The uncertain future of 26,000 Ukrainians in GeorgiaPublished: Feb 24, 2023 Reading time: 7 minutes
"In one day, we lost everything – home, work, peace, our past life!" – Aksana, from Donetsk
Despite a shortfall in funding in Georgia, People in Need (PIN) is improving the lives of Ukrainian refugees. For many, returning to Ukraine is out of sight, and life abroad is becoming more difficult. Compounding the difficulties is the fact that humanitarian assistance is insufficient and severely underfunded.
Since February 24th 2022, numerous Ukrainian families have been torn apart, millions of people have been displaced, and thousands have been injured or killed. Most of those who fled lacked time to plan their escape; they just gathered their families and sought shelter. Families have made unimaginably difficult journeys, crossing borders in just "flip-flops", leaving their lives and belongings behind and carrying only the hope of finding a safe place and survival for their children and themselves.
Since Russia's invasion, more than 189,000 people from Ukraine have come to Georgia. Most originate in front-line regions or occupied territories in the country's east, and Georgia was often the only destination where they could flee.
One family's story of finding a new home in Georgia
Aksana's story is just one of the many stories of families caught in war who are victims of Russia's inhumanity and barbarism. Aksana is one of roughly 8 million refugees who have fled Ukraine since the war started in February 2022.
Like many, Aksana and her family---Oleksi and their two kids---lived peacefully before the war. Now, they are refugees living in Tbilisi, Georgia. However, they are amongst the lucky ones who made it out alive, despite spending weeks with her children in a basement shelter while Donetsk was heavily shelled.
Aksana is 34. She has jet-black hair without favours or frills; she wears functional clothes which match her Stoic personality. Determined. She is utterly devoted to her children and family. And yet, just beneath the surface, there's a crackling sense of humour, usually in the form of a witty, sarcastic joke followed by a reassuring wink. Her smile remains optimistic and determined; she is ready to start a new life in Georgia.
Aksana, Oleksi, and their two kids are from Donetsk, the most war-torn oblast of Ukraine. The family was forced to find safety when the war broke out. They moved to several cities in Ukraine, but the brutality of war and destruction followed them. Thus, the family decided to move to Georgia because nowhere was safe in Ukraine.
"In the space of a month, our world turned upside down. It is hugely stressful to leave a past life, relatives, friends, and career, to move to a new country and start everything from zero. You have millions of questions about continuing life and what to do." Says Aksana
People in Need (PIN) has been on the ground in Ukraine and Georgia from the beginning; we have provided life-saving aid to refugees and internally displaced Ukrainians. We have been continuously working to provide essential financial support, supplies, and shelter through the funds generously provided by our donors and our Club of Friends.
Despite a shortfall in funding in Georgia, PIN works tirelessly to improve the lives of Ukrainian refugees. In December 2022, PIN's Ukrainian partner organisation, "Unite Together", surveyed the needs of Ukrainian refugees in Georgia; in doing so, they identified several challenges. Data was collected on 850 households throughout Georgia. For Ukrainian refugees, the most urgent needs are access to affordable accommodation, sufficient food, employment, and medical assistance for those with chronic health issues.
Affordable accommodation is the first and most important and essential need for Ukrainian families in Georgia
Ukrainians in Georgia primarily reside in individual housing, which they must secure financially. For those with nowhere to go, limited accommodation is offered in hotels or summer resorts, but with the oncoming touristic season, these places will have to be vacated. In addition, the average rental price in Tbilisi has risen 120% within the past year due to the Russians fleeing mobilisation. The recently arrived refugees are in an increasingly difficult, unsustainable situation, and it is becoming evident that refugees won't have enough financial resources for rent payments. Almost 90 % of responding households admit they won't be able to support themselves and their families for three months.
PIN supports several collective accommodations (hotels, hostels, boarding houses); we will continue to do so because we know it provides a sense of security and community that comes from close contact with one's compatriots. Aksana & Oleksi's family used the opportunity of affordable accommodation provided by PIN, and they safely live in a hotel.
"When we arrived in Georgia, it was absolutely unclear how to orientate, what to do, or where to go. In this confusion, PIN appeared and offered hotel accommodation program support, which was very important for our family, like other Ukrainian families living here. It is already a month since we have lived here, and it allows us to learn more about the country and better orientate what to do and how to live in this new reality, as it feels now like us and uncertainty. Yes, it is difficult, but with PIN support, it looks promising," notes, Aksana.
With continuing Russian attacks on the energy infrastructure and the arrival of winter in Ukraine, Ukrainians are forced to stay abroad. In October 2022, an average of 4,000 individuals arrived in Georgia weekly. Georgia is one of the only international locations where Ukrainians fleeing war can cross the border from Russia without a valid international passport. Many Ukrainians were forced to flee rapidly, leaving home without possessions such as personal documentation or birth certificates for children. Currently, there are 26,000 Ukrainian refugees, mostly in big cities, such as Tbilisi (50%) and Batumi (35%), with most of them not knowing how long they will stay in Georgia.
"Since the war started, our lives have changed to before the war and after the war. Every day, shelling and the destruction of energy infrastructure made it impossible to continue living in our homeland. It is the parent's instinct to think about the family's safety first, and we are doing our best to make our family safe and find a place in this new world. This PIN Programme allowed us to breathe, find ourselves, and realise what to do in the future, choose in what city to live in, in Georgia, and what to do for a living. In Ukraine, we had some small family businesses; in addition, Aksana worked as a psychologist, and I worked as an electrician. Losing everything sounds abstract, but most Ukrainians will understand us, as most people in Ukraine know what it means to lose a home, work, and what is most painful, losing friends and relatives. Thank god we didn't lose close people. But we can not return home as our home, like most Ukrainians in Georgia, is in the war zone with destroyed energy infrastructure. In our homeland, we left our small enterprise, and our old life. But we are optimistic; we try not to look back and focus on our future in Georgia," Oleksi.
Georgian's feelings and sympathy for the Ukrainians are displayed in every city. Blue and yellow Ukrainian flags hung in the streets and houses, and public signs welcome them. In Georgia, people understand that Ukrainian refugees in Georgia have lost everything. That they've left their entire lives behind, often fleeing with just the clothes on their backs. They come here to start over. They want to make sure their kids can go to school. They want to work, and they want to contribute to our communities. Just like us, they seek a life of dignity, freedom, and security in Georgia, Poland, Moldova, Germany, and other countries.
We see that 26,000 Ukrainians who need support are still in Georgia, which is still rising. PIN Georgia believes that now is a time for solidarity, compassion, and consolidation, not a time to close our minds and hearts. We must stand united as one global community against the same intolerance and fear that Georgia experienced in the 90s and 00s that drove so many of our citizens to flee their homes in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. We believe that Ukraine, hand-in-hand with the global community, can achieve long-lasting peace and prosperity for its people and the country.
People in Need (PIN) has been present in Georgia since 2005. Its response to the current situation in Georgia is focused on addressing gaps in the provision of vital services and enhancing overall access to information and services for the Ukrainian refugee community. Our strategy is built on the long-standing presence of PIN in Georgia and its extensive experience in collaborating with CSOs, as well as recent assessments and active participation in the existing coordination mechanism.