Faces of Ukraine: Stories of survival from Georgia

Journalist: Maradia Tsaava, , Photographer: Tako Robakidze
11.03.22
Topic: Conflict

Nastya Grichkovska, 19

[Zaporizhzhia]

I moved to Kyiv two years ago to study cultural studies. I’m an activist. We’re raising money to help the homeless, elderly and single mothers. 

My parents are separated. I’m here with my father—we went skiing in Gudauri. Nobody could imagine that war would really start. So, we calmly packed and came here. 

My mother with her husband and two kids were in Kyiv. There’s no metro station near their house, so they were at home, hiding from the bombs by lying on the floor in the hall and bathroom. 

When people are in a war, they text you very short messages. “Bombing.” “We’re okay.” “We’re in the bathroom.” And you’re sitting here, going crazy and desperate to hear more. 

My mom didn’t want to leave [Kyiv], but hiding in the bathroom was very risky, so somehow, she and the kids traveled to Lviv and then escaped to Warsaw. Her husband decided to stay in Kyiv. He’s volunteering to help others. 

When the Maidan Revolution happened, I was only 11. I couldn’t quite understand what was going on. And we were used to having a military conflict in some parts of our country. That was considered normal. 

Then, when I grew up and studied the history of Ukrainian art, I understood how much of our history is linked with war. 

But still, nobody could have imagined this. Kyiv was peaceful when we left. Whenever I would get anxious, my therapist would calm me down, saying that wars don’t start out of nowhere. 

But then, one day my therapist asked me if I had an evacuation plan in case war broke out. I became really anxious. But still, nobody could imagine a war of this scale. 

Now I have survivor syndrome—I feel guilty. All my friends are being bombed and I’m sitting under a peaceful sky. 

I would switch places with anyone there. I was thinking of going to Lviv as a volunteer, but that was irrational. 

This is torture. You’re sitting in your room with your phone and waiting for a short message: “We’re alive.” Or watching videos and wondering if an explosion could hit a friends’ house.


Yuri Grichkovski, 40

[Zaporizhzhia]

We landed on [February] 17 and went to Gudauri. The plan was to ski and rest at a wonderful resort. I came with two of my daughters and many friends. 

On the 23rd, my friend broke his shoulder. I brought him to the hospital in Tbilisi. I fell asleep on a chair in the hall while I was waiting for his surgery to finish.

That was when I heard the news. That was the moment our hell started. 

I left the hospital, since I knew my friend was okay, and went back to Gudauri. I gathered everybody and came back to Tbilisi. 

We were in shock for the first two days. First came the feeling of not realizing what was happening, then anger, and then aggression took over us all. We decided to go to the war —my wife and my mother are there, in Zaporizhzhia. There, the situation is very serious. We have an atomic station there. Can you imagine what might happen if these idiots bomb there? It would be six times worse than Chernobyl. 

But then I realized I couldn’t leave my two daughters here. No way. And we made a plan. 

We understood we’re in a very hospitable country, where everybody is trying to help us. So, we decided to use Georgia as a platform to do as much as possible. Thanks to Tbilisi, we have internet, food and a place to stay, so we decided to get to work. 

We created groups. Everyone has their own responsibility. I oversee coordination, my friend is responsible for collecting medication to send it to Ukraine, some people are busy sharing information in Telegram groups, and others are busy taking children out and planning cultural events for them. We do our best to keep them from seeing the news. They’ve been crying for three days. Children should not cry. Children should not see the war. 

The Georgian government gave each of us 100 lari for medication. We pooled this money, bought medicine, and sent it to Ukraine. One of the pharmacies also gave us 100 lari as a voucher—this was also sent to Ukraine. 

At first, it was hard to get used to eating and living for free. To be honest, it was humiliating, but then we understood we must use this opportunity to help our people who are stuck in the war. 

We’re sleeping three hours a night. We’re working non-stop.

I never wanted war. I never wanted to fight. But now I’m full of anger and aggression—I have to burn through it. Because you can’t do kind things with an aggressive heart. You can’t save people with aggression and anger. And we have to save people, as many as possible.


Anastasia Shamritskaia, 22 

[Dnipro]

Everything was great. We were living in a beautiful country, with our own beautiful lives. Our country is still beautiful and I’m sure we will win this war. 

I completed an arts course and was teaching acting. I was interested in photography as well. Then I met a wonderful guy and we were planning to get married. 

He had a finance company. Finally, he was able to take a vacation and we decided to go to Georgia. And now, the life we had before is gone forever. 

It was early on February 24 when my boyfriend woke me up, telling me war had started. Which war, where? – I asked. How can a real war happen in the 21st century? I still don’t get it. 

And then everyone in the hotel was up and crying. Some have children there, some have parents. Luckily my mother is in Warsaw, but my aunt is there, in Ukraine. She somehow took her children, parents and pets and went to the west, where we have a small wooden house in the mountains. 

On her way there, she saw people lying and sleeping on hotel floors, children sleeping on chairs. My boyfriend’s mother is in Dnipro, alone and isolated and we have no idea how long she can survive without food. 

My friend is in Kharkiv and tells me everything has been destroyed. 

I guess this is what happens when you rule a country for 20 years. You lose your mind. I always said this is not a war with the Russian people, but now I don’t even know what to say.

We wake up and read the news. Then we have breakfast. Then we read the news again. Then we have our dinner and then again read the news. In the evening, we all gather and have some wine. And we talk and talk. 

If we’re lucky, we fall to sleep right away after the wine. If not, we greet the dawn with the news. 

We’re lucky to be in a peaceful place like this and we’re trying our best to help our people by sending money and medication. Georgians stand with us and we’re very grateful for that. 

I was even offered a job here selling hotdogs. I’m very happy. We have to start a new life, because the life we had before is gone forever. 


Sergei Raguz, 21 

[Kyiv]

Originally, I’m from Donbass. I remember we were evacuated from school when I was 14. But I couldn’t understand much. Then, when I was 17, I moved to Kyiv. 

I live alone. My parents passed away when I was a child. I work at a church and I’m also a barman. I love my work. 

I’ve heard many stories about Georgian monasteries, so I took a vacation and came to visit holy places.  Also, I met a girl in Kyiv. She’s from Tbilisi. So, I decided to have a useful and pleasant trip—useful to visit holy places and pleasant to see my girlfriend. 

I landed on February 1 and planned to leave on the 26th but everything changed. 

Now I feel like a traitor. People are being bombed while I’m sitting here in a peaceful place. Even though I left before the war, I still feel like a traitor.

I go to church every day and try to work. I make icons and prayer beads. I want to sell them and send the money to Ukraine. My girlfriend helped me to find a free place in a hostel. I can stay there for a month. For this, I want to thank the whole Georgian nation.

I also found work in a café. Somehow, I will survive but my brother is in Kharkiv and I’m very worried about him. He’s in a bomb shelter. The government administration building in Kharkiv was bombed in front of his eyes. 

His name is Vova. He is one year older than me and the only person I have left in this world. I know he is in real danger now. If I lose him, I won’t be able to move on. I have no one except him. Losing him would be the biggest loss in my life. I apologize for my tears.

What I’m planning to do? I guess I’ll wait until I can return to my Ukraine. I want to see my brother as soon as possible. But going there right now, while possible in theory, is really impossible. How would my death help others? 

From here, at least I can do something and send some money to Ukraine. Even packing humanitarian aid is a support. Anyone who takes part is helping my people in Ukraine. The ocean is made of small drops of water. Each of us are all small drops of water but together, we can become an ocean. 


Nadya Mukovoz, 38 

Irina Prozor, 46 

[Zaporizhzhia]

Nadya: I’m here with my husband and children. Our friend gathered us as a group and proposed we go to Georgia. We were having a wonderful time, before the morning of February 24. 

Till this day, I think I’m in a nightmare and someone will wake me up. Even though it’s not our fault, I feel really guilty. We are surviving while our loved ones are being bombed. Although I’m so thankful for the Georgian people. They all have tears in their eyes when they talk to us. 

Irina: We consider them our brothers. They come and take our children out to museums and movies. People are bringing food, cakes and sweets. But how can I eat when I know people are starving there without food and water? My son is there. I can’t eat anything, knowing he’s there. 

Nadya: We knew the situation was tense, but war of this scale in the 21st century? Nobody could imagine this. When I hear the crash of anything falling, I jump in my seat. 

Irina: I have relatives in Poland and we will go there in a few days. Then, hopefully I will meet my son somehow, some day. 

Nadya: We start crying and we cry for several hours. Then, the tears run dry, and we feel empty. Then, it hits us again and we start crying all over. We’re online with our friends and relatives 24 hours a day. We know that our houses are still standing in Zaporizhzhia, so far. 


Tatjana Kononenko, 41

[Tbilisi]

I was born in Kropyvnytskyi. I have lived in different places outside of Ukraine, but my parents are still there. 

They are divorced, living separately, but neither of them wants to leave. 

My mom is 72, she’s all alone there. She has been renovating her house for years—first the floor had to be done, then the windows, then the ceiling. There was always something to fix in that house. 

Finally, she’s done, and this house is her life. She won’t leave it. She knows if she leaves now, it’s forever. 

My father has a wife. He is a former soldier. He fought in Afghanistan. He told me “I’m not leaving Ukraine.”

So, I know neither of them will leave. This is why I’m going to them. I know I might not reach them, but at least I will be closer. 

I had a session with my therapist a few days ago. She was talking to me from a bomb shelter, while I was sitting in my cozy house in Tbilisi. I feel guilty and useless. 

Here, I can’t do anything. Georgians know everything themselves—they understand about war with Russia. I organized Ukrainian Film Days here but I know it didn’t provide much new information—the Georgian people already know everything, I’m not telling them anything new. 

I want to do something real. Something that has an effect and impact. I want to share this moment with Ukrainians. 

I can’t say I’m not afraid. Of course, I’m afraid. First of all, because of my children. I’m not a warrior, I can’t fight. Nor am I a hero—I won’t be risking my life. I’ll be very careful, because my children need me here. 

But I can help in my own way. I will just take my camera and shoot. Or maybe I won’t be able to shoot at all and I will just drive, taking people from one place to another. Or maybe I will just pack some humanitarian things, I don’t know. It’s not important what I will do, it’s important that I will do something. 

I just want to be close. As close as possible. 

Now all decisions seem both wrong and right. Going there is right and wrong at the same time. Staying here is both wrong and right at the same time. 

In these situations, nothing is clearly right or clearly wrong. And this is why war is brutal. Everyone is ugly and brutal in war. 


Anastasiya Vostokova, 33

[Kyiv]

For me, war started in 2014. I was born in Mariupol. I was already living in Kyiv when my mother called me to tell me that my aunt left the house to get groceries and didn’t come back. She couldn’t reach her. 

Then, we saw her on television, dead in the street. My mother got very sick and died within the year.

I’m still close to my classmates from Mariupol. I’m trying to reach them now, but they don’t have internet. 

I lived and studied in Kharkiv for seven years. This city is in ruins now, nothing is left. My classmates are living in bomb shelters without electricity, food or water. 

In Kyiv, the woman helping us at home is all alone in our apartment with our pets. She can’t go out. We have no idea how long she can survive without food. 

We were in such a good mood when we arrived here on [February] 23rd. In Kyiv, everybody was so tired of the threats of war, and no one believed that it would really happen. 

I was joking with my Georgian neighbor in Kyiv, calming her down and telling her that nothing would happen. But she looked at me with huge, frightened eyes. Now I understand why. She already escaped Russian bombs by coming from Georgia to Ukraine in 2008 and now she’s being bombed for the second time.

Now I feel very guilty for my naivety and good mood. It was my mother-in-law’s birthday, so as we were tired of all these threats and political tension, we decided to go to Borjomi and rest. 

Here we turned on the TV and saw the scenes from a war. We were trying to guess where the war was taking place and then the Georgian anchor said “Ukraine.” 

We sat down and haven’t been able to move since. We can’t sleep, we can’t eat. We can’t even cry anymore. When I’m out of tears, my face gets red. And then I burst into tears again. 

I’m here with my young child, husband and relatives. We’re lucky to be safe, but it’s still unbearable. I would walk home now if I could. But on the other hand, mothers who are there blame themselves for not being able to keep their children away from the war.  

We’re sleeping and eating for free, but we can’t accept Georgian hospitality forever. We will have to move on—find jobs and work. And then, we will go back to Ukraine.  

This psychopath has ruined my whole country and we will need to rebuild it. We are a family of builders, so we will be the first ones needed. 

 

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