Pro-Ukraine – and by inference anti-Russia – sentiment in Georgia soon becomes obvious when walking the streets of the capital, Tbilisi. The signs are everywhere. In the graffiti sprayed on any available wall, in the yellow and blue flags hanging from balconies, on restaurant placemats and even in the name of a wine by an artisan wine-maker and the clothes some chose to wear.
Why we went to Georgia
Let me explain. My husband, BK, wanted to visit Georgia. A big reason being that when the Russia-Ukraine war started, he read about a sign in a restaurant window in Tbilisi. It read something to the effect of “If you support Putin, you are not welcome here.”
I had heard, from a fellow traveller on a previous trip, how lovely the country is and especially the food. And so, in May 2023, we found ourselves wandering the streets of Tbilisi a day or two before our Georgian food tour started.
Graffiti and Flags
Our first encounter with anti-Russia sentiment was the F* Putin graffiti at the head of this post. The yellow paint used to spray the clear message intentional. Over the almost two weeks we spent in Tbilisi, we’d see this message a number of times.
Then of course, there were the flags. Not just one or two occasional blue and yellow flags of Ukraine showing pro-Ukraine sentiment. Hanging vertically or horizontally, they fluttered in the breeze from traditional balconies in most streets. Or a rectangular flag in Ukrainian colours was painted big or small on previously blank walls.
How some Georgians feel about Russians
Speaking to our guide and one or two taxi drivers, we heard how Russians fleeing Russia have made Georgia their home for the time being. They are able to enter Georgia for a year without a visa. And not everyone is happy with this arrangement. I was told that they haven’t come as an anti-war protest, but more “to avoid conscription” or to “have a better life without sanctions.”
Apparently, they are setting up businesses – café’s and coffee shops and some locals feel they are changing the feel of Tbilisi. Certainly, we heard plenty of Russian being spoken. But that could also be because Georgia was part of the Soviet Union and many Georgians spoke Russian at that time.
One message, painted in red, on a building hoarding reads F* Russia, followed by a message telling Russians to go home.
Stickers, more Graffiti and Placemats
Three round stickers on the rear window of a car show how the car owner feels about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Only one is in English. It reads “Russia is Occupant.” The other two bear a map of Ukraine in yellow and blue with writing in what I think is Russian script.
In Kutaisi, when sitting in the lobby of our hotel, waiting to leave for the day, I spot a man cleaning graffiti off a white metal wall. I’m pretty sure it was another anti-Russian message.
We were treated to a wine-tasting in the wine shop and bar called 8000 Vintages, a reference to the fact that Georgians have been making wine for 8000 years. Edged with blue and yellow, my paper placemat doubled up as a wine-tasting guide, as well as a snack menu. I hardly noticed the colours. Then, I saw a circle described with a thin blue and yellow line top and centre of the placemat. The words inside the circle read “Victory to Ukraine.”
BK went shopping for snacks. He came home with two bags of crisps. One was a local brand. After enjoying the salty treat, he was about to put the bag in the bin when he noticed a round blue and yellow sticker stuck on the outside. Google translate make me think that the words read something to the effect of packed or manufactured in Ukraine.
More Subtle Pro-Ukraine Signs
We like to go for a morning walk before breakfast. Venturing to an area of Old Tbilisi that we haven’t explored previously, we amble along, looking at the old decrepit buildings and wondering how people can still be living there. I wander into a courtyard. On a ledge I spot two hard hats. It’s not coincidental that they are blue and yellow.
A man, getting his morning exercise, runs past us in his athletic gear. His shorts are blue, his sweaty top yellow. Again, I don’t believe this is a coincidence.
We find a sign on a restaurant door, similar to the one that encouraged BK to visit Georgia.
There are many more examples, but two stand out. On another wine excursion, we visit an Artisan Winery. The winemaker, an ex-defence minister of the previous Georgian Government has turned his hand to boutique winemaking. On one small metal tank where a new vintage is maturing, I read a small label typed in black capitals onto white paper. It is stuck to the tank with clear sticky tape.
The vintage, SLAVA UKRAINI 2022 (Glory to Ukraine 2022) is a Pinot Blanc.
Still coughing from a bout of COVID a few weeks earlier I buy a packet of Strepsils from a chemist. BK checks the receipt and does a double take. At the top of the receipt is a message in English.
How do Russians feel?
With all this pro-Ukraine and anti-Russian sentiment, I suspect that life for Russians who have moved to Georgia might feel a little uncomfortable right now.