BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Ia Iashvili, Ph.D., and her husband, Avto
Kharchilava, Ph.D., both assistant professors of physics at the
University at Buffalo, and their five-year-old son have now
returned to their Amherst home after escaping the conflict in their
native Georgia, where they were spending summer vacation with their
The family arrived in Buffalo on Aug. 15. Iashvili (first name
pronounced Ee-ah; last name pronounced Yash-vili) and Kharchilava
(first name pronounced Ahv-tow; last name pronounced Karch-ee-lava)
are available to speak with media about their experiences in
Georgia when fighting broke out between Russia and Georgia on Aug.
7. In the following question-and-answer interview, Iashvili
answered questions about the family's experience and their
Where were you when the fighting broke out earlier this
We were staying with our families at one of Georgia's beautiful
resorts in the Caucasus Mountains. We typically go back to Georgia
in the summer to visit with our families. We had hoped to spend
three weeks there. On Aug. 7, we started to see the news reports on
TV of the fighting in South Ossetia.
So you came to Georgia for your annual summer vacation and
you found yourself in a war zone. As you learned about what was
going on, what did you think?
It's difficult to describe. People were frantic, we were glued
to the TV. We hoped that the civilized world would react quickly in
support of Georgia's young democracy. We are just a country of 5
million people, not even as large geographically as New York State,
and Russia is a huge country with nuclear power. On Aug. 8, Russian
tanks invaded Georgia and their planes started bombing the entire
country. Everybody was shocked, it was surreal. We didn't know if
we should leave the mountains. It felt like no place was safe.
What did you do then?
For a few days, we stayed at the resort, but then we decided
that we should try to get all of our family members, some of whom
were in other parts of the country, together in Tbilisi, the
capital city. My husband's sister, for example, was in the western
part of the country, where they were bombing and there were Russian
ground forces there, too. On our way to Tbilisi, we had to pass
through Gori, a key city in central Georgia where roads were being
bombed. We knew we could be bombed at anytime but we took a chance
and started driving on Aug. 10. Luckily, we narrowly escaped bombs
near Gori and reached Tbilisi safely, but even in Tbilisi, we heard
bombs. It was mostly during the night. First you would hear the
sound of an airplane, then the bombs. It became obvious that things
were becoming worse. On Aug. 12, we attended a rally of 200,000
people in downtown Tbilisi with the main slogan, "Stop Russia."
Presidents from six European countries came and gave speeches of
support. By Aug. 13, we saw that the situation was not improving.
Because we had our young son with us, we had to try to leave. It
was very hard because our parents, brothers and sisters are still
We were scheduled to leave Tbilisi on a Lufthansa flight on Aug.
17, but Russians started bombing the airport facilities and the
major airlines stopped flying. On the 13th, a friend of ours took
the risk and drove us toward Azerbaijan; it took us an hour to
reach the checkpoint. When we entered Azerbaijan, it took 10 hours
to drive to the airport. We took a flight to Frankfurt, then
another flight to Geneva, then to New York and finally to
How did you feel when you arrived in Buffalo?
I wanted to kiss the American soil. You know, there are things
that the American government does that we do not always agree with,
but this is nothing compared with what the Russians are doing in
the 21st century.
Are you in contact with your family? What do they tell you
about the situation, now that the cease-fire has been
We communicate with our families by email and by phone. Things
are changing there so fast. Even after the Russians signed the
ceasefire, my family tells me they are burning virgin forests,
looting and destroying the infrastructure. The resort where we
stayed is burning. It seems like the Russian aim is to bring as
much damage as quickly as possible targeting the seaports,
airports, roads, railroads and factories. The other day, I spoke to
my mother and she said that they were mining the roads with bombs.
And a friend of my mother's told her that the Russians don't care
about their own soldiers. Some soldiers came to her house and they
said "we are so hungry." She said, "Of course we are against the
Russian government but these were teenagers, a 17-year-old boy." So
she gave them some bread and blankets.
Now that you have had some days to reflect on your
experience, why do you think this tragic event occurred?
I hope this will be eye-opening for the entire world. I think
this was allowed to happen because so many other countries depend
on Russia for oil and gas. The world has to find other strategies
for energy. Because of our profession -- my husband and I are both
physicists -- we work in very large international collaborations
and we have Russian colleagues, with whom we share many years of
friendship and loyalty. I really feel sorry for Russia. It's the
nation of Tolstoy and Chekhov and Dostoyevsky; they have a very
rich culture and many intelligent people. This country deserves
democratic government and change inside Russia should come from the
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