Podcast Then & Now #14: Teresa Cherfas in conversation with Mamuka Kuparadze and Aleksandr Pichugin

9 January 2024

by Teresa Cherfas

Welcome to the fourteenth of our Russian-language podcast Then & Now with me, Teresa Cherfas. 

Aleksandr Pichugin & Mamuka Kuparadze

My guests today are Mamuka Kuparadze, founder of Studio Re in Tbilisi, which works to promote ‘grassroots diplomacy’ through documentary film, and Aleksandr Pichugin, a Russian journalist, originally from Nizhny Novgorod, who left Russia with his family to start a new life in Tbilisi immediately after the announcement of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the flow of Russian citizens fleeing the war to Georgia has reached an unprecedented 100,000. That’s the size of two small Georgian towns, such as Gori, for example.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, relations between Georgia and Russia have not been easy. There have been wars of secession, first in South Ossetia, then in Abkhazia, and their de facto removal from Georgian government control. And the culmination, so to speak, of these wars came about 15 years later in 2008, when Russia invaded Georgia. Russia claimed victory in a war that lasted just five days,  after which it  “officially” recognised Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states. (Both are still considered by the international community to be legitimate regions of Georgia. Georgia itself refers to them as Russian-occupied territories.)

In this edition of ‘Then and Now’, we take a look at how Georgian society and government looks at these immigrants from Russia and how life in Georgia is for the Russian immigrants who have fled there.

The recording took place on 4 January 2024.

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My questions include:

  • Aleksandr, what prompted  you to take such an important step for yourself and your family? After all, it is not easy to start from scratch in a foreign country?
  • Why Georgia? Did the visa system play a role in your decision?
  • Did you find a place to live? A job? Tell us a little about how you solved such domestic problems and how you were received by Georgian society. Is there a sense of a separate ‘Russian world’ in Tbilisi?
  • Mamuka, Studio Re recently released a short movie about how the local population feels about the flow of Russian immigrants into their country. What were the main findings of your research?
  • How has the influx of Russians affected Georgian’s economy?
  • Against the background of extremely uneasy and tense relations with Putin’s Russia, how does the Georgian government and civil society feel about the presence of so many Russians on Georgian territory, Mamuka?
  • Refugees from Ukraine have also come to Georgia. Aleksandr, is the presence of Ukrainians felt in your circles?
  • The Georgian border service has denied entry to several Russian citizens critical of Putin’s regime, such as Mikhail Fishman, journalist, presenter and analyst of TV Dozhd, and others. What is the explanation for this, Mamuka? 
  • How does the Georgian government position differ from the position of civil society activists in Georgia?
  • Aleksandr, how did you react to the new wave of Russian immigrants, immediately after mobilisation was annou in Russia on 22 October 2022?  Do you feel there’s a difference in the motivation and goals of the first wave compared to the second?
  • Has the war with Ukraine given rise to new anxieties about Russia’s intentions in Georgia, Mamuka?
  • How do Russians in Georgia see their future? Have some already returned to Russia? How do you personally see your future, Aleksandr?

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