of truth or perception they still possess, and even worse, adding to the atmosphere of untruths and thus further alienating its society from reality. 

Prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union, ethnic conflicts came to a head in two regions of Georgia, Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali Region / South Ossetia, and, supported by the Russian military, 300,000 ethnic Georgians were forced to flee their homes. In 2008, Russian propaganda spread misinformation on the origins of this conflict, placing blame on Georgia for having started the war against ethnic Ossetians, when Russian troops had already invaded Georgia.

In 2014, a worsening campaign of “demonisation” started during the Maidan uprising in Ukraine. The official Russian narrative portrayed the Ukrainian rejection of unjust post-Soviet corruption within their country as mere provocation by the West, “ever-fearful” and “envious” of Russia’s increasing strength and power in the hands of nationalists.  

And in 2022 history repeats itself. 

This project was made as part of a VII Academy Fellowship

Reflection of Tatiana Burlitskaia, 16, from Mariupol at a hotel serving as a temporary shelter for Ukrainians in Georgia. Tatiana was planning where she’d go to study and looking for a graduation dress, when she learned from the TV that she couldn’t go anywhere. She and her family attempted to leave during a “green corridor”, only to find that it didn’t exist. Her family woke up every day at 5am, crawling out from their beds and into the corridor to avoid the shootings. All connections to the world had been severed, they were trapped, listening to Russian reports of the war. “Without electricity, water, gas, we sat and listened to how Russians were preparing for the Women’s Day holidays and about the sales in the stores. After the 8th of March, only one message was played on repeat: UKRAINIAN SOLDIERS SURRENDER AND LAY DOWN YOUR ARMS! We turned the radio off.” The first bomb which hit her neighbours’ window sent Tatiana into a state of hysteria. “I was crying, screaming, nobody could help me.” The flat was completely destroyed. Tatiana came to Georgia through Russia. At  the Russian-Ukrainian border children were asked questions – “What do your parents say about this war?” The children cried; they didn’t want to answer. A Ukrainian family was found with messages on their phones saying they were against the war. Sacks were put over their heads while soldiers shot near their heads several times as punishment. “It seems we were the only ones who considered them brothers. They didn't think so.”  May 7, 2022. Tbilisi, Georgia.

Reflection of Tatiana Burlitskaia, 16, from Mariupol at a hotel serving as a temporary shelter for Ukrainians in Georgia. Tatiana was planning where she’d go to study and looking for a graduation dress, when she learned from the TV that she couldn’t go anywhere. She and her family attempted to leave during a “green corridor”, only to find that it didn’t exist. Her family woke up every day at 5am, crawling out from their beds and into the corridor to avoid the shootings. All connections to the world had been severed, they were trapped, listening to Russian reports of the war. “Without electricity, water, gas, we sat and listened to how Russians were preparing for the Women’s Day holidays and about the sales in the stores. After the 8th of March, only one message was played on repeat: UKRAINIAN SOLDIERS SURRENDER AND LAY DOWN YOUR ARMS! We turned the radio off.” The first bomb which hit her neighbours’ window sent Tatiana into a state of hysteria. “I was crying, screaming, nobody could help me.” The flat was completely destroyed. Tatiana came to Georgia through Russia. At  the Russian-Ukrainian border children were asked questions – “What do your parents say about this war?” The children cried; they didn’t want to answer. A Ukrainian family was found with messages on their phones saying they were against the war. Sacks were put over their heads while soldiers shot near their heads several times as punishment. “It seems we were the only ones who considered them brothers. They didn't think so.”  May 7, 2022. Tbilisi, Georgia.

Tanya, 30, a film director, arrived in Georgia at the beginning of March 2022. She and her boyfriend were in Turkey when the war started, and simply decided not to return to Russia. “I feel terrible, in my heart, I’m hopeful that the war will end soon. Realistically, I don’t know when it will ever end. I never thought that I would be in this war. We have friends and relatives in Ukraine, this makes it even more weird and wild. Our generation never learned about the war in 2008, we found out about it when we arrived in Georgia.“All these years, the government has spun us a narrative of Russians having an invisible external enemy, that the whole world is against Russia. They have spread so much paranoia that many Russian families are divided and generations are at war with each other. ‘Everything is not that simple!’ This line began as a joke in a meme, but now it has become part of our war narrative. Whenever we see photos of the destruction Russia has caused, we tell ourselves: Everything is not that simple; we do not know the whole truth!”  September 28, 2022. Tbilisi, Georgia.

Tanya, 30, a film director, arrived in Georgia at the beginning of March 2022. She and her boyfriend were in Turkey when the war started, and simply decided not to return to Russia. “I feel terrible, in my heart, I’m hopeful that the war will end soon. Realistically, I don’t know when it will ever end. I never thought that I would be in this war. We have friends and relatives in Ukraine, this makes it even more weird and wild. Our generation never learned about the war in 2008, we found out about it when we arrived in Georgia.“All these years, the government has spun us a narrative of Russians having an invisible external enemy, that the whole world is against Russia. They have spread so much paranoia that many Russian families are divided and generations are at war with each other. ‘Everything is not that simple!’ This line began as a joke in a meme, but now it has become part of our war narrative. Whenever we see photos of the destruction Russia has caused, we tell ourselves: Everything is not that simple; we do not know the whole truth!”  September 28, 2022. Tbilisi, Georgia.

Kostia Balabas, 17, an electrician from Mariupol at a house which became a temporary shelter for Ukrainians escaping the war. He and his family were unable to escape the city until March 18. A bomb hit their house as they were preparing to leave. “Suddenly, there was an absolute silence in my ears. I didn’t know if I was dead or alive. When I came to my senses, I opened my eyes. It seemed like I could see something, and there was a noise in my ears. My brother Vova was calling out to me, and I realised that something was wrong. Half of my face was missing. At that moment there was no pain – I felt nothing. But I could tell something was wrong; I could feel the fear in Vova’s voice – the fear that I was dying. In that instant, I thought I was dying. I crawled to the entrance, to my brother. My father took me to the hospital. The temperature was below zero. The wounded were overflowing, and there was a shortage of medical staff.  We returned home, and my other eye began turning dark. There was nothing I could do. Bombs fell all night. We thought we would never wake up again, but we did, and we left.” May 4, 2022. Tbilisi, Georgia

Kostia Balabas, 17, an electrician from Mariupol at a house which became a temporary shelter for Ukrainians escaping the war. He and his family were unable to escape the city until March 18. A bomb hit their house as they were preparing to leave. “Suddenly, there was an absolute silence in my ears. I didn’t know if I was dead or alive. When I came to my senses, I opened my eyes. It seemed like I could see something, and there was a noise in my ears. My brother Vova was calling out to me, and I realised that something was wrong. Half of my face was missing. At that moment there was no pain – I felt nothing. But I could tell something was wrong; I could feel the fear in Vova’s voice – the fear that I was dying. In that instant, I thought I was dying. I crawled to the entrance, to my brother. My father took me to the hospital. The temperature was below zero. The wounded were overflowing, and there was a shortage of medical staff.  We returned home, and my other eye began turning dark. There was nothing I could do. Bombs fell all night. We thought we would never wake up again, but we did, and we left.” May 4, 2022. Tbilisi, Georgia

Hand of Kostia Balabas, 17, an electrician from Mariupol at the house which became a temporary shelter for Ukrainians escaping the war. He and his family were unable to escape the city until March 18. A bomb hit their house as they were preparing to leave. As well as injuries to his face, he lost his thumb and he had an open wound in the stomach. His father and his brother were injured and his cousin, who had been staying at their house, died. After arriving in Georgia, he underwent several operations and is now in recovery. “Everything in Mariupol was destroyed,” he recalls. “Almost every house had been hit by shelling. Even if it is rebuilt bit by bit, life will no longer exist. We might find a job, and make a little money, but that’s it. As it was for Donetsk, so it will be for Mariupol. After 2014, life in Donetsk came to a stop. It was once a metropolis with good infrastructure, but it was reduced to a simple town, where people can only work, shop a little, go home and repeat the same. What can a young man do there? I can’t go back. There’s nothing for a young man there.  Nothing at all.” May 4, 2022. Tbilisi, Georgia.

Hand of Kostia Balabas, 17, an electrician from Mariupol at the house which became a temporary shelter for Ukrainians escaping the war. He and his family were unable to escape the city until March 18. A bomb hit their house as they were preparing to leave. As well as injuries to his face, he lost his thumb and he had an open wound in the stomach. His father and his brother were injured and his cousin, who had been staying at their house, died. After arriving in Georgia, he underwent several operations and is now in recovery. “Everything in Mariupol was destroyed,” he recalls. “Almost every house had been hit by shelling. Even if it is rebuilt bit by bit, life will no longer exist. We might find a job, and make a little money, but that’s it. As it was for Donetsk, so it will be for Mariupol. After 2014, life in Donetsk came to a stop. It was once a metropolis with good infrastructure, but it was reduced to a simple town, where people can only work, shop a little, go home and repeat the same. What can a young man do there? I can’t go back. There’s nothing for a young man there.  Nothing at all.” May 4, 2022. Tbilisi, Georgia.

Mzia Kikilashvili, 59, a confectioner from Kharkiv, with her husband in the corridor of a hotel in Tbilisi hosting refugees from Ukraine. Originally from the Tsnori, Kakheti region in Georgia, she left in 1996 because of her husband’s health. They thought it was temporary, but ended up selling everything in Georgia and staying in Ukraine. Their children grew up, got married, and Ukraine became their second homeland. On February 24th she learned about what was happening from her daughter, but she couldn’t believe it. Until March 4th, she and her husband survived by living in the corridor, staying away from the windows and never turning on the lights. “On the road in every city that we went to, people would offer us food and a place to stay. They burst with pride telling us how their sons were defending their homeland, that they would not surrender Ukraine to the Russians. I saw Ukraine in each and every one of them – I saw the Ukrainian spirit. Putin thought Kharkiv would welcome him with open arms, but nobody wants to look towards Russia.” Now, they have nothing in Georgia or Ukraine. With a smile on her face, she simply says that she has come to Georgia a little early to celebrate her 60th birthday. “Nothing makes sense without peace. You lose everything at a stroke. Putin has ruined the lives of an entire new generation.”  April 27, 2022. Tbilisi, Georgia.

Mzia Kikilashvili, 59, a confectioner from Kharkiv, with her husband in the corridor of a hotel in Tbilisi hosting refugees from Ukraine. Originally from the Tsnori, Kakheti region in Georgia, she left in 1996 because of her husband’s health. They thought it was temporary, but ended up selling everything in Georgia and staying in Ukraine. Their children grew up, got married, and Ukraine became their second homeland. On February 24th she learned about what was happening from her daughter, but she couldn’t believe it. Until March 4th, she and her husband survived by living in the corridor, staying away from the windows and never turning on the lights. “On the road in every city that we went to, people would offer us food and a place to stay. They burst with pride telling us how their sons were defending their homeland, that they would not surrender Ukraine to the Russians. I saw Ukraine in each and every one of them – I saw the Ukrainian spirit. Putin thought Kharkiv would welcome him with open arms, but nobody wants to look towards Russia.” Now, they have nothing in Georgia or Ukraine. With a smile on her face, she simply says that she has come to Georgia a little early to celebrate her 60th birthday. “Nothing makes sense without peace. You lose everything at a stroke. Putin has ruined the lives of an entire new generation.”  April 27, 2022. Tbilisi, Georgia.

Lamzira Gobejishvili, 49, from Sokhumi, Abkhazia, in the room at the “Kartli” Soviet sanatorium where IDPs from Abkhazia were settled, and where they stayed for almost 30 years. When the war started, she was 19 years old and pregnant. Her husband was fighting, and she couldn’t go anywhere.  “Near the hospital where I was, there was a military base from where we could hear shootings.  For two weeks, I lay with my baby on my chest while the bombs flew overhead. Weapons, tanks, BTRs, self-propelled guns, cannons, machine guns – everything belonged to Russia. The Abkhazians had nothing. Russia had poisoned their brains.” Her father-in-law was killed in his backyard.  June 23, 2022. Tbilisi, Georgia.

Lamzira Gobejishvili, 49, from Sokhumi, Abkhazia, in the room at the “Kartli” Soviet sanatorium where IDPs from Abkhazia were settled, and where they stayed for almost 30 years. When the war started, she was 19 years old and pregnant. Her husband was fighting, and she couldn’t go anywhere.  “Near the hospital where I was, there was a military base from where we could hear shootings.  For two weeks, I lay with my baby on my chest while the bombs flew overhead. Weapons, tanks, BTRs, self-propelled guns, cannons, machine guns – everything belonged to Russia. The Abkhazians had nothing. Russia had poisoned their brains.” Her father-in-law was killed in his backyard.  June 23, 2022. Tbilisi, Georgia.

Elena Shepet, 35, a school teacher from Dnepropetrovsk, with her daughter Eva, 8, at the Pirosmani hotel in Sighnagi, which serves as a shelter for Ukrainian refugees.On February 24, she and her family were woken up by the sound of an explosion. They turned on the TV and heard that Russia had really attacked Ukraine. “We didn't know where to run, so we stayed. We thought it was temporary, but soon they came. It wasn’t just a little bit of shooting; they had come to Kharkiv and Kyiv.”They left on March 8 and arrived in Georgia on March 13. “Going through Kyiv was the most dangerous experience. There was no electricity on the train, and the children cried. We weren’t allowed to turn on our phones because the lights might draw attention to ourselves. All we could do is sit in the dark and pray, listening to the sound of explosions and asking ourselves, is this really happening?”  April 19, 2022. Sighnagi, Kakheti region, Georgia.

Elena Shepet, 35, a school teacher from Dnepropetrovsk, with her daughter Eva, 8, at the Pirosmani hotel in Sighnagi, which serves as a shelter for Ukrainian refugees.On February 24, she and her family were woken up by the sound of an explosion. They turned on the TV and heard that Russia had really attacked Ukraine. “We didn't know where to run, so we stayed. We thought it was temporary, but soon they came. It wasn’t just a little bit of shooting; they had come to Kharkiv and Kyiv.”They left on March 8 and arrived in Georgia on March 13. “Going through Kyiv was the most dangerous experience. There was no electricity on the train, and the children cried. We weren’t allowed to turn on our phones because the lights might draw attention to ourselves. All we could do is sit in the dark and pray, listening to the sound of explosions and asking ourselves, is this really happening?”  April 19, 2022. Sighnagi, Kakheti region, Georgia.

Anastasia Kuleshova, 21, from Mariupol at the hotel, a temporary shelter for refugees from Ukraine. For three weeks, she sat in the dark with her parents. They listened to constant bombing and shooting, knowing that the situation would only worsen. “Once we came out, we immediately saw a house burning and a corpse on the road. Suddenly shooting started, and people started jumping out of windows to save themselves. Some were still standing next to the body and crying. I’d no idea what to do. Should I stay? Should I cry? Should I try to help? Should I hide?”Their house was bombed on March 12 and on the 16th they left Mariupol for Georgia. Russian soldiers gave them 10 minutes to grab their possessions and leave. They were taken to Taganrog for a week, in a temporary shelter. According to Anastasia, all refugees were brought there from Mariupol, and then forcibly distributed in different directions in Russia. There were databases full with their information and documents, and soldiers with automatic weapons everywhere. “Around 150 people were held in one large room, it was impossible to breathe. When we left, we were interrogated and checked from head to toe.” They passed the filtration camp in a small village called Bezimenne. They’d have their photos and fingerprints taken, their phones checked. “The Russians wanted to know everything. They asked what we thought of our government. We deleted everything from our phones. We had no choice. If we did otherwise, they’d have taken us aside and beaten us." April 23, 2022. Tbilisi, Georgia.

Anastasia Kuleshova, 21, from Mariupol at the hotel, a temporary shelter for refugees from Ukraine. For three weeks, she sat in the dark with her parents. They listened to constant bombing and shooting, knowing that the situation would only worsen. “Once we came out, we immediately saw a house burning and a corpse on the road. Suddenly shooting started, and people started jumping out of windows to save themselves. Some were still standing next to the body and crying. I’d no idea what to do. Should I stay? Should I cry? Should I try to help? Should I hide?”Their house was bombed on March 12 and on the 16th they left Mariupol for Georgia. Russian soldiers gave them 10 minutes to grab their possessions and leave. They were taken to Taganrog for a week, in a temporary shelter. According to Anastasia, all refugees were brought there from Mariupol, and then forcibly distributed in different directions in Russia. There were databases full with their information and documents, and soldiers with automatic weapons everywhere. “Around 150 people were held in one large room, it was impossible to breathe. When we left, we were interrogated and checked from head to toe.” They passed the filtration camp in a small village called Bezimenne. They’d have their photos and fingerprints taken, their phones checked. “The Russians wanted to know everything. They asked what we thought of our government. We deleted everything from our phones. We had no choice. If we did otherwise, they’d have taken us aside and beaten us." April 23, 2022. Tbilisi, Georgia.

Anton Mikhalchuk, 34, was prosecuted for his work in the “Open Russia” organisation, which is considered as an “undesirable” organisation by the Russian state. They claimed that he was a threat to the Russian state and the constitutional order, an offence which carries a prison term of 6 years. He escaped in 2019.Now, he works for the Free Russia Foundation as a coordinator of the programme related to propaganda. According to him, Russian propaganda consists of five elements: official policy, mass media, proxy servers, troll factories and hackers. All of them work together to spread a distorted narrative on different levels. “The narrative has not changed to this day: Russia protects minorities. Denazification. Liberation from evil. Safety from the sinful, corrupt West.” September 23, 2022. Tbilisi, Georgia.

Anton Mikhalchuk, 34, was prosecuted for his work in the “Open Russia” organisation, which is considered as an “undesirable” organisation by the Russian state. They claimed that he was a threat to the Russian state and the constitutional order, an offence which carries a prison term of 6 years. He escaped in 2019.Now, he works for the Free Russia Foundation as a coordinator of the programme related to propaganda. According to him, Russian propaganda consists of five elements: official policy, mass media, proxy servers, troll factories and hackers. All of them work together to spread a distorted narrative on different levels. “The narrative has not changed to this day: Russia protects minorities. Denazification. Liberation from evil. Safety from the sinful, corrupt West.” September 23, 2022. Tbilisi, Georgia.

A pendant with a photo of Liana Maisuradze's son, Mirian Gugeshashvili, who was killed on October 2, 1992 in Gagra. Liana used to work as a nurse in Sulfur Waters. When the war started in 1992, she wanted to leave the city, but her son refused. Unbeknownst to her, he’d already begun defending people in Gagra. On October 2 Liana was outside when she saw everyone was fleeing in fear. She ran to her house, looking for her son and husband. Her house was on fire, but she didn’t care. She searched high and low for them. On a list of the injured and dead at the hospital, she found her husband’s name. Her grief and agony were tempered by the relief that, at least, her son had managed to stay alive. “I thought he’d escaped.” But entering the morgue, she saw her son’s lifeless body. “I screamed and screamed. A towering Russian-speaking man asked me angrily how I dared to raise my voice and cry in Georgian. He must have been a Chechen mercenary or Abkhazian. I wrapped my hands around my legs and begged him to kill me. I didn’t want to live anymore. I just wanted to die along with my son. He kicked me and pushed me down the stairs.” An Abkhaz doctor helped me to claim my son’s body. I buried him with my own two hands in our garden in Gagra. Every day I hoped to leave Gagra with my son’s coffin. Even though I have left with the help of my Abkhaz neighbour, I’m still waiting for the day that I can bring him closer to me. My life has become so meaningless. Was death not the better choice for me?” June 15, 2022. Tbilisi, Georgia.

A pendant with a photo of Liana Maisuradze's son, Mirian Gugeshashvili, who was killed on October 2, 1992 in Gagra. Liana used to work as a nurse in Sulfur Waters. When the war started in 1992, she wanted to leave the city, but her son refused. Unbeknownst to her, he’d already begun defending people in Gagra. On October 2 Liana was outside when she saw everyone was fleeing in fear. She ran to her house, looking for her son and husband. Her house was on fire, but she didn’t care. She searched high and low for them. On a list of the injured and dead at the hospital, she found her husband’s name. Her grief and agony were tempered by the relief that, at least, her son had managed to stay alive. “I thought he’d escaped.” But entering the morgue, she saw her son’s lifeless body. “I screamed and screamed. A towering Russian-speaking man asked me angrily how I dared to raise my voice and cry in Georgian. He must have been a Chechen mercenary or Abkhazian. I wrapped my hands around my legs and begged him to kill me. I didn’t want to live anymore. I just wanted to die along with my son. He kicked me and pushed me down the stairs.” An Abkhaz doctor helped me to claim my son’s body. I buried him with my own two hands in our garden in Gagra. Every day I hoped to leave Gagra with my son’s coffin. Even though I have left with the help of my Abkhaz neighbour, I’m still waiting for the day that I can bring him closer to me. My life has become so meaningless. Was death not the better choice for me?” June 15, 2022. Tbilisi, Georgia.

Iamze Chumburdize, 77, from Achigvara, at her flat in Gori. She holds tape recorder and listens to her sons’ favorite songs. In 1993, she fled Abkhazia with her six children and husband at night in the rain. “When we got to the train, the children’s feet were frozen. I carried my 10-year-old son all night.” In 2008, on August 13th, he was killed in Gori during the Russian-Georgian war. He had a 1-year-old son.  “I hadn’t heard anything before August 16th. My daughter arrived from Tbilisi to look for him. She found my son at the hospital and recognized him by his sandals. That’s how she found out. I went to a bridge to drown myself. I did not want to live anymore. For months after, my daughter, would wake up at night call out to her brother, calling for him to come back.”  July 17, 2022. Gori, Georgia.

Iamze Chumburdize, 77, from Achigvara, at her flat in Gori. She holds tape recorder and listens to her sons’ favorite songs. In 1993, she fled Abkhazia with her six children and husband at night in the rain. “When we got to the train, the children’s feet were frozen. I carried my 10-year-old son all night.” In 2008, on August 13th, he was killed in Gori during the Russian-Georgian war. He had a 1-year-old son.  “I hadn’t heard anything before August 16th. My daughter arrived from Tbilisi to look for him. She found my son at the hospital and recognized him by his sandals. That’s how she found out. I went to a bridge to drown myself. I did not want to live anymore. For months after, my daughter, would wake up at night call out to her brother, calling for him to come back.”  July 17, 2022. Gori, Georgia.

Prezeti IDP settlement.  July 16, 2022. Prezeti, Georgia.

Prezeti IDP settlement.  July 16, 2022. Prezeti, Georgia.

A couple from Ksuisi village in their house in the Khurvaleti IDP settlement. The man recalls: “We used to get on well with the Ossetians. We celebrated weddings and holidays together, we were always invited to their celebrations and events. Then, the Russians provoked them and they turned against us. It was more among young people – they were poisoned against us. We old people are still good with each other, even though we can't see each other any more. We’d never imagined we would be treated this way.” “I myself am an Ossetian, but it did not occur to me that I was different to anyone else. What happened to us? I do not know,” the wife said.  June 16, 2022. Khurvaleti IDP settlement.

A couple from Ksuisi village in their house in the Khurvaleti IDP settlement. The man recalls: “We used to get on well with the Ossetians. We celebrated weddings and holidays together, we were always invited to their celebrations and events. Then, the Russians provoked them and they turned against us. It was more among young people – they were poisoned against us. We old people are still good with each other, even though we can't see each other any more. We’d never imagined we would be treated this way.” “I myself am an Ossetian, but it did not occur to me that I was different to anyone else. What happened to us? I do not know,” the wife said.  June 16, 2022. Khurvaleti IDP settlement.

Eter Tkhelidze ,77, from Eredvi village. During the war in 2008, her husband went outside and didn’t return. She searched for him for several days before having to flee the village. “We had a nice life. We had gardens of peaches, apples and pears. The fight was not between the Georgians and Ossetians, it was the Russians. If they had not intervened, the Ossetians would not have harmed us. We had lived together peacefully with the Ossetians.” During the war, the village was emptied. A single Ossetian boy was left. “He would bring us bread, and when he saw us searching high and low for my husband to no avail, he told me to go. ‘Don’t you see what is happening? They might kill you too. You need to leave, but don't be afraid, I will help you. I’ll bring you to another village’.” July 17, 2022. Verkhvebi IDP settlement, Georgia.

Eter Tkhelidze ,77, from Eredvi village. During the war in 2008, her husband went outside and didn’t return. She searched for him for several days before having to flee the village. “We had a nice life. We had gardens of peaches, apples and pears. The fight was not between the Georgians and Ossetians, it was the Russians. If they had not intervened, the Ossetians would not have harmed us. We had lived together peacefully with the Ossetians.” During the war, the village was emptied. A single Ossetian boy was left. “He would bring us bread, and when he saw us searching high and low for my husband to no avail, he told me to go. ‘Don’t you see what is happening? They might kill you too. You need to leave, but don't be afraid, I will help you. I’ll bring you to another village’.” July 17, 2022. Verkhvebi IDP settlement, Georgia.

Lena Griats, 19, from Mariupol walks in the corridor of the hotel.Life as she knew it came to an end on February 24th, when she was woken up by the sound of an explosion. She thought it was a dream. “It’ll all be over in a few days,” she told herself.She and her family remained in Mariupol for 20 days. After March 1st, they lost connection to the outer world. “We collected water from snow. It was like gold.”On March 15th at 4am, their house was hit again. The apartment filled with smoke. Her parents took whatever they could and decided to leave. A tank was positioned in front of their house and was shooting, but they ran and jumped into their car without thinking of the consequences. “We were praying that we wouldn't explode. The city simply didn’t exist any more.” In a stroke of luck, they arrived at their relatives’ house. “When I saw the warm room and warm water, I couldn't help myself. I broke down and started crying. I woke up in the morning to the chirping of birds – it was an indescribable feeling.” They left Mariupol through Russia. They were checked, interrogated, and stood in line for hours. Lena couldn’t believe that Russian propaganda had worked so effectively. “Many soldiers really believe that this is a training exercise, and not a war. One of the soldiers who encircled Mariupol with the military told us that it is a training war, not a real one. I went crazy. How can I show him the home that I lost, in this ‘training exercise’?” May 7, 2022. Tbilisi, Georgia.

Lena Griats, 19, from Mariupol walks in the corridor of the hotel.Life as she knew it came to an end on February 24th, when she was woken up by the sound of an explosion. She thought it was a dream. “It’ll all be over in a few days,” she told herself.She and her family remained in Mariupol for 20 days. After March 1st, they lost connection to the outer world. “We collected water from snow. It was like gold.”On March 15th at 4am, their house was hit again. The apartment filled with smoke. Her parents took whatever they could and decided to leave. A tank was positioned in front of their house and was shooting, but they ran and jumped into their car without thinking of the consequences. “We were praying that we wouldn't explode. The city simply didn’t exist any more.” In a stroke of luck, they arrived at their relatives’ house. “When I saw the warm room and warm water, I couldn't help myself. I broke down and started crying. I woke up in the morning to the chirping of birds – it was an indescribable feeling.” They left Mariupol through Russia. They were checked, interrogated, and stood in line for hours. Lena couldn’t believe that Russian propaganda had worked so effectively. “Many soldiers really believe that this is a training exercise, and not a war. One of the soldiers who encircled Mariupol with the military told us that it is a training war, not a real one. I went crazy. How can I show him the home that I lost, in this ‘training exercise’?” May 7, 2022. Tbilisi, Georgia.

Nina Tinikashvili, 68, in her room in the Prezeti IDP settlement. She was born and graduated in Russia, in Vladikavkaz. She is unable to visit her relatives in Vladikavkaz, and was forbidden by Russian soldiers to cross the so-called “border” even for her nephew’s funeral. She has never seen his grave.  In 1991, as the situation deteriorated, she and her family left Vladikavkaz and settled in Akhalgori. In 2008, as the Russians came, they had to flee yet again from Akhalgori. “They came suddenly, and people were terrified. Everyone ran to the forest. My neighbour jumped onto a horse and left, even though he didn’t know how to ride.” She left their home and livestock there. Her husband is buried in Akhalgori and she can't go to his grave either.  Now she lives with her son, daughter-in-law and three grandchildren in Prezeti IDP settlement. “We are very tired. We fled in 1991 and then again in 2008. We’re tired of running.” July 16, 2022. Prezeti, Georgia.

Nina Tinikashvili, 68, in her room in the Prezeti IDP settlement. She was born and graduated in Russia, in Vladikavkaz. She is unable to visit her relatives in Vladikavkaz, and was forbidden by Russian soldiers to cross the so-called “border” even for her nephew’s funeral. She has never seen his grave.  In 1991, as the situation deteriorated, she and her family left Vladikavkaz and settled in Akhalgori. In 2008, as the Russians came, they had to flee yet again from Akhalgori. “They came suddenly, and people were terrified. Everyone ran to the forest. My neighbour jumped onto a horse and left, even though he didn’t know how to ride.” She left their home and livestock there. Her husband is buried in Akhalgori and she can't go to his grave either.  Now she lives with her son, daughter-in-law and three grandchildren in Prezeti IDP settlement. “We are very tired. We fled in 1991 and then again in 2008. We’re tired of running.” July 16, 2022. Prezeti, Georgia.

Elvira Chumburidze, 47, stands in front of a woven icon of Saint Mary at her house in a settlement for internally displaced people (IDPs). This is her second time as a refugee. In 1993, she had to run with her family from Gali, Abkhazia region, where she was born, and in 2008 from Akhalgori where she used to live after marriage. “In Abkhazia our neighbours were Armenians, Abkhazians and all of us lived together peacefully, also Ossetians and Georgians. Someone did something there, otherwise nothing would have happened. It was the Russians who did everything. They’re everywhere. My uncle lives in Abkhazia and tells me that there are fewer and fewer. If anything goes wrong, it’s because of the Russians. They are the bosses.” July 16, 2022. Prezeti, Georgia.

Elvira Chumburidze, 47, stands in front of a woven icon of Saint Mary at her house in a settlement for internally displaced people (IDPs). This is her second time as a refugee. In 1993, she had to run with her family from Gali, Abkhazia region, where she was born, and in 2008 from Akhalgori where she used to live after marriage. “In Abkhazia our neighbours were Armenians, Abkhazians and all of us lived together peacefully, also Ossetians and Georgians. Someone did something there, otherwise nothing would have happened. It was the Russians who did everything. They’re everywhere. My uncle lives in Abkhazia and tells me that there are fewer and fewer. If anything goes wrong, it’s because of the Russians. They are the bosses.” July 16, 2022. Prezeti, Georgia.

A photograph of Iamze Chumburdiz's sister, the second woman from the left, with the photographs of deceased family members on her chest. In 1993, she went to get food in Gali. She was standing in the queue when she heard the gunshots. “Poor family! Someone has died – she thought to herself. After arriving home, she realised that it was her - it was her family. Her two sons, her husband, her brother-in-law and his son, her parents-in-law – they were all dead.” July 17, 2022. Gori, Tbilisi.

A photograph of Iamze Chumburdiz's sister, the second woman from the left, with the photographs of deceased family members on her chest. In 1993, she went to get food in Gali. She was standing in the queue when she heard the gunshots. “Poor family! Someone has died – she thought to herself. After arriving home, she realised that it was her - it was her family. Her two sons, her husband, her brother-in-law and his son, her parents-in-law – they were all dead.” July 17, 2022. Gori, Tbilisi.