The invasion of Georgia gave Vladimir Putin a boost of confidence to invade Ukraine. Now the Georgians are taking care of his refugees

Under cover of darkness, Russian tanks rolled into unfamiliar territory and in a moment ended life as many had known it.

It was well before the winter invasion of Ukraine in early 2022. It was midsummer in another former Soviet state, more than 13 years earlier.

In August 2008, Moscow sent its military to Georgia to support separatists in two regions, South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Nikoloz Koberidze and Nino Tabatadze were among Georgians fleeing violence in the mountainous region of Ossetia, where they both grew up.

To this day they have not been able to return.

The area remains under the control of the Kremlin-backed breakaway leaders.

“There’s nothing left. It’s impossible to find our house. We hear that it was razed to the ground,” says Mr. Koberidze.

Ms Tabatadze recalls the months of violence and fighting that plagued her village in the run-up to the invasion, as the Georgian military fought Ossetian separatists.

“The slightest sound made me jump… We lay on the floor and waited for the gunfire to stop,” she says.

“We still want to return. We left everything there – our deceased, the bodies of our parents and grandparents. They are all there.”

The fiercest fighting between Russia and Georgia lasted just five days before a ceasefire was agreed.

However, some analysts say the deal “favoured Moscow” and the West’s weak response to the conflict emboldened Vladimir Putin to eventually invade Ukraine.

At the time of the August War, Putin had just completed his second term as President and was serving as Russian Prime Minister under President Dmitry Medvedev.

However, many Russia observers say that even from this lower position, Putin still pulled the strings.

“It’s going according to the same plan”

Today, Mr. Koberidze and Mrs. Tabatadze live with their daughter Mariam in a small house in the village of Tserovani.

The township was set up as a refuge for thousands of internally displaced people after the Russia-Georgia conflict.

A man, woman and young girl stand together in a garden and smile at the camera.
Nino Tabatadze, her husband Nikoloz Koberidze and their daughter Mariam, 8, have settled in Tserovani.(ABC News: Tom Joyner)

For them, seeing the horror of the invasion of Ukraine was a painful reminder of what they lost.

“The same thing is happening in Ukraine now as it is here. It works according to the same plan,” says Koberidze.