While the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues, many from the neighboring country of Georgia have flown there to fight alongside Ukrainians — including family members of one Georgian immigrant who now lives in Maryland.
Natela Tutberidze was 15 when Russia invaded her home country in 2008.
Many of her relatives died in the conflict.
“They all went to the war. And, you know, it was tough,” Tutberidze told WTOP. “The fact that you can receive a call that says, ‘Hey, this person die. And now this person die’ — it’s tough. Everywhere was bombs and everywhere was guns. And it was probably the worst nightmare that I went through.”
Her parents, who were already living in the U.S., quickly moved Tutberidze and her brother to Maryland. Now they run a Georgian restaurant, Tbiliso, in Cockeysville, Maryland.
Having experienced the shock and devastation of an invasion, Tutberidze has started to collect medical supplies for service members in Ukraine, but she said many of her friends and family that still live in Georgia have actually flown to the war-torn country to fight, including two of her cousins.
“Whoever is still alive from the 2008 war, it’s the same men that are fighting right now for Ukraine … They’re right beside them and they’re fighting with them,” she said.
Tutberidze couldn’t disclose their names or where they are headed for safety reasons.
She said her family members decided to head to Ukraine because they were reminded of the invasion that they faced and the desire to get more Ukrainian troops back to their families.
“They left their kids, they left their wives at home to go fight in 2008,” she said. “They’re feeling right now that they need to stay with the Ukrainian army in order for Ukrainian people to go back to their wives and their mothers.”
She added, “It’s scary. But at the same time, I’m proud of my people and I’m proud of where I come from. We might be small country, but we have a big heart.”