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‘Before Bucha in Ukraine, there was Abkhazia in Georgia’ | News

Forgotten War Crimes of Abkhazia

Tbilisi and Tskaltubo, Georgia – In 1993, Venera Meshveliani was one among more than 300 people who were held hostage by Russian soldiers for around three weeks in Abkhazia, a breakaway region in northwestern Georgia that borders Russia.

“I can never forget the sound of soldiers’ trampling feet and the foul, damp smell of the school building we were held hostage in. Everything I witnessed and experienced there was genocide,” said Meshveliani, an 86-year-old ethnic Georgian who hails from the Abkhazian village of Akhaldaba.

Most countries recognise Abkhazia as Georgia’s land but Russia and a few of its allies view the territory as a state of its own.

“Every night they would humiliate us by stepping over us. They would then take the younger girls outside and rape them,” Meshveliani told Al Jazeera from her one-bedroom apartment in Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital.

People stand near apartment blocks hosting internally displaced Georgians from Abkhazia in Tskaltubo, Georgia, on July 21, 2022 [Valeria Mongelli/Al Jazeera]

“Many of the young girls raped were also my students. I used to be their mathematics teacher in the village before the war. How am I to forget the brutalities they had to experience?” she said, tearing up.

“There was one girl from the fifth grade who was bleeding all over and grabbed my feet and asked me if it was worth living. Just as I tried to convince her to pull through, another young girl was brought back to the school building after being raped and looked like she was going to faint from all the trauma.

“She begged for water and one short but stern-looking Russian soldier, whose face I can still remember, climbed up the windowpane above the young girl, urinated into her mouth and said: ‘Here’s your water. This is what Georgians deserve.’ It’s been more than 30 years but these criminals have not yet been prosecuted.”

After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the conflict Georgia-Abkhazia conflict intensified with Abkhazians keen to establish autonomy from Georgia and protect their identity and culture.

“Before the war broke out, everything was very peaceful in our region. Our village Akhaldhaba was really beautiful and we were all rich but also hard working. But there were people in Abkhazia who were pro-Russian and they had begun planting seeds of hostility against Georgia before the war broke out,” Meshveliani said.

The Kremlin supported Abkhazia’s demands and tensions soared into what became the…

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