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The Meaning of a Nation
Russia and its Neighbours: Georgia and Ukraine

I have lived in Georgia from 2002 and since then have worked stubbornly and almost exclusively in the former Soviet states. I witnessed the failed attempts of the color revolutions in Georgia, Ukraine and Azerbaijan, and watched Russian tanks roll towards Tbilisi in 2008.

The subjects of my stories are regular people often caught in extraordinary situations. I talk to them to learn about the countries they are from and their country’s histories – particularly the history formed during their lifetimes. These are nations caught in a great struggle to build independent states in the face of intense Russian influence. Yet my work is not just about that – it is also about survival, about the joy of life amid all hardships and about friendship.

Trying to understand what is the meaning of a nation, a border and patriotism for my heroes and for myself is central to my work. The paths people take towards or away from reconciliation after fighting a war is also a major part of my quest. Because the Soviet Union in essence had no borders, many people built their lives in lands that are now independent countries, separated by borders. The unexpected implosion of the Soviet Union, with its many arbitrary borders and the rise of ethnic nationalism lead to several armed con icts in the early 1990s – mainly in the Caucasus. Unresolved problems in other borderlands were hibernating time bombs. The war that has been going on in Ukraine since 2014 has proven how those unsettled issues continue to be vulnerable to political manipulations. We see that borders drawn in 1991 are not carved in stone and can be changed unilaterally as the Crimea example has proven.

When I finished my decade-long work in Caucasus in 2013, I started focusing on Ukraine. The story of David Ebralidze interconnects both projects – and he is not the only one. As a young man David fought in Georgia for Abkhazia. It took him 12 years to shake the war experience. He moved to Ukraine and started making furniture – only to find himself in yet another war. In 2014 he took his laptop to the pawn shop and bought a bus ticket to join a volunteer battalion. There were many volunteer battalions forming because an actual army practically did not exist. I asked him one of my standard questions: “Could you ever forgive your enemy? If so, how?” David said he will answer with a story: “Now in the Donbass Battalion I have very a good friend who is also Georgian. We were together for 400 days in the battalion here. In Georgia (in the early 90s) we fought against each other in the civil war and here we have become friends and fight side-by- side. And he is my closest friend. All problems can be resolved with time if there is no interference by a third party.

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