Georgian people behind the Ukrainian flags
Russia's invasion of Ukraine was all too familiar to Georgians, and we began protesting and expressing our support for Ukraine from our own windows and balconies. I frequently wandered the streets, and whenever I spotted the Ukrainian flag, I took photos and shared them with my friends, including my closest Ukrainian friend, who happened to be my flatmate when I studied abroad.
After a while, there were so many images of balconies and other facades with Ukrainian flags in my online gallery that I felt it deserved the story to be told. I realized that simply photographing facades was no longer enough since I became very intrigued by the world and people that lived behind them. Some dwellings were new, others old, but the color combination remained steady - “Freedom Blue” and “Energizing Yellow”, as Pantone labeled them in its color system. Behind these images are real people who openly and bravely support the Ukrainian people from their own homes.
I started going door-to-door to interview people if I saw a flag hanging from their windows or balconies. I was sure that I would find someone like-minded there. I found other respondents among friends of friends and others through thematic Facebook groups.
Thanks to these balconies and windows, I was once again convinced that a new wave of solidarity and protest was being born among Georgians. Now all of this is merged into a photo essay, which I hope will inspire at least one person to look at Tbilisi's facades differently, and who knows? Maybe even more flags will appear on our balconies.
Anano Kipiani, TV operator, 30 years old
(Chabua Amirejibi Highway)
When the war started, I didn't have a flag at home, so I drew one on a large piece of paper and attached it to the balcony railing. I cannot find a specific name for the feeling that came over me immediately after the start of the war. Anger, fear, despair - everything was together. This was accompanied by a feeling of shame. You want to somehow give them a voice. Tell them to stay strong and that we are rooting for them. You expect the government to express its support for a nation that is in great difficulty, but your government remains silent, and you are deeply embarrassed by it. That's why we headed to the streets to shout as loudly as possible. But are we so loud that we could cover their silence when people are still suffering there? This feeling follows us to this day.
I had the opportunity to work with Ukrainian children this summer. Summer camps were arranged for them by one great organization. Until that point, I felt as if I knew everything from the news, but as I got to know these children and their parents, heard their real stories, and saw their real emotions, this topic became even more painful for me.
I believe that the fate of our freedom is being decided there, somewhere near Bakhmut. I am sure that this war will end with the victory of Ukraine and the defeat of great evil. Then there will be hope for us too.
Lali Kekua, IT specialist, 36 years old
It was early March. I ordered two flags, and as soon as they arrived, I immediately hung them on both sides of the house. It was a rainy day, but I clearly remember a lot of Russian tourists walking under the arch of my house. For me, it was a way to express support and anger while also trying to cover up my own feelings of helplessness. When I posted photos on social media, my friends also posted photos of their flags, some from Georgia and some from abroad. I also have a Russophile and Putin-loving neighbor who has tried to convince me for several months that it is pointless to hang the flag and it is better to take it down. However, they still have to look at this flag from their window. The flag of Ukraine always reminds me of the existence of a nation that fights for freedom instead of us. It is a kind of symbol of heroism. After a year, it seems that the emotions are not as intense anymore, as if they have all gotten weaker. However, I think that now more people have hope that Ukraine will win than at the beginning. I have never thought about taking down the flag; this is my constant support for Ukraine. For me, displaying the flag is also a political statement. I am on the side of Ukraine and do not share the government's pro-Russian policy. I have had many Russian neighbors in the last year, and it is a message to them that supporters of Ukraine live here. In addition, I attended pro-Ukraine rallies as much as possible; refugees from Ukraine lived in my second house from time to time, and I tried to help them get the things they needed, including financially. I also help Ukrainians living here when they need an interpreter or someone to accompany them somewhere.
Nika Danelia, tourism guide, 25 years old
I put the flag of Ukraine on display shortly after the start of the war. I wanted to show solidarity with our friendly nation, which also helped us when we were in trouble. I remember feeling a sense of pride and responsibility at that moment. Besides, I live in Vake, and since many Russians were moving into my neighborhood, I wanted them to notice the flag every time they passed by my house and feel even more strongly that we, the citizens of Georgia, openly supported Ukraine. It may not be much, but it is important to me. I haven't heard any comments or compliments from my neighbors, since we don't have much communication, although I noticed that several flags appeared on the buildings around me after I hung them, and I'm glad if my gesture motivated them. This flag always reminds me how brave the Ukrainian people are and how they united and defended their country. Unfortunately, I don't have similar feelings when I see the Georgian flag. I have not thought about and will not think about taking it down until Ukraine wins.
In addition, I took part in humanitarian aid and volunteer activities, and I try to provide my friends and followers with as much correct and objective information as possible on social media and fight propaganda. Social media is also a kind of battlefield, and if there is anything I can do from here, it probably includes being active on this platform.
Sesilia Butkhuzi, bar manager, 33 years old
I don't remember the specific day, but after the start of the war, I took my flag to work, and when the Russians started arriving, I hung it on the window. Soon the Russians rented two houses in my yard, and I wanted them to see the Ukrainian flag and the Georgian Legion sticker every time they left the house so they would remember that they were also responsible. No one had a problem with the flag. I want not only the Russians but also my neighbors to remember what is happening not so far from us and who the enemy is.
My involvement in this process also includes work; the Deda Ena Bar, where I work, regularly donates money to Ukrainian charities. We also provide space for charitable, cultural, and networking events and help in whatever way we can.
Mariam Chkhaidze, artist, 28 years old & Gela Gavasheli, business administrator, 26 years old
(Gldani VIII micro-district)
I remember exactly, I was at the cafe Moulin Electrique with my friends; it was an ordinary evening; we were talking and laughing, and suddenly there was an announcement that the war had started. The first emotion was fear, followed by anger and shame—a war had begun; what were we doing here? Then there's the feeling that you shouldn't be doing so well when so many people around you are dying. After a while, you become mentally used to it. The display of the flag was both an expression of solidarity with the Ukrainian people and a declaration of my position. This is not a one-country issue, and much depends on how and when the war ends.
I believe that a person with a healthy psyche could not remain indifferent to the scenes and incidents that took place during that period and continue to occur in Ukraine. Seeing this flag every day brings me sadness and serves as a reminder of what is still going on around us.
After a year, the solidarity has not changed; it's just that we've grown accustomed to this story and the emotion has faded.
Rusiko Kobakhidze, philologist, 59 years old
I don't remember when I hung the Ukrainian flag, but I remember the emotion: I needed to do something to feel less helpless. I listened to the Ukrainian national anthem "Chervona Kalyna" on repeat all day. Maybe my Putinist neighbors were irritated, but I couldn't just sit there and do nothing. Every person who supported Ukraine, I believe, gave them the strength to resist. Our sleepless nights, our hung flags, armbands, and pins—the people there could not see them but felt them in the rain of bombs. I'm sure that this energy reached them. For me, this flag represents freedom, sacrifice, and love. It is also a symbol of standing unbroken.
A year has passed, but nothing has changed for the people who have lived through this war since its beginning. Everyone believes Ukraine will win. I love Ukraine even more now, and this victory is vital for me. Displaying the flag, in my opinion, represents more than just individual self-expression; it also represents a sense of unity with the people fighting against the Russian Empire. I was in a camp where Ukrainians were living. I brought gifts for the kids and stayed until the evening. I communicated with them, encouraged them, and thanked them. I also got to meet their parents. One of the children even gave me a painting that is now on my wall. Every day, I listen to the president of Ukraine's speeches. I believe he also needs our emotional support.
Salome Nikoleishvili, digital marketer, 33 years old
(Zemo Vedzisi Settlement)
I hung the flag from the balcony in March or April 2022. Previously, we had brought it to the regular rallies in front of Parliament. I felt pride and excitement at the time, but no fear or anger. First and foremost, I wanted to express my admiration and support for Ukraine's bravery, and secondly, I wanted to inform the Russians arriving here about this country—that we are unequivocally on Ukraine's side. No one dared to say a word about removing the flag. One of my neighbors liked this gesture, I remember.
This flag reminds me every day that if the weather is bad outside, if I am having an existential problem, or if I am in a bad mood, there is a country where people are just as concerned as I am, and rockets are still raining down on them every day, and they are enduring, standing, and fighting. I still see flags displayed here and there, and there are people around me who follow the news about the war every day and bring us information from the front lines. However, the 24-hour involvement is gradually fading, and everyone is attempting to return to a seemingly normal way of life.
This is not to say that support for Ukraine has disappeared; rather, the news about the conflict is heavy and most people avoid it. This flag will fly on my balcony until Ukraine wins. And if they win, it will be even more crucial. Of course, this is a political statement. I want Ukraine to triumph. A supporter of Ukraine lives in this building. I'm not saying "I wish peace to two brotherly nations" or other meaningless neutral statements, but rather - Slava Ukraine!
I am quietly proud that I raised 50,000 GEL in one week on my personal Facebook page to help Ukrainians fleeing the war at the end of April and beginning of May 2022. I volunteered to record an extensive interview with a military journalist four days after the war began because, in the midst of the general panic, I wanted to help Ukraine in the information war. In addition, I supported Ukrainian activists visiting Tbilisi in contacting the relevant people. Unfortunately, I haven't done anything else noteworthy, but I hope to organize more reasonable things in the future.
My neighbor's and my balcony roofs form the Ukrainian flag, which makes us both very happy.
Giorgi Adeishvili, artist, 24 years old
I'm not sure, but I believe I raised the flag about a week or two after the war began. I hung up after my friend accidentally left it at my house. Why now, I wondered. It was a significant symbolic gesture for me, nonetheless a small one, but it demonstrates solidarity, and that is better than nothing, right? I don't recall any unusual remarks from neighbors; it's probably for the best that they aren't surprised. Even without a flag, I recall what Russia did and what Ukraine is going through now, but visual symbols always help us remember what is going on around us.
Teo Tavdishvili, researcher, 32 years old
The first emotion that came over me when the war began was anger. Then there was the protest and the sense that I couldn't change anything. On the same day, I went to the rally, and there were many people who were just as angry as I was. When I returned home, I discovered an initiative in the neighborhood group to display flags and express solidarity. Unfortunately, these are the only things we've been able to do to support this valiant nation: display Ukrainian symbols on the balcony and in the car, hold protests, and provide humanitarian aid...
Shortly after the war began, Russians with Russian number plates started showing up in my neighborhood. They seem offended by the presence of Ukrainian flags, but they themselves have such an attitude that everyone should be at their feet. My protest is an expression of myself. The first thing Russians see when they wake up and look out the window are Ukrainian flags. Then they'll be angry because they remember their country's "heroism" in Ukraine, and their day will be ruined. Obviously, I will not remove the flag, and it will remain until the end of the war—until Ukraine wins, and Ukraine will definitely win.
Lasha Kamadadze, sales manager, 32 years old
In Tbilisi, flags began appearing on balconies as a gesture of solidarity just after Russia's invasion of Ukraine and the start of the war. I also wanted to display a flag from the balcony, but they were sold out, so I ordered one from Turkey. The package was delivered on March 6. I opened it in the car before I even got home because I couldn't wait; it was larger than I had expected. We decided to hang the flag on the front balcony so it would be visible to everyone, inside and outside.
We've moved, and the new house's balcony is now also adorned with a flag. Whatever the weather, the first thing I do when I wake up is straighten the flag on the balcony, and then I start getting ready.
Looking back on my emotions at the time, I believed in and hoped for victory over Russia. Of course, there was also a lot of fear—fear that Ukraine, and thus us, would be defeated. There was also anger. I believe that the behavior of Russian citizens who arrived after the start of the war differs from that of those who arrived before, due to this and other forms of solidarity that the Georgian people publicly expressed toward Ukraine.
This expression of mine, I believe, had an encouraging effect; my friends liked it, and several of them have hung flags as well. Flags began to appear on the balconies of my apartment building. I'm not sure if it happened on its own or if it was inspired by our balcony.
Because the flag is on the balcony, it is therefore dirty, sometimes wet, and sometimes snowed on, but it remains in place and is a thorn in the enemy's heart. I'm not even thinking about taking it down; it bothers me that I don't have a larger balcony and that I can't hang the Georgian and European Union flags next to it.
I have no plans to take it down until the civilized world declares victory in this war. Displaying the flag of a country at war is a political act. In addition to this protest, when my social media friends post that they are aiding a Ukrainian family in collecting funds, I always donate and try to make their lives a little easier.
Salome Samushia, 28 years old, diplomat and social activist
I already had a Ukrainian flag hanging on my balcony a few days after the war began. I'm trying to express my solidarity with my Ukrainian friends and the Ukrainian people in general. We were the first to hang flags in our apartment building; however, soon after, many other people did as well, which made me very happy. My flag-draped building evokes lots of positive emotions.
First and foremost, this flag represents strength and a strong spirit to me. When I wake up and go out on the balcony, I wonder what could possibly frighten me, because it gives me so much strength. With this gesture, I also express the solidarity of my country with this flag, because I believe that my position is the position of my country. Since the war in Ukraine, I have let 35 refugees stay at my place, helping them get stronger and find a job, and I am ready to continue supporting these people in the future.
Since the Ukraine war, I have allowed 35 people to stay in my home, empowered them, and helped them find work, and I am ready to continue to support these people in the future.
Maia Alasania, 50 years old, artist
When the war started in Ukraine, everyone who remembers the war of 2008 and us, the older generation, who remember the war in Samachablo and Abkhazia, felt anew the pain, fear, and anger that a person experiences when his small country fights for freedom against a huge monster. You lose your loved ones in the war, and the future is unclear.
I was involved in the support from the very first day. I added my small contribution to ease the humanitarian burden, and I did not spare any financial support that I could.
Shortly after the start of the war, Ukrainian flags went on sale, and I bought them right away. Mine was on display perhaps ten days later. This was my protest against Russian aggression and a sign of faith that Ukraine will win.
Magda Mamukashvili, lawyer, 31 years old
As soon as the war began, my friend Nino Baisonashvili and I, along with other enthusiastic girls, started a campaign called "Show Off Ukraine's Flag." As part of the campaign, we asked well-known figures to record a video message in which they encouraged our citizens to display the Ukrainian flag. It would be a gesture of solidarity because we understand Ukraine's pain and emotions the best. We demonstrated to the Ukrainians that we were on their side, and we showed to the Russians that we and Ukraine had a common enemy.
The Ukrainian flag was in short supply at the time. We didn't have one either, so we ordered some at a sewing factory and distributed them at a minimal price to residential areas. We delivered it to everyone in Georgia who requested it. I also hung the flag at home and displayed it on the balcony in early March.
It was a small gesture to this truly heroic nation. My neighbors all thanked me, and I felt proud to be doing something patriotic, friendly, humane, and right.
I believed, and still do, that I was on the right side. I never considered taking down the flag. These two colors, yellow and blue, have become part of our everyday lives. My little girl frequently paints the Ukrainian flag next to the Georgian flag, which makes me very proud.
Every time she notices these two colors together, she tells me, "Mom, look at the colors of the Ukrainian flag." Time will pass, and we, as parents, will tell our children about the war, the significance of displaying the flag, the desire for solidarity, and the deep friendship that exists between Ukraine and Georgia.
Madonna Gobronidze, 28 years old, lawyer; Giogri Danelia, 32 years old, economist
When I heard about the start of the war, I felt a sudden surge of anger, a sense of injustice, and a sense of powerlessness, all at the same time.
There were very few things I could do to show my support, such as displaying the Ukrainian flag and wearing the Ukrainian flag pins that I bought for me and my husband and that we both still wear on our clothes. Soon I painted a dove in the colors of the Ukrainian flag on a canvas and wrote the words of John Philpot Curran, "The price of freedom is eternal vigilance."
This flag is a symbol of freedom for me. When I look at it, I believe in the freedom of the Ukrainian people, which is also a guarantee of our freedom and peace.
I wish Ukraine and Georgia eternal vigilance as they guard freedom.
Sandro Siamashvili, architect, 24 years old. Alexandre Kipiani, photographer, 23 years old
A friend gave us the flag a few days after the war began, when it was in short supply and we couldn't find it anywhere. For the first few weeks, we were obsessed with the occurrence of events and the terrifying statistics related to this huge tragedy. We were angered not only at Russia but also at our government, which was lacking in strength and principle. How can we continue our relationship with Russia as if nothing had happened? Furthermore, when a number of countries restricted the movement of Russian citizens on their territory, we opened the borders wider. This affects not only self-respect but also makes Georgians' lives and economic situations more difficult day by day. As a result, many of my friends have had to leave their rented apartments, and we are all living in increasingly expensive conditions. The flag hung from the balcony represents that we are always aware of current events, Russia's incredible aggression towards Ukraine, and that our position is strict and unchanging. The flag on the balcony will remain as a visual reminder of all this.
Marina Kebadze, communication specialist, 68 years old
(Zurab Zhvania Square)
I have a Ukrainian flag hanging on my balcony in honor of the Ukrainian people. It is hung alongside the Georgian flag because my family and I respect our own flag first, followed by the flags of others, especially the flag of Ukraine. I adore Ukrainians and am very proud of them because they go to great lengths to protect their country and each other.
I am a 68-year-old woman. What have I not experienced in my life? I have seen everything, even Khrushchev's time when I stood in line for bread as a child. I experienced the 1990s when I was standing in line for wood and my family and I were heating our house with a wood stove. In 1990, I gave birth to my third child. My eldest son was already 12 years old at the time.
And I had no intention of having another child. However, after the April 9 tragedy, I decided to have a child for the sake of the country. Tamuna, my youngest child, was named after Tamuna Chovelidze, who tragically died on April 9.
Tengo Gogotishvili, economist, 44 years old
Just a few days after the war began, I displayed the flag on my balcony to show my support and respect for Ukraine. My house is in one of Tbilisi's oldest districts, Mtatsminda, which is why it is frequently visited by foreign tourists.
I'll be happy if everyone who walks down my street looks at the Ukrainian flag for a second and smiles because they'll find a like-minded person here. After a year, I believe even more in Ukraine's victory, which means that they will become even closer to the European family, and I have high hopes that we will soon join them on this journey.
This photo story was prepared with support from the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) South Caucasus Regional Office. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of FES or Chai Khana.