” The war has already taken everything from us, even the land is less fertile. What is happening in Ukraine is horrific, and we all know what that means to us. »
” I would have gone to fight in Ukraine too, but my old legs give me away. »
Otar is 82 years old and he has scores to settle with Russia. With the help of a wooden stick, he paces the small hill which, from his house, leads to a dirt road.
Look over there at the building, right there. This is the Russian military base. Only barbed wire separates us, you can see them clearly in winter, but they’ve been hidden by the trees since spring arrived.
We are in Ergneti, just 200 meters from the contact line that separates Georgia from
South Ossetiaone of the two Georgian separatist territories (the second is Abkhazia) that Russia has controlled since the lightning war of 2008.
President Vladimir Putin had sent his troops there under the pretext of helping the Russian speakers oppressed by Georgia, a scenario that can only be compared to that of the self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Luhansk in Ukraine.
Although the conflict between Russian and Georgian forces lasted only five days, it was nevertheless deadly. More than 1,000 dead on both sides, including 400 civilians. It also displaced 120,000 people.
Spring has set in, the vines are growing, the trees are in bloom, but the village of Ergneti is scarred for life.
It is one of many villages that were completely destroyed by intense shelling by the Russian army, which at the time threatened to advance to the capital Tbilisi before claiming victory and withdrawing. .
” They looted the whole house, they destroyed everything like they do in Ukraine when the soldiers desert the occupied villages. »
The invasion of Ukraine plunged Otar back into a state of anxiety.
To live here is to live in fear from dawn to dusk.
The enemy is not only close, he is unpredictable, explains the old man.
If Russia wins in Ukraine, we will be next, then it will be Moldova and Poland.
The houses that have been refurbished are distinguished by their red roof in Ergneti. Otar opens the door of his own which leads directly to the central room. The pink rugs decorating the walls contrast with her mood.
On one of the walls, an old map of the region illustrates what is at stake.
” No one is safe as long as he is in power. Nobody knows what’s going through Vladimir Putin’s head, nobody. »
Otar is very angry with his own government, that of Georgia, which according to him eats out of Moscow’s hand to serve its economic and personal interests. Georgia has not joined in the chorus of European sanctions, in the name of the country’s economic survival and the import of Russian wheat.
Tens of thousands of Georgians demonstrated in the capital Tbilisi to denounce Prime Minister Irakli Garibachvili’s approach to Russia.
His government will have done everything to prevent angry Georgians from going to Ukraine to lend a hand to soldiers in kyiv, for fear of exacerbating tensions with the neighbor. But at least 2,000 men have managed to get there since the start of the invasion and among them was Otar’s neighbor, a man named Arkadi.
Otar takes a long pause, and rubs his forehead, adding, his throat tight:
he was a lovely man, I saw him grow up. Akardi died at the front on April 16. He was 40 years old.
The whole village is appalled. On the dusty road that winds there, Leri, a tall man wearing a Nike cap, paces around looking worried.
We learn that he is Arkadi’s cousin and he stops to tell us about him.
” Arkadi is our hero. He fought in 2008 against the Russians, for Georgia, and said that it was a duty to go and help our Ukrainian friends. »
Leri hesitated for a long time, but tells us that he finally decided to join him in Ukraine when he received the call from the army and a photo to identify his cousin.
The family is in mourning and stands guard outside the father’s house to make sure no one enters. Leri tells us, almost ashamed, that the father is not yet aware of the death of his beloved son.
It’s gonna tear him down and we’re waiting for the big brother and the body to arrive in Georgiaexplains Leri, who follows every car and every person who advances in the neighborhood.
Another cousin, Gotcha, who lives just opposite, invites us to have a coffee in his garden, the time to empty our hearts.
Their house also bears the scars of the 2008 war. The stones have been replaced, the windows and the doors too. Gotcha tells that the Russian soldiers stole everything they had, even the wine.
Gotcha is furious and says the world has learned nothing from the war in Georgia, which fought alone against the Russian giant. Without the help, without the weapons and the solidarity of the West.
We are suddenly interrupted when the dogs start jumping. There is someone knocking on the gate. It is the father of the soldier Arkadi, who comes to the news.
We hear him laugh in the distance before seeing him leave. These few minutes in his presence are unbearable and infinitely sad. Moved to tears, Gotcha resumes his speech where he left off.
” If the West had intervened, if the war in Georgia had been taken seriously, Ukraine might not have been invaded today. »
Gotcha also fears that Georgia is next on Vladimir Putin’s list of targets. He prays that his cousin did not die in vain.
Arkadi’s body arrived at Tbilisi airport five days after our visit to Ergneti. The bodies of two other Georgians who stepped on a mine on their way to retrieve it in Ukraine are expected this week. This is war in all its horror and absurdity.
We went to a church in the capital Tbilisi, where the public was invited to pay their respects.
They fought for us. They died in Ukraine, but it’s our war toosaid Leo to me, a young man who came to meditate, with flowers and all the recognition in the world.
Fourteen years after its own war against Russia, Georgia mourns the dead. And those who live very close to the front line, like Otar, no longer sleep peacefully.
It’s been quiet for a few weeks at the Russian base. Otar says he doesn’t hear a sound, not a tank movement, because the soldiers went to fight against the Ukrainians.
But they will come back.