Where is Leila Now? (As South Ossetia Melts Down and Zugdidi Evacuates)

Friendly Vendors - Zugdidi, Georgia
Friendly vendors at the Zugdidi market, Georgia.

We met Leila (center) in Zugdidi, Georgia over a year ago. Like so many others, she and her friends at the market have probably been evacuated recently.

We’ll likely never know.

Zugdidi was not much of a tourist destination, but it was home to one of our tastiest and most touching experiences.

Now it’s at the front of a growing conflict in and around Georgia and the disputed regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The latest reports from Zugdidi indicate that it has just been occupied by Russian military troops.

We previously wrote of the lingering effects of civil conflict throughout Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan in the 1990s in a piece we entitled This Land is Not Your Land. The latest conflict is yet another chapter of personal stories, refugees and displacement in the Caucasus — a region that may yet prove to be the Powder Keg of Asia.

The News Becomes Personal

Yesterday, as we consumed the news wires for stories on South Ossetia, Georgia and Russia, we exchanged emails and SMS text messages with friends in Georgia to find out if they were safe.

A friend in Tbilisi sent us the following SMS:

Hi! Thank you for your care and kindness. We’re OK but situation is really dangerous. Russian airtroops are bombing whole the Georgia. Many people are wounded and killed. Hope international community will support us with negotiation process peace will come.

We are wondering where this is all headed. Something tells us that neither the pundits nor the geopolitical experts know for certain.

In the meantime, the faces of people we met last year in Georgia play in an endless loop in our minds.

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  1. says

    I’ve been looking at several sources for news from Georgia – it’s still hard to get objective and accurate information. NPR has had some broadcasts direct from Zugdidi – so strange – and sad – to think of it taken over by Russian troops!

  2. Jim says

    The violence was orchestrated by the United States and the Russians reacted. It is very sad that the United States continues to meddle in the affairs of sovereign nations. There is much oil wealth associated with this. It is no simplistic story of aggressive “evil” Russians. I hope you post this. NPR is really just a US propaganda organ at this point. I recommend Pacifica radio stations to get a more realistic view of what is happening in the world.

  3. says

    We would argue that the conflict in Georgia – like anything geopolitical – is complex with a long history; it’s most fairly viewed in shades of gray, rather than in black and white. And if blame is to be assigned, there’s probably enough to be spread rather widely.

    While it may not be accurate to place all blame on “aggressive evil Russians,” we also believe that similarly assigning all blame to the “meddling United States” is over-simplifying the history and reality of the frozen conflicts in the Caucasus.

    Anyhow, the point we had hoped to emphasize with this post is the tragedy – on ALL sides – of the death of innocent civilians and displaced families. And that a place and its innocent civilians take on an increased significance when you’ve actually had a chance to meet them, as we did in Zugdidi.

    We won’t argue with the premise that oil – and the wealth and influence accrued and re-distributed because of it – does more harm than good.

    Finally, we agree that consuming several media sources with a variety of viewpoints is always a good idea if you really wish to understand an issue in its entirety.

  4. Irakli says

    Hi all. I come from Zugdidi myself. The situation has really been stressful and we experienced a tough time. But thaks to God the situation has calmed down. Lela(this is her real name, not Leila) is my neighbour, she has evacuated when russians were bombarding but she returned the next day at her home, saying the she feels most safe at home. She is safe and sound now still enjoying time with her friends in market.

  5. says

    Irakli: Thank you so much for the news. Our experience at the Zugdidi market (with Lela and her friends) is something we’ll never forget. We are glad to hear that everyone is safe and that the situation has settled down.


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