According to official data, about 1.5 million Russian citizens have crossed the Russia-Georgia border since the war started. How many have stayed is not known. But their presence is evident on the streets of the capital.
And the influx is worrying many Georgians. A recent survey shows that the majority of Georgian citizens, about 70%, think the arrival of Russian citizens will negatively impact the country and support imposing a visa regime on their northern neighbour.
Russian community plants roots
Emigration for Action is among thousands of Russian companies that were registered in Georgia after Russia`s invasion of Ukraine. It helps Russians who fled mobilisation to find houses and adapt to their new environment. The organisation also offers language courses for the many Russian citizens who have made plans to stay.
“I am attending language classes myself,” says Maxim Ivantsov, the company founder. “It is a very popular course, there is a lot of demand. We are here because of the war Russia started, we do not want to live in a country, which is attacking others and carrying out fascist deeds”
A year after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, one can see Russian cafes, entertainment venues and other organizations set up by Russian citizens in Tbilisi. Most of their clients are Russians. There are Russian bookstores in the capital too. Itaka Books is one of them.
“I came here in 2017 for the first time,” says the shop’s founder, Stas Gaivaronsky. “And after an hour’s walk in Tbilisi, I fell in love with this city. I want to live here, not in Moscow anymore.”
Russians planning to stay
According to Transparency International, after the war started more than 15,000 new businesses were registered in Georgia. Because of this, experts believe that Russians who fled their country are here to stay.
“Hundreds of companies are being registered on a single address,” says Beso Namchavadze, Senior Analyst at Transparency International Georgia. “There are even some villages, where up to three, or four hundred companies are registered in just a couple of months. It looks like a sham, they need those addresses for formal requirements. They want to stay here, some of them want to work, or set up businesses, but regardless, they are registering as individual entrepreneurs, this makes getting residence permit easier.”