In the autumn of 2022 and spring of 2023, I spent two months in Georgia documenting the current tensions in the country, following the influx of Russian immigrants after the start of the war in Ukraine.
Since February 2022, many Russian immigrants have moved to Georgia. Some are availing of the relaxed visa requirements so they can leave Russia for a new life, while others are using it as a springboard to other European countries. Although the tracking is not accurate, as of September 2022 it is estimated that since the start of the war in Ukraine, more than 200,000 Russians have arrived in Georgia, a country with a population of just 3.7 million.
Tensions are high, the cost of living has dramatically increased and for many locals, the presence of the new arrivals brings back painful memories of the war in 2008. One person I met vividly recalled the Russian invasion of Georgia 16 years ago. She spoke of the terror she felt with the sounds of bombs in the distance and how her family fled to the mountains. She felt the pain of Ukraine, which was echoed all over the country.
Tbilisi was covered in graffiti that read “Fuck Putin” or “Fuck Russians”. The day after the conscription was announced in Russia, I witnessed a fistfight between two groups of men close to the Lars Checkpoint border crossing in the Kazbegi region of Georgia, the only land border between the countries. At a bar in Tbilisi, a 17-year-old Georgian pulled a knife on a Russian immigrant over what appeared to be a comment about a dog. Later that same night, someone told us that the 17-year-old had recently killed a man. As one person I met put it, “Georgia is a tank full of gas”.
Colin Aherne is an Irish photographer based in Berlin, Germany. He has previously worked at a photography gallery/festival as a Festival Coordinator, Gallery assistant and Board Member, ran an online photography magazine called Howl and volunteered as a darkroom assistant. Currently, he works on long-term projects that are a mix of personal, documentary and partially staged works, with a focus on place, connection and small stories within a larger context. As well as working on photography projects, he also makes music and at times combines the two, making an immersive experience of photography and music.