26 years have passed since Luda Salia left her home along with Abkhazia after Sokhumi fell. Now she protests Russian occupation from the village of Khurvaleti in Gori Municipality. Here, next to the barbed wire fences she has managed to open a shelter for the elderly.

* * *

I am originally from Abkhazia. I was born and raised in Sokhumi. I worked as a chief nurse at the clinical hospital N1. I left Sokhumi on September 28, 1993 – Only after we buried all the dead people and brought the last wounded person aboard the ship in Agudzera. On the night of September 28, I also started my way to Chuberi Pass. It took me 12 days to arrive in Tbilisi.

I got married while living in exile. My mother-in-law was originally from the village of Khurvaleti in Gori Municipality. She owned a paternal old house there. We were in Khurvaleti to celebrate the birthday of my father-in-law in August 2008, during the days before the war. We have survived, glory to god. Russian militaries occupied Khurvaleti as well but, fortunately, they did not burn the houses. The occupiers soon left the village and the local population gradually returned back.

People in Khurvaleti still experience poverty. They are not able to harvest properly, no irrigation water is available. Two plots of land owned by my family remain beyond the occupation line. The land of many other villagers is also left over the barbed wire fences. The occupiers seized both the forests and pastures. Life in the village is lost. People live in constant fear and nobody is happy about anything. The occupiers often steal livestock and kidnap people.

I would often think about how I could hold up these people. When I returned to Khurvaleti after the war, I realized the elderly people needed the most support. Majority of them were left alone home. Some of them were not even able to walk. They often lacked food, water, and essential medication.

I fixed a locked house owned by my mother-in-law in Khurvaleti and opened a shelter for the elderly there. 13 elderly people currently live in the shelter. One of them is from Samegrelo region, others are IDPs or victims of domestic violence from Kartli region. None of our beneficiaries are from Khurvaleti. We support socially vulnerable local population individually.

The shelter ensures all the necessary conditions for elderly people. I had even constructed an elevator for those who experience difficulties with climbing the second floor. Initially, donors and international organizations have supported us to establish the shelter. Later I applied to the Ministry of Health and got the license – Now I am registered as a service provider and we receive finances from the state budget. Kind people appear to be everywhere to help us – some of them deliver financial support, some provide products. When supporters bring food more than enough for our beneficiaries, we give out some to local families in need.

I mainly live in Khurvaleti. I travel to Tbilisi only at the end of each month to settle accounting issues.

Due to opening a shelter in Khurvaleti I’ve caused discomfort to the Russian occupiers: The house with Georgian flags flying over is easy to identify from their position.

I protest creeping occupation every time it occurs. When occupiers entered Khurvaleti on March 15, 2019, I was the first to raise a red flag – I took photos and shared them on social media. I often arrive at barbed-wire fences and declare that this is the territory of Georgia, Russian soldiers are occupiers and they will still have to leave this land sooner or later.

I am often told that 5 meters border move is not a big issue. Isn’t 5 meters worth to raise a voice and worry about?! Exactly due to leasing 1 or 5 meters, the territories of this country are disappearing! I am a woman who has encountered a war. I have experienced losing Abkhazia and Kartli. Every inch of lost Georgian land hurts me.

People often ask me why I am never afraid of protesting against occupation over the barbed wires. The thing I was most afraid of has already occurred: I lost Abkhazia. I have closed the eyes of the bravest men ever who had passed away fearlessly. I am not afraid of anything anymore. If the occupiers try to arrest me, I will try not to get caught alive.

Sometimes people even tell me there is no point to protest. They indicate the previous protests had resulted in no outcome as the occupiers are still here. The occupiers have not left the country but we still have to cause discomfort to them. We still have to make them understand that this is the Georgian land, they are invaders and their presence will never be unacceptable to us.

I know occupiers do not tolerate my protest but it seems the government is not satisfied with my actions as well. After raising a red flag about Russian militaries entering Khurvaleti on March 15, I got attacked by trolls on social media. They wrote I acted like a provocateur and there is no place for me in Kartli as I am Megrelian. They even came up with the idea of collecting signatures on my expulsion from Khurvaleti.

Author: Manana Vardiashvili 

This article was prepared in the frame of the project ” Promoting new women leaders and ‘invisible women’ human rights activists” implemented by IREX Europe in partnership with Human Rights House Tbilisi, with financial support from the European Commission. The views in this article do not necessarily express the views of the European Commission.