Georgia, a country that Russians traveled to for vacation even after the August war, has now become a preferred destination for Russians looking to escape from mobilization and instability. The country's appeal lies in the fact that the locals still speak Russian, Russian schools are functioning, and the cost of living is affordable. With a moderate climate, sea and mountains, and lenient migration laws, Georgia offers an attractive alternative to Russian nationals.
However, the influx of Russians has also had a direct impact on the locals. The cost of living has significantly increased, making it almost impossible to find affordable housing. Additionally, there are fears about the long-term plans of the Russian migrants. Questions like, "how many are they?", "where do they work?", "what are their plans?", "do they protest the war?" - have all emerged, and yet, there are no clear statistics. There is also the issue of how to coexist with the newcomers. Do we have a common understanding, or do we see each other as "other"? Are there "good Russians" and a "second Russia"?
Choose Your Help
Walking into the small room, visitors are greeted by the sight of a Ukrainian flag hanging on the door. Used clothes and shoes are neatly arranged at the entrance, while basic necessities, medicines, and food are carefully sorted by volunteers. The colorful corner filled with toys is where a joyful 4-year-old Ukrainian girl can be seen running around, flashing a smile at everyone who enters. There is an inscription on the wall, written in five different languages, reminding you that "we must choose help."
Nothing seems to be out of the ordinary. However, remarkably, the center was founded by Russians who fled the war in Georgia.
Nestled on the second floor of Tbilisi's Karvasla shopping center, lies a place dedicated to collecting primary consumption items for Ukrainians living in Georgia. The center operates purely on donations and is staffed by a group of around 30 volunteers, including Russians, Belarusians, and Ukrainians.
Despite having a substantial following of over 4500 subscribers across various social media platforms, not much is known about the center in the host country. However, according to the founders, the site is free from any political or national biases. Here, people come together to lend a helping hand to those in need, regardless of their background.
Charity During War
“Now Russian politics concerns not only us but also children in schools and kindergartens. They are taught that Russia is protecting Ukraine, instead of invading the country. I don’t want our children to grow up listening to these lies and for some reason justifying the government’s aggression” - Katerina.
Katerina, a Russian citizen, believes that the scale of the war catastrophe in Ukraine is often misunderstood by many people in her home country. With the backdrop of powerful state propaganda, many people in Russia have become accustomed to living without basic rights.
In search of a better life, Katerina and her husband made the decision to move to Georgia with their three children in June. For her, Georgia offered a comfortable environment, with minimal climatic changes and no language barriers. She found a school for her children where politics are not a topic of discussion.
Through social media, Katerina learned about a charity center founded by Russians and was eager to lend a helping hand to Ukrainian refugees in Georgia. Her selfless gesture is a reminder that regardless of one's nationality or background, we all have the ability to extend kindness to those in need.
“When we decided to come here, our Russian relatives were asking me - what are you going to do in Georgia? Clean floors? I was answering them calmly. Yes, cleaning is not a problem either because here (in the volunteering center) I am helping those who need me more even by cleaning the floor” - Katerina.
However, she finds it hard to make concrete long-term plans. She also recognizes that Georgian political conditions towards Russians could change at any time.
Irina, who left St. Petersburg after the war and now works at the volunteer center, says that they don't discuss politics there.
“Our standpoints align here. Conflicts are more frequent with those relatives who are still in Russia. Most of them are so sure of the propaganda that they don’t even communicate with us anymore. This volunteering center brought together people who are interested in helping those in need. I feel I can be more useful here. - Irina
Sergey, who arrived in Georgia in March of the previous year, was quick to start working at a humanitarian station the very next day. He believes that aside from the language barrier, he has had no other misunderstandings with the locals. Living under the conditions of war, making long-term plans can be challenging. Despite this, Sergey has been doing his best to adapt to his new environment. He's even taking the initiative to learn Georgian.
Data and Sentiments
The influx of Russian migrants to Georgia has increased since March 2022, and the majority of them have decided to stay. While Tbilisi was surrounded by mass actions of solidarity with Ukraine, an increasing number of Russian tourists were also noticeable. According to data from GeoStat, even as the full-scale war in Ukraine raged on, Russian citizens cited rest, entertainment, and recreation as the main reason for visiting Georgia.
Dataforcrisis.com is an open and updatable data platform that was created in 2020 by DW Akademie. The portal uses Social Listening methodology to analyze various groups and discourses. Currently, the platform includes data related to the migration of Russian citizens to Georgia, which was collected in collaboration with ForSet.
Russian immigrants in Georgia rely on social networks to obtain and disseminate information. The portal analyzed more than 1,256,712 posts posted in Georgian and Russian groups in 2022-23.
According to data from Data For Crisis, the ongoing war in Ukraine is not a significant topic when analyzing Russian posts on social networks. The word "Ukraine" appears in only 2.49% of posts by Russian migrants. Similarly, charitable efforts to help Ukrainians are not a popular topic among these migrants.
The interest of Russians who migrated to Georgia seems to revolve more around visa procedures and the attitude towards Russians in Georgia, rather than the ongoing war in Ukraine. Whereas interest in Ukraine, charity and the mentioned volunteering organization is translated into data as follows:
However, in Georgian groups, where political topics dominate, people are discussing government attitudes, Ukraine and visa regulations.
Despite the ongoing war in Ukraine and the presence of Ukrainian refugees in Georgia, most Russian migrants living in the country seem to be focused on practical matters such as buying or renting apartments, rules and regulations, passports, and job vacancies. According to available data, only a small portion of Russian citizens in Georgia are engaged in charitable activities to support Ukrainian refugees. As of September 2022, the number of Russians living in Georgia was around 112,733 thousand.
The map says: apartment, rules, border, buy, prices, rent, Russian, passport, Lars (border), khachapuri, real estate, etc.
Many Russian migrants in Georgia show less interest in current events and the ongoing war in Ukraine, fearing that their posts may be monitored by state representatives, as expressed by one of the volunteers we interviewed.
According to data from Data For Crisis, the Georgian population has a negative attitude towards the government's unclear position on the Russia-Ukraine war, which appears to prioritize the flow of Russian tourists. The dominant emotions among Georgians regarding migration are fear, self-confidence, and anger. Confidence in assessing current events and clearly expressing emotions is the most common emotion among Russian migrant posts analyzed by the platform.
The attitude of the Georgian community towards Russian migrants is reflected in the data of their most frequently used terms on social media.
The map says: government, Russians, border, close, visa, enter, Russian language, apartment, in Georgia, politics, hey Russians, etc.
Data for Crisis, an open data platform based on Social Listening methodology, has revealed that discussions about Russophobia are highly prevalent among Russian migrants in Georgia. "Есть ли в Грузии русофобия" (Is there Russophobia in Georgia) — Russians ask. These conversations often revolve around the question of whether or not Russophobia exists in the country, with many sharing personal experiences of negative treatment while receiving services. Others focus on Georgia's historical relationship with Russia, citing the 2008 war and urging fellow citizens to respect the values and history of the local population when arriving in the country. "Люди, история знать надо". (Folks, knowledge of history is required).
Fear and anger related to the migration of Russians can be seen in the popular hashtag #RussiansGoHome, through which citizens state that Russia is the enemy of Georgia, therefore, there is no place for “Ruzzians” in the country.
The ongoing war in Ukraine has brought about a pervasive sense of uncertainty and anxiety about the future for everyone. This includes those involved in charity work, who are unsure about the duration of their activities and the Georgian government's accommodating approach towards Russian migrants. Despite the presence of "good Russians," it's difficult to quantify their impact with concrete numbers. For many, the influx of Russian migrants is a source of existential fear and an uncontrollable driving force behind rising prices in the country.
The multimedia material utilized data from the portal dataforcrisis.com, which assists journalists in covering migration from Russia. This material was created as a part of ForSet's Data for Crisis Fellowship, with the support of DW Akademie.
Authors: Alice Bakradze, Nino Apaqidze, Tamta Chkhaidze
The original story was published at https://go.on.ge/378i