A Story of Friendship: Georgia and Ukraine Stand Together
Alexander Davitashvili meets up with a couple of Ukrainians stranded in Georgia.
Mariana and Radyslav are two Ukrainians who, while on a trip to Georgia, became refugees overnight.
Protests against the war in Ukraine have continued non-stop in Georgia for six consecutive days. Thousands of people gather daily on the main avenue of the capital, Tbilisi. It has been the scene of plenty of protest rallies over the years, including several against Russia. However, this story is not about demonstrations and protests but about the actions of ordinary Georgians who feel the sorrow of the Ukrainian people. We were in this scenario ourselves 14 years ago when Russian tanks swept through Georgia. Unfortunately, they still control areas of our country.
The history of Ukraine and Georgia are very similar, with both countries fighting for their independence throughout the centuries. These shared histories have brought the two peoples closer to each other. Since the 1990s, when Georgia experienced its first recent conflict with Russia in the Abkhazia region, Ukrainian people have actively supported our cause. The Ukrainian National Assembly – Ukrainian People's Self-Defence (UNA-UNSO)’s group, Argo, has sent volunteers to support Georgians, joining the conflict in Abkhazia as foot soldiers and providing humanitarian aid. They were affectionately referred to in those times as the “Ukrainian Legion.” In response, Georgian volunteers calling themselves the “Georgian Legion” have been helping Ukrainians in the conflict since 2014. Even now, as the war reaches a climax, they continue to stand on the frontline, slowing the Russian advance towards Kyiv.
Meanwhile, in Georgia this week, people have organized social network groups to coordinate campaigns and locate Ukrainian tourists who became refugees overnight. Georgians who have summer houses in the countryside offer the refugees places to stay and take care of their everyday needs. Also, hotels and restaurants offer services free of charge to citizens of Ukraine.
In one such hotel, we met two Ukrainians, Radyslav and Mariana. They had come to Tbilisi to visit their friend for several days and had planned to fly back to Kyiv on the evening of February 24. “Two days before, I was telling Radyslav how fast these days had passed and that it would be nice to stay longer, but I did not think about staying here as a refugee,” said Mariana. We talked over a bottle of Georgian wine as we made toasts to Ukrainian independence. “This is a new history of Ukraine. We were surprised by our strength,” said Radyslav. “We are very grateful that Georgian people have offered so much to us. The hotel did not accept money from us. Nor did the restaurant. Even a private dental clinic served me free of charge when I needed to take care of my tooth. We don’t want to abuse this hospitality and would like to return home, where we belong, and visit Georgia as tourists again. With this help, I have been able to save enough to send some donations to the Ukrainian army. And to get some money to my mother in Kyiv.”
Their Georgian friend Vladimir explained that on February 22, when Putin recognized Donetsk and Luhansk as independent countries, the couple knew that they would not be able to return to Ukraine as planned. Vladimir himself had experienced a similar situation in 2008 and was getting ready to help his friends with all the necessary arrangements.
A protestor during a rally against Russian troops’ invasion of Ukraine in Tbilisi, Georgia, February 24, 2022. Image: Nelson Antoine/Shutterstock
Marina and Radyslav have been attending the protest rallies in Tbilisi with thousands of others. While carrying a Ukrainian flag at one of these events, Mariana noticed two Russian tourists staring at her. “This was the moment when I realized that while I can proudly carry my flag in any country, things will be much harder for them because they are on the wrong side,” she said.
“We are a peaceful nation, we don’t want war on our land, but our national anthem sings ‘Our enemies will vanish, like dew in the morning sun, and we too shall rule, brothers, in a free land of our own.’ This is our spirit; we won’t allow the occupation of our homeland, and we will fight. This war has brought together the whole nation. We feel sorry for the young Russian soldiers who are sent to Ukraine, human life is sacred, and we don’t want to see a war in our country, but imagine if children and innocent civilians were being killed in your country? What would you do? Our friends are there, with the guns that we hoped would never shoot anyone. But now they have to do it. It is important to end this nonsense as soon as possible. We are not against Russian people; we are against Russian political leadership who wants to control us and destroy our independence and sovereignty.”
Ukraine has asked for the EU to fast track its application to become a member of the European Union. Georgian NGO groups formed an online petition that the EU act accordingly. The petition gained over 36 000 signatures in its first six hours.
Ukraine and Georgia now share the same hardship: facing Russia, whose tanks are standing on both of our lands, violating our territorial integrity and threatening our sovereignty. We don’t ask for anything that does not belong to us. What we want is our territorial integrity and sovereignty to be respected.
Russia may have the power to physically occupy our lands. But they will not occupy our hearts and minds.
 When Russia invaded Georgia