On August 11th, 2008, two Utah women who lived in Georgia told their respective stories to Utah media outlets. Despite Russian claims to the contrary, Russian military units are advancing deeper into Georgia and have split the country in half. It is unknown whether they are merely "teaching the Georgians a lesson" or if they are trying to force regime change. [Ed. Note: It looks like the first guess was right. CNN is now reporting that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has called a halt to the war.] I don't believe they intend to permanently occupy the whole country, although Abkhazia and South Ossetia are probably lost forever. But at least we now have a reminder of what Russians are really all about, and how much of a despicable thug and tyrant Vladimir Putin is.
I've also learned from a comment posted to a previous Deseret News story that LDS missionaries in Georgia have been evacuated to Armenia. Now confirmed by the Salt Lake Tribune on August 12th.
The first woman highlighted is Doris Platt, who lives in Sandy. Known as "Mother Doris" in Georgia, she has spent two decades serving the Georgian people. Among her most significant accomplishments, she improved the conditions of the orphanages and schools in Georgia, and even brought U.S. fire trucks and equipment to the struggling nation. Full story on KTVX Channel 4.
Platt says that Georgia is no match for Russia now, even with the Georgian troops airlifted home from duty in Iraq. There is also word that Russia met little resistance as it took over Georgia's Senaki army base. But what Platt says is left is pride, strength and a people who have managed to maintain their own culture, alphabet and language despite efforts throughout history to conquer and divide them. KTVX news video embedded below:
The second woman is highlighted by the Salt Lake Tribune. Tamrika Khvtisiashvili, who was raised in Georgia before leaving in 1991, and who co-owns the Blue Plate Diner in Salt Lake City, has family in South Ossetia, a province currently in dispute. She was unable to confirm their safety until Monday August 11th.
[Ed. Note: I strongly recommend that Salt Lake Valley residents make a special effort to dine at the Blue Plate Diner to show solidarity. It is not an act of charity; three out of four patrons rated it three stars or better. Here's the address:
2041 South 2100 East
Salt Lake City
Her family's apartment building was evacuated because of the threat of bomb attacks, and the family had to sleep outside. Khvtisiashvili's family said information is scarce, leaving residents wondering about Russia's next move. One of Khvtisiashvili's cousins, pursuing a doctoral degree in London, was home when shooting began. Unable to return to Britain, he is now being pressured to join the Georgian army. Khvtisiashvili said her cousin is considering the offer.
The reaction of Eastern Europeans who live in Salt Lake City has been difficult to reconcile for Khvtisiashvili. A frequent listener of radio talk shows, she has heard many Russians, but feels Georgians are under-represented. Apparently the local Ivans are feeling their oats and bragging up Russia on the radio.
Khvtisiashvili said she understands both sides of the debate because the other side of her family lives in Moscow, but it is still hard for her to comprehend Russia's motives. "As a Georgian, it's hard for me to not think of Russia as a bully, because they've done this to so many other republics," Khvtisiashvili said.
McClatchyDC publishes good summations of the latest situation in Georgia. Read this article entitled "Russian troops dominate Georgia, seize key cities, port". Another article entitled "Russian jets, unchallenged, sow terror among Georgian troops" describes the experiences of Georgian troops hiding from marauding Russian aircraft facing no opposition. And finally, another story entitled "U.S. knew Georgia trouble was coming, but couldn't stop it" chronicled the efforts of the Bush Administration to warn the Georgian government of Russia's efforts to sucker them into an over-reaction.