“The occupation of Georgia started a long time ago – 200 years ago. The most vivid year of occupation in the 20th century was when Russian tanks and Russian troops stood right here, on Rustaveli Street,” guide Tamara Bzhania said.
Bzhania’s family moved to Russia after the war in Abkhazia. A few years ago, she returned to Georgia and worked as a Russian language tutor.
“Tourists who take the taxi admit that it was a mistake, that war. But sometimes it seems that they only say it because they’re in the taxi,” Bzhania said.
The Deoccupation Taxi Service has been operating since the beginning of summer. Georgian activists came up with the idea after seeing that many tourists mistake Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali regions for part of Russia.
“Sometimes, when tourists come, they think that Georgia is part of Russia. I don’t know who tells them this. So we explain to them that it’s our land. And it will always be ours, Deoccupation Taxi Driver Alika Kardava said.
He works both as a driver and a tour guide. The war in Abkhazia touched his family directly. His father was killed, by the occupants, and his house was burnt.
The fee for a ride is symbolic. There are no set tariffs. All the earned profit is sent to volunteers guarding Georgia’s border. They inspect border villages and guard the Truso Gorge, which they say is now under threat.
“This gorge is located near the Darial Gorge, on the official border between Georgia and Russia. According to the information we have, we expect provocations in the next month and a half. As a result, this gorge will be occupied. And then the Darial Gorge as well,” the co-founder of the volunteer movement “Our Power is Unity,” David Katsarava said.
From time to time, the borderline is shifted by the Russian military. They move not only the barbed wires in villages but also the lines on maps.
Sometimes they depict Georgia without Abkhazia and Samachablo. This is how locals call South Ossetia.
“I doubt that these provocations will reach their goal. Because the entire international community, the entire world, says directly that Russia occupied this territory. Their strategic partner in Kavkaz is Armenia, which doesn’t recognize the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Where they put a column – 100 meters here, 100 meters there – it will never influence the big politics,” political analyst Gela Vasadze said.
In 2008, Russia crushed Georgia in a 5-day war preventing Tbilisi from restoring control over its two breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Shortly after, Moscow recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states.
At least 228 Georgian civilians, 170 servicemen and 14 police officers died in that war.