Tbilisi, Georgia, Mar 24 (EFE).- Gueorgui, 21, is one of 30,000 Russian citizens who have arrived in Georgia since Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine one month ago.
The computer science student, who preferred to remain anonymous to protect his mother who stayed behind in Russia, is of Georgian ethnicity and fled amid fears that president Vladimir Putin would announce a general mobilization for the war.
He arrived in Georgia two days after Putin ordered Russian troops into Ukraine in what the Kremlin has called a “special military operation.”
“I have very close friends in Kharkiv, Ukraine. Would I have to fight against them if the Russians would send me to fight against them? No! This is madness, and it has to be stopped,” he says.
Gueorgui fled Russia by bus. Since 2019, direct flights from Russia to Georgia have been suspended, leaving him no other choice.
“For now I am only ethnic Georgian, by last name, but to integrate I need to learn the language,” he says.
Gueorgui is well aware that his ethnicity is not enough to feel welcomed in Georgia.
Graffiti reading: “Russian citizens, we don’t want you here,” “Russians go home,” across Tbilisi are hard to ignore.
“Eventually the Georgians will understand we are fleeing Putin and they will welcome us with open arms,” Gueorgui says, with optimism.
Polina, a 24-year-old Russian activist, arrived in Tbilisi long before the war.
Nine months ago, she fled Russian persecution for being an activist and supporter of the imprisoned Russian opposition leader, Alexei Navalny.
“We were being chased by the police and the situation worsened after Navalny’s arrest. Investigations, opening of criminal cases, we had to hide,” she tells Efe.
“So with my boyfriend we decided to come to Georgia. We initially thought it would be short term, but the situation keeps getting worse in Russia,” she adds.
Georgian legislation grants Russian citizens a twelve month visa, at the end of which they must leave the country but can immediately return for another twelve-month period.
But while they are allowed to stay in the country, living in Georgia for Russians is not short of obstacles.
In the early days of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, rent for a two-bedroom flat in Tbilisi stood at $350. Today, one month later, the price has doubled.
Banks have also considerably tightened requirements for Russian citizens to open accounts in Georgia with an overwhelming majority of applications rejected.
XENOPHOBIA, A THREAT
Georgian authorities fear the wave of xenophobia against Russian citizens might lead to a Russian movement to defend their rights in Georgia.