Georgians flee from wars that no one understands

THE SMELL of defeat hangs heavy in the Kutaisi town bus, packed with displaced Georgians and crude bundles of their possessions: stale food and drab clothes unwashed after weeks of war and days of trekking through the cold, cruel mountains of the northern Caucasus.

'My family slept outside for three nights. Snow was falling,' said Vezo Bobokhidze, a 47- year-old train mechanic, after his flight from Abkhazia to Kutaisi, the main government- controlled town in western Georgia. He put his finger through his split and worn-out shoes. 'It all happened so suddenly. I had the car ready with petrol and our things. But our house was hit in the shelling and destroyed. Now all we have is this blanket.'

Demoralised forces loyal to the Georgian president, Eduard Shevardnadze, suffered further defeat yesterday, deepening the two-year crisis that has split the former Soviet republic of 5 million people into five increasingly self-governing parts. Mr Shevardnadze's men were forced out of the Black Sea port of Poti in a dawn attack by rebels loyal to ex-president Zviad Gamsakhurdia, who leads the 1.7 million ethnic Mengrelians of western Georgia, and controls a belt of land between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia. The fate of Poti's inhabitants was not immediately known, but they are mostly Mengrelians likely to accept the rule of the 'Zviadisti' rebels.

A fresh human disaster has followed the panic and the rout of Georgian forces from the autonomous Black Sea republic of Abkhazia, as the last of 200,000 Georgians flee their homes in the subtropical coastal strip. It is a tragic paradox that, as the conflicts of the Caucasus remain obscure to the outside world, few of its local victims understand what is happening to them. Most take refuge, like their competing leaders, in cursing presumed plots by neo-imperialist forces in Russia.

By a roadside east of Kutaisi, a middle-aged secretary of a collective farm burst into tears, barely able to speak about her flight from Abkhazia. She contemplated her small old broken-down car, loaded with fellow workers and their possessions, all stranded after a tea-leaf-cutting tractor that had been towing them ran out of fuel. Other Georgians who had fled south from Abkhazia were squashed into open- topped trucks and horse-drawn carts, or pushed their bags in wheelbarrows and prams towards new lives in pokey old hotels, disused sanatoria or the crowded houses of relatives.

Nobody seems sure exactly how many people need urgent assistance, a familiar phenomenon all over the Caucasus, where one in 10 of the combined populations of Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia has been displaced over the past five years. Family ties are strong, so some relatives take several refugees' families under their roofs, or help them to build new homes.

Georgians made up 45 per cent of the pre-war population of Abkhazia, so Mr Shevardnadze's estimate of a total 200,000 displaced seems reasonable, though many left some time ago.

'There are 100,000 refugees in our area, but Tbilisi takes no heed of that,' said Mr Gamsakhurdia. 'They don't want to help us. We are under blockade. We have no fuel, no gas and no bread. This is your great and honest and democratic Shevardnadze.'

Mr Gamsakhurdia's main town of Zugdidi continued to receive electricity through Abkhazia, but he said he did not have enough food for his own people, let alone newcomers.

MOSCOW - Russia's Foreign Ministry said yesterday it was prepared to send peace- keeping troops to Georgia to oversee any peace settlement, Reuter reports. A ministry statement denounced both the advance by Abkhazian separatists and other insurgents backed by Mr Gamsakhurdia. 'The irresponsible actions of the separatists and the supporters of Zviad Gamsakhurdia have brought that country to the verge of civil war,' the statement said. 'The very existence of the Georgian state is in question.'

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Executive

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An On-line Sales & Customer Ser...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - Fixed Term Contract - 6 Months

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the largest hospitality companies...

Recruitment Genius: Electricians - Fixed Wire Testing

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a result of significant cont...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£16575 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity is ava...

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with excess, cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map
Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
Paris Fashion Week

Paris Fashion Week

Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
A year of the caliphate:

Isis, a year of the caliphate

Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?