On February 25, the second day of the war, I was preparing for a commercial shoot for a Georgian bank, which we had planned on doing long before.
It was supposed to be a tutorial workshop in the Georgian language. We are trying to translate everything into the local language, and I supported this — even before this shocking war. The speaker was a girl who was born in Odessa, Ukraine, and the day before, we went to the protest against the war. One of my cameramen has a family in Kherson, Ukraine, and another one in Kyiv. The shooting was going for 20 hours or so, a deadly long period of time.
I woke up at six in the morning to go to the shooting. The guest speaker came with a flag of Ukraine on her t-shirt, and another one painted on her face.
We were speaking Georgian — although normally, we would speak Russian, too. The worst of all was when, during the breaks, we all turned on the Telegram channels and Instagram to read the news, and we saw pictures of bombing, and then terrible news just kept increasing. I would read this news, and then have to turn back to the girl and ask her to smile because, ‘Hey, we are shooting a commercial!’
The next day, I just gave up the job and told the crew that I was not going to shoot any commercials for an undefined period of time; it was just too much of a cognitive dissonance for me.
When I saw that the ruble, the Russian national currency plunged twice in 24 hours, and I did some research, I became convinced that there was no hope left, and the best thing for people to do was flee the country.
I posted on Facebook about it and got an overwhelming response from both Russians and Ukrainians, asking me about leaving their countries to Georgia. I started sending audio messages and explaining everything, but when it got to around 50 people asking me about it, it was becoming too hard to communicate with all of them one-on-one.
I started a Telegram channel, on which I post all the recent information and monitor the news regarding flights and people’s experience of fleeing to Georgia.
Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, has long been a place to attract dissidents and intelligentsia. Thanks to its heart-warming people, wine, and general happy mood — even during the worst Soviet times— it still feels better than the rest of the countries.
Yet, I always warn people that it is obviously not the safest place; it is close to Russia; there has been a war already, and there are tensions between the two countries; plus, its national currency, the lari, depends on the ruble greatly. Some people would call this “Russophobia,” but I see it as common sense. For example, the Bank of Georgia will allow Russians to open an account, but they must sign a paper stating that they are aware of Russia occupying Georgia in recent years.
I believe it is important to remind Russian citizens about such historical facts that they might not be aware of. Obviously, I’m against Russophobia, and I always prevent it when I see it; yet being in Georgia seems to be much safer than being locked in Russia right now.
I just bought a laptop to structure all the information and help people as much as I can. I’m looking for volunteers, too, because I’m getting more … requests, and those people need help immediately. (Editor’s Note: As of March 6, there are 384 subscribers in the channel.) I get messages from friends of friends, professors, actors, and creative intelligentsia, all of whom need to be in a safer place. I believe it’s too late to put your life at risk right now, and I won’t call out people to protest and take it to the streets in Russia anymore. I don’t think that would stop Putin; it would only create more bigger bloodshed in the country.
It’s also helpful that people can exchange their experiences on my channel. I invited another girl who lives in Tbilisi and has a channel with a Russian-speaking community of over 11,000 followers. It’s huge for Tbilisi.
You can safely say the whole Russian speaking community is in her channel. We are going to discuss ways to better structure and be more efficient in our help to refugees.
Besides that, as in many countries, we are collecting humanitarian support in Tbilisi right now. There is a plane which can carry 80 tons and bring it to Ukrainians, so the whole city is working on collecting. We buy medicine, cosmetics, and other necessities.
I don’t know what is going to be next. One of my friends has a ticket to leave Moscow on March 15, but that seems like such a long time from now. Every day, we are expecting to see more pressure and collapse.
There are other countries where Russians can flee to, but there are not as many waiting for them as for Ukrainians right now. That is totally understandable, but Russians still need help. Georgia is relatively cheap, and this is crucial when people cannot withdraw money; there are huge lines at ATMs right now, and investment accounts and exchanges are just blocked.