Robin Ashenden

Why Georgia is going mad for Ukraine

Tbilisi (photo: Getty)

Georgia seems to have gone Ukraine crazy since the outbreak of war in February. Taxi drivers have the Ukrainian flag on their dashboards. Takeaway coffees come in blue and yellow paper cups with ‘Glory to Ukraine’ written on them. Medicines come in blue and yellow bags. There are Ukrainian-coloured scooters for hire in Tbilisi and written on the huge city metro telescreens are the words ‘Be Brave like Ukraine’. There is so much glory for Ukraine in Georgia you wonder whether the Georgians have any left for themselves. They might well argue, however, that the two things are inseparable. In a recent interview, the Georgian president Salome Zourabichvili described Ukraine as ‘another self that is now under attack, adding ‘We have already had this experience.’

And to a lesser extent, they have. In 2008, the Russians invaded Georgia, occupying two of its separatist territories, Abkhazia and Samachablo (South Ossetia), leaving over 400 Georgians dead and many more injured. For at least a month Georgia was the world’s post-Soviet martyr country of choice, with sympathisers worldwide trying to track it down on a map (‘No, not the American state, stupid!’) and newspapers in Estonia publishing Georgian recipes like Kharcho soup and Chicken Satsivi. At least 10,000 Russian troops are still stationed there and there are frequent border incursions. Ukraine’s current situation may well become Georgia’s next, and if Putin achieves his aim of dominating the Ukraine Black Sea coast it will clearly be catastrophic for Georgia economically and militarily.

As soon as the invasion took place in February, the yellow-and-blue started to appear on Instagram and Facebook pages – like ‘a volcano’, one Georgian said to me. By the evening of 24 February, the outbreak of war, as many as 30,000 Georgians waving Ukrainian flags were out on the streets in solidarity, with demonstrations in cities like Kutaisi, Batumi and Poti.

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Written by
Robin Ashenden
Robin Ashenden is founder and ex-editor of the Central and Eastern European London Review. He is currently writing a novel about Solzhenitsyn, Khrushchev’s Thaw and the Hungarian Uprising.

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