Photo Essay: From Minsk to Tbilisi

Tako Robakidze, a photographer based in Tbilisi, documents the lives of Belarusians who have fled their country and made a new life in Georgia, with words by Vladic Ravich.
Two Belarusians at a bar in Tbilisi. Photo: Tako Robakidze

By Vladic Ravich

Vladic Ravich is a multimedia storyteller based in Tbilisi, Georgia. You can find him on Instagram at @vlab_feels.

15 Jun 2022

Belarus is one of few countries in the world supporting Russia's invasion of Ukraine. It's also the only country where simply wearing red and white clothing - a reference to the pre-Soviet Belarus flag and, thus, the opposition - is enough to attract government harassment. Wearing blue and yellow, implying solidarity with Ukraine, is also interpreted as a seditious act. 

Sharing an approximately 1,000km border with Ukraine, Belarus currently serves as a military staging ground for Russian forces. 

All photos by Tako Robakidze

Belarusian leader Alexandr Lukashenko has monopolised power since 1994. He also received support from the Kremlin to put down peaceful protests that erupted following a fraudulent presidential election in 2020. Since then, hundreds of thousands of peaceful protesters have been arrested and abused by government security forces. Human rights groups accuse the country of carrying out systemic torture. 

Georgia has become a popular destination for Belarusians fleeing the corruption and violent repression of their homeland because it has few requirements for them to live and work there. 

When thousands of Russian migrants fleeing political repression and economic hardship arrived in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, after the Russian invasion of Ukraine on 24 February, rents skyrocketed and social media filled with the polarised attitudes of Georgians, who themselves lived through a Russian military invasion in 2008. 

While opinions diverge on how to handle the Russian influx, Georgian sympathy for Ukrainian refugees is virtually universal. 

At the same time, another wave of Belarus migrants arrived. Speaking in Georgia's parliament in March, the country's interior minister said that 15,777 Belarus nationals arrived in Georgia between 24 February and 16 March - an almost tenfold increase compared to the same period in 2019 

They come for many reasons. Some work for companies that are relocating their operations to Tbilisi to avoid economic sanctions and continue their contracts with western clients. Others are fleeing retribution or conscription by the Lukashenko regime. 

The Belarusian migrants appear similar to their Russian counterparts in Georgia, but many see a difference in how they are perceived by Georgians. 

"We speak the same language, but not the same way," said Nastia, who arrived with her husband in April. "There is an arrogant tone you may hear when some Russians speak. But we don't speak down to others; we are also from a small nation." 

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