“If Ukraine Falls, So Inevitably Does Georgia”: The Magnitude Of Russia’s Invasion Of Ukraine
Turquoise waters, palm trees and, of course, the smell of tangerines, Abkhazeti (or Abkhazia as the Russian occupiers call it) has always been a dreamscape for me. A place that I knew a lot about but could never touch. Ever so present in my family’s life, it was always seen as a place of happiness and peace; our little slice of heaven that was forcefully taken from us in the 1990s. It is a place where I imagine my grandmother, with her long jet-black hair, playing volleyball by the beach with her friends.
To this day, around 300,000 refugees from the occupied territories of Georgia carry the memories and burdens of being displaced – about 6% of Georgia’s total population. Even after 30 years, the shadow of the conflict looms large. It is hard to forget that once you had to walk through the mountains to get to safety in the middle of winter, your children frozen, and your family members were killed or raped. These stories sadly didn’t have international appeal in the ’90s. Frankly, nobody seemed to care about a small country fighting for its independence, for the ability to finally break free of Russian imperialism and choose its own destiny; to live in peace with its neighbours as it had done for centuries.
As clichéd as it may sound, Russia is the villain in the story, as in many other countries’ stories that have the misfortune of having it as a neighbour. On 24 February, when Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, unlike people in the West, Georgians, like many others in Eastern Europe, were not surprised. We’ve been through it not once but three times in our 30 years of independence; the sham backstories used to create alternate realities for its citizens and kill thousands of innocent children, women, and elders. In 2014, much like Georgians, Ukrainians ousted their pro-Russian leader (Viktor Yanukovych) and once and for all showed that they were not willing to live under Russian dictate. The conflict started to show its ugly head around this time. Soon after this Ukrainian Revolution, Russia occupied Crimea and started a war in Donbas.
We’ve seen what the world saw in Bucha (the killing of Ukrainian civilians by Russian armed forces during the fight for the occupation of the Ukrainian city) in Gagra, Sokhumi, and all across the occupied territories. It is not something that suddenly erupted in Russia. Cruelty (to put it mildly) has always been its signature. We, sadly, were forced to suffer and survive in silence, and so were Chechens, when the whole world thought of the Chechen wars as Russia’s internal business and stood back as it used chemical weapons against peaceful civilians all around Chechnya.
I’m always shocked when people say that this is Putin’s war. Many things are wrong with putting the situation in these terms. In Western academia, Russian/Soviet imperialism has been downplayed. The prevalent perception is that people who were forcibly integrated into the Soviet Union did so by their will; we just held hands and decided to live together. Let me clarify that this was not the case. In each instance, there was violence, murder, and ethnic cleansing. Those who fought for independence and their families were either deported or killed. Russians, however, still see themselves as the liberators of these lands. They believe the lie of a beautiful time when ‘all of us used to live peacefully like brothers’. Generations grew up there with Soviet nostalgia. It is one of Putin’s most important ideological lines against Russia’s neighbouring countries. When, in 2005, he said that the collapse of the Soviet Union was “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century,” nobody blinked an eye. He was still thought of as a rational actor. Three years later, he invaded my country for the third time by setting the plan in motion for reversing this ‘tragedy’.
Then followed Ukraine. Our countries thus become even more intertwined. The future of one determines the future of the other. If Ukraine falls, so inevitably does Georgia. The independence of countries ranging from Central Asia to the Caucasus all the way to the Baltics depends on the outcome of this war. The citizens of these countries, like those in the West, deserve to live in free democracies. The refugees and internally displaced people should finally return to their homes and live in dignity. Freedom cost us our lives and brought endless suffering and pain. This decision, despite everything, will not be reversed. Georgia and Ukraine have firmly decided that their future is with Europe.
We are not and will never be Russian. Some still like to say that Russians are our brothers. To that, I say, better be alone than with such a sibling. A sibling that steals, rapes and kills. A sibling who deliberately wants to vanish you from the face of the earth. A sibling that calls your language ‘dog’s language’, destroys your churches, and pits the communities (such as Russian speakers in Donbas and Abkhazians/Ossetians in Georgia) against those with whom they lived peacefully for centuries.
Some mistakenly think that Russia is responding to a threat emanating from Nato. Here I would like those people to ask us, the citizens of these countries, why we chose this path. When you are constantly harassed by your ‘neighbour’ or an abusive husband (which is how I would characterise Russia’s relationship with the countries it used to rule), you would want to be protected since you can’t do so by yourself. Georgia and Ukraine are stubbornly pursuing Euro-Atlantic integration because of the Russian threat. We finally want security for us and future generations; to choose our destiny and become members of the Euro-Atlantic family. We paid for our choice with blood; now it is time for Europe to take decisive steps towards us.
Right now, Ukrainians are at the front lines. They are showing the whole world an example of bravery and what love for your homeland truly means. The only thing that will change how Russians see the world is a military defeat. Unfortunately, this is the only way for them to finally understand that Ukraine and other so-called (I’ve grown to hate the term) post-Soviet countries are independent entities rather than their Gubernias (Gubernia is an administrative subdivision used in the Russian Empire).
I am a believer that one day I will be able to taste the tangerines in Sokhumi and swim in the turquoise sea. For that to happen, Ukraine must be victorious and stop Russian aggression once and for all. It is essential for the de-occupation of Ukraine and stability in Europe. (For example, Poland and the Baltics, who are members of Nato, are next in line if Putin is allowed to keep invading sovereign countries.) The threat to the whole continent is palpable. Georgian soldiers are fighting alongside our Ukrainian brothers for our joint freedom, and it is why I will proudly fly the blue and yellow flag with my beloved white and red until victory is finally achieved.
Ana Morgoshia is a writer and art historian based in Tbilisi, Georgia