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Originally published August 12, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified August 13, 2008 at 12:05 AM

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Local Georgians protest

The Seattle area's Georgian community — small in size at maybe a couple dozen families — raised its voice forcefully Monday...

Seattle Times staff reporter

How to help

Relief for Georgians displaced by the war

Two Pacific Northwest-based relief organizations are raising funds to help Georgian refugees.

World Vision:

www.worldvision.org, 1-888-562-4453

Mercy Corps:

www.mercycorps.org; 1-800-852-2100

The Seattle area's Georgian community — small in size at maybe a couple dozen families — raised its voice forcefully Monday to condemn the Russian invasion that has displaced tens of thousands of Georgians and threatens to eviscerate an emerging democracy.

As Pacific Northwest-based relief agencies World Vision and Mercy Corps mobilized in and around the capital of Tbilisi to assist refugees, a group of about 40 people demonstrated in front of the Russian Consulate in downtown Seattle.

They held red-and-white Georgian flags and signs that read "Stop Russian Invasion" and "Russia is Destroying Georgian Democracy," while waving to honking motorists. Representatives of the Russian Consulate declined to comment.

Some protesters were anxiously awaiting word from relatives. Marika Abuashvili, 46, who attended the protest with her sons, said she couldn't locate her three aunts and their families. With her boys, Abuashvili came to the U.S. in 1992 as a refugee after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the conflict that ensued.

"Being a political refugee, this is a horrendous déjà vu," she said.

Over the weekend, the University of Washington's Office of International Programs & Exchanges canceled a four-week seminar visit to Georgia for a small group of students. The trip was to begin Aug. 25.

"Few countries offer the opportunity to witness and study the trials and tribulations of the transition to democracy and market economy that Georgia does today," a description of the seminar said.

Archil Kublashvili, a programmer with Microsoft who has accounted for the safety of his family in Georgia, said the Georgian community in the Seattle area is disparate, with no church or community center at which to congregate.

Kublashvili arrived in the U.S. as a student in 1994 and moved here for a job in 1999. Others sought asylum during the war with Russia in the early 1990s; others are married to Americans.

"People here need to wake up — this is fascism in the 21st century," Kublashvili said. "If Georgia folds, and no one helps us, Ukraine is next and then the Baltic States. There is simply no stopping of Russia."

Lia Shartava, who has lived in the U.S. for nine years, spent three hours Monday morning phoning friends and relatives in Georgia to make sure her 13-year-old daughter was safe. The girl lives in Tbilisi but was vacationing in the western part of the country and can't return home because the route back to the capital is blocked, her mother said.

"I'm so terrified she's going to be on a train and it starts bombing," she said.

Relief workers assigned to projects to help the developing country have switched their focus to assisting refugees.

World Vision, based in Federal Way, has been in Georgia since 1994, said Rachel Wolff, communications director for disaster response. Currently, 155 staffers — almost all Georgian nationals — manage several projects, including loans to poor entrepreneurs, HIV/AIDS prevention and support for disabled children and children living on the streets.

Wolff said the staffers have turned their attention to assisting refugees with food and other essentials. Some have gone to Tbilisi, which has a high concentration of refugees.

Wolff said that World Vision plans to recruit another 150 or so workers in Georgia and surrounding countries to assist in relief efforts.

Mercy Corps, based in Portland, has been working in Georgia since 2000, with 15 staffers currently, all Georgian citizens. The organization was in the process of hiring Georgians for a program to nurture peaceful and respectful interaction among youth of different ethnicities in the separatist province of South Ossetia, where the most intense fighting has occurred.

"It's sad to see any of our programs put on the back burner, but particularly when that program was trying to head off exactly what happened," said Joy Portella of Mercy Corps' Seattle office.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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