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When the West Saved Tbilisi
An excerpt from the forthcoming Where the West Ends.

A view of Tbilisi

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“There was a bomb in the garden and all the apples on the trees fell down,” Lia remembered. “The wall fell down. All the windows were destroyed. And now there is nothing left because of the fire.”

“Did you actually see any Russians,” I said, “or did you leave before they got there?”

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“They came and asked us for wine, but first we had to drink it ourselves to show that it was not poisoned. Then they drank the wine themselves. And then they said to leave this place as soon as possible; otherwise they would kill us. The Russians were looking for anyone who had soldiers in their home. If anyone had a Georgian soldier at home they burned the houses immediately.”

Her husband had remained behind and arrived in Tbilisi shortly before I did. “He was trying to keep the house and the fields,” she said. “Afterward, he wanted to leave, but he was circled by soldiers. It was impossible. He was in the orchards hiding from the Russians in case they lit the house. He was walking and met the Russian soldiers and he made up his mind that he couldn’t stay any more. The Russian soldiers called him and asked where he was going, if he was going to the American side.”

“The Russians said this to him?” I said.

“My husband said he was going to see his family,” she said. “And the Russians said again, ‘Are you going to the American side?’”

“So the Russians view you as the American side, even though there are no Americans here.”

“Yes,” she said. “Because our way is for democracy.”

Senator John McCain may have overstated things a bit when, shortly after the war started, he said, “We are all Georgians now.” But apparently even rank-and-file Russian soldiers view the Georgians and Americans as one. Likewise, these simple Georgian country women seemed to understand who their friends are.

“I am very thankful to the West,” Maya said as her eyes welled up with tears. “They support us so much. We thought we were alone. I am so thankful for the support we have from the United States and from the West. The support is very important for us.” She tried hard to maintain her dignity and not cry in front of me, a foreign reporter wearing fresh clothes and carrying an expensive camera. “The West saved the capital. They were moving to Tbilisi. There was one night that was very dangerous. The Russian tanks were very close to the capital. I don’t know what happened, but they moved the tanks back.”

My translator, whose husband worked for Georgia’s ministry of foreign affairs, made a similar guess that the West helped save the capital. “The night they came close to Tbilisi,” she said, “Bush and McCain made their strongest speeches yet. The Russians seemed to back down. Bush and McCain have been very good for us.”



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