As Giorgi Zurabishvili prepared to attend the University of Richmond in August, the 18-year-old found himself in the middle of a sudden conflict between Russia and his country, Georgia, over a disputed republic, South Ossetia. His travel plans were disrupted by the bombing, but he was able to arrive here to start his freshman year. Giorgi thinks about his family 6,000 miles away, but he's finding Richmond a nice temporary home. Here, in his own words, he recounts his wartime experience.
My country, Georgia, is giving me a scholarship [to the University of Richmond].
When the war began, my parents got very panicked because I had to fly to the United States [for school]. I was not panicked. I do not know why; I am such a person maybe. I have a house in the capital, in Tbilisi, Georgia. But in the summer, we usually go to the village Kvishkheti because there is fresh air, and the capital is very hot. And the city — Gori, which was bombed — is between the capital and the village where I was staying.
I heard bombs at night — boom, boom! I did not see their fire, but their sounds were heard all the time. Gori was a very strategic city because it's the city from where there is entrance to South Ossetia. So Russia bombed this city every day very intensely. When we went in the car back to the capital to take the plane [to the United States], I went through Gori, which was bombed. It was very scary with all the plane noises and burning buildings and people in empty streets and burning cars. It is very difficult to express in words, but it was really scary.
All the flights from the capital were canceled. So I had to go in a train to Azerbaijan, a bordering country, and take the plane to the capital of Azerbaijan, called Baku. So I traveled 24 hours to the train. Then I traveled 28 hours in the plane, and then I got here — it was the 15th of August.
My family is safe now because they are in the capital; the capital is more or less safe. I feel some kind of strange … some kind of pain, but I realize it is not my fault. I have my job here now to study, but when my friends and my family are in some kind of danger there and I am sitting here safe — it is some kind of uncomfortable.
I am lucky. If I had not gotten here, I would have gone into the military in South Ossetia. A lot of my friends went into the secondary reserve [draft], and I was very scared. Two of them, we could not hear anything from them for one week, and we thought terrible things. But they appeared, and it was OK. But it was very scary.
I was in war just four days. My hopes are that I am quite sure that everything will go better [in Georgia] with the help of other people. I think that other countries must react. I understand they must not react militarily but economically. It is not only the war between Georgia and Russia; it's about if Russia can do what they want. Russia [attacks] Georgia and then another country and another, and it will never end. I think it must be stopped. And I think peace is most important.
I like Richmond. It is a real historical city for America. It is beautiful in the day, and at night it is absolutely beautiful. —As told to Bethany Emerson