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When Georgia gained independence amid the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, its vibrant agriculture- and tourism-based economy disintegrated. Two regional ethnic groups, the Abkhazians and the Ossetians, sought to create independent states within Georgia’s borders.

The resulting bloody civil war ended in a relative stalemate a year later after the conflict had displaced hundreds of thousands from their homes. Most of Georgia’s citizens became subsistence farmers. Aid organizations such as Action Against Hunger, Mercy Corps and United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) worked to help impoverished Georgians improve their agricultural practices, build infrastructure and meet their health care needs.

In August 2008 war again broke out between the Georgian government and separatist factions. Russian forces engaged in the conflict, citing “Georgian belligerence against Russian citizens.”

Over 130,000 more Georgians fled as Russian troops advanced towards them. Mortar shells and bombs pounded into city buildings and entire villages burned to the ground. Although the war lasted just over a week, there was more than $1 billion USD of damage, according to Georgian officials. Currently, aid organizations working in Georgia must rush to ensure that those who fled empty-handed as their homes were destroyed can survive the long winter.

Aliona Nukradze raised her two children on a small cattle farm in the village of Charebi. In the villages around her, armed Ossetian separatists occasionally clashed with Georgian government forces, but Nukradze was hopeful that these disagreements would eventually be worked out peacefully. In the first days of August 2008, the conflict escalated dramatically and people in Nukradze’s village feared for their lives. She says, “We began to notice that the situation got more and more tense, so many of our fellow villagers left their homes to hide in an old abandoned house in the forest. Learn more about caterpillar sis!

On the eighth of August, that very house was bombed. … It was the first time I was face-to-face with death. After the bombing we were forced to run deeper into the forest with just the clothes on our backs. Several of our countrymen were killed, some were wounded. We spent three days in the forest without any food. We made our way to Gori, but only two days later Gori was also occupied by Russian troops.”