Since the news broke early in the day on February 24th that Russian forces were invading Ukraine, many living in Georgia were quick to express solidarity and a willingness to help.
What initially started as grassroots efforts by individuals in Facebook groups offering free accommodation and meals to Ukrainians stranded in Georgia soon became a more coordinated initiative, with businesses around the capital flying the Ukrainian flag and offering services free of charge to anyone affected by the war.
By the weekend, a Georgian social campaign, Spend 4 Seasons in Georgia, which was created to boost tourism in response to Russia’s flight ban in June of 2019, was offering its Facebook group as a platform for those in need to coordinate with those offering assistance. At present, hundreds of hotels in the country are now offering free accommodation for Ukrainians, multiple pharmacy chains are handing out humanitarian vouchers, and telecommunications providers have announced that calls coming to and from Ukraine are now free of charge.
Saturday marked the third day that people in large cities like Tbilisi, Batumi, and Kutaisi took to the streets to express solidarity with the Ukrainian people. Friday’s gathering in front of the parliament building in Tbilisi attracted an estimated 30,000 people waving Georgian and Ukrainian flags while chanting “Слава Україні!” and “Gaumarjos” (Geo: Victory [for Ukraine]). And while the demonstrations focused predominantly on expressing support for Ukraine, a growing sense of frustration with the government’s lack of action was hard to ignore.
Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili was quick to convey a sense of solidarity with Ukraine only hours after the initial invasion on February 24, but noticeably missing from the voices of support was that of the Georgian Dream government. As leaders around the world expressed condemnation and issued a range of sanctions against Russia on Thursday, Georgian Dream lawmakers blocked the opening of an extraordinary session of parliament dedicated to discussing the situation in Ukraine, deeming it “just for show.”
On Friday, Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili cited Georgia’s national interests when asked by reporters if Georgia would be joining Western nations in issuing sanctions against Russia: “I will not do anything; I will not make any decision that will in any way harm the national interests of our country and the national interests of our people…I want to state clearly and unequivocally that Georgia is not going to participate in financial and economic sanctions.”
Georgia is no stranger to Russian aggression. With two of its own Russian-backed separatist regions and the pain of the 2008 Russo-Georgian War still fresh in the mind of many, it is unsurprising that Thursday’s invasion of Ukraine hit close to home for much of the Georgian population. And with its own Euro-Atlantic aspirations and NATO membership potentially on the line, the government’s lack of vocal and financial support for Ukraine’s fight against Russia has evoked anger and frustration in many.
On Saturday morning, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy alluded to his disappointment in the Georgian government’s lack of support, posting on Twitter: “Incredible Georgian people who understand that friends must be supported! Grateful to everyone in Tbilisi and other cities who came out in support of Ukraine and against the war. Indeed, there are times when citizens are not the Government, but better [than] the Government.”
Following widespread criticism from the opposition and increasing anger from protesters towards Georgian Dream leaders, the government announced later that same day that it would be donating 1 million GEL (approximately $315,000) to purchase medical supplies for those affected by the war.
But for many Georgians, this assistance feels too little and too late. As demonstrators outside of the Georgian parliament building announced on Saturday evening that they plan to gather each day at 19:00 until the war is over, one thing is clear: Georgians #StandWithUkraine, even if they feel that their government does not.
For Ukrainians currently stuck in Georgia and in need of assistance, check out these resources:
National Tourism Administration Hotline for Ukrainians in Georgia: +995 0 800 800 909
For those in need of accommodation, assistance is being coordinated on the Georgia For Ukraine Facebook page.
Ukrainians in need of general assistance are encouraged to check the Spend 4 Seasons in Georgia Facebook page.
To receive a 100 GEL pharmacy voucher, stop in at any branch of GPC or Pharmadepot with a Ukrainian passport.
Georgia Today has compiled a list of restaurants in Tbilisi currently offering free meals for Ukrainians.
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