Tsitsino Gaurgashvili, 49, the Pankisi Gorge

„I was born and brought up in the Pankisi Gorge, Georgia. But I studied in Russia for 4 years, then I graduated from a university in Chechnya-Ingushetia, where I met my future husband. It was in 1993, tensions had already started between Russian and Chechnya. My husband was Jokhar Dudayev’s associate and co-warrior. We already had our first child then. The year 1994 is associated with the worst memories of my life. My son was 6 months old when Russia launched the first air strike on Chechnya. We lived in Grozny at that time. Imagine, a woman is breastfeeding her baby. Suddenly the sky lightens. She sees six warplanes crossing the sky and throwing bombs. When you confront danger, you switch on your survival instinct. You have to survive, save your child and find a safe shelter. Chechens found such safe place in villages in the vicinity of Grozny. We left the city in the evening to look for shelter. But before the night fell Russian warplanes attacked those villages as well. It was a truly miraculous survival. Based on the decision of our community, that night we left for Georgia, hoping to find a safe environment there.

I remember well, it was New Year’s Eve according to the old calendar when we approached the Georgian border. A lot of women, children and seniors travelled with us. At the Russian border check-point they stopped us for several days and nights. I had a 6-month old baby on my hands. I did not have anything to feed him. Women begged Russian soldiers for a little bit of empathy – sure they had wives and children at home too?! We asked them to give us a glass of hot water to dip biscuits in and give them to children. This was the darkest period in my life. Finally, we reached Georgia. My parents were waiting for me and I did not have to worry about the place to stay. As there were not enough houses in that period, we sheltered several Chechen refugees. The 90s was dark times for Georgia so the Government paid very little attention to refugees from Chechnya. We did not have any social allowance then. We got aid only from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

My husband passed away in 2008 and I faced a life alone with my two kids. I was not a Georgian citizen until 2012. I needed Georgian citizenship at least to send my kids to school properly clad, with textbooks and exercise books in their school bags… I already had two kids at the time. My son developed a rather complicated bone infection and needed immediate treatment. The UN helped us again, allocating 23,000 GEL to us. Otherwise I would have lost him.

I already have a grandchild now. I am happy that I have managed to realize my potential since the death of my husband. I am a coordinator in the Youth Center, which was opened in Pankisi. There are several classes offered to the young Kist community in the center: foreign languages, math, music, preparatory classes for the skills test, and vocational courses. I work as a coordinator of these classes, so I have income for my family and at the same time help young people in finding their way to live a better life than I have had“.