Amidst the increasingly shaky cease-fire between Ukrainian and separatist forces, another Georgian fighter has been killed in Ukraine, bringing the reported death toll of volunteers from Georgia to four.
Giorgi Janelidze, a self-described experienced fighter, was with the Azov Battalion, a pro-Kyiv volunteer grouping, when his position near the southeastern city of Mariupol came under fire from Russian-backed separatist forces, Georgian media report.
Scores of Georgians have been fighting in Ukraine to help quell Russian-aided separatism. Many Georgians take Ukraine’s struggle as their own and view Russian President Vladimir Putin as a common enemy. There is a Georgian Legion, a volunteer platoon made up entirely of Georgian nationals, most of them veterans of Tbilisi’s 1992-1994 war with separatist Abkhazia.
Shortly before his death, the 30-something Janelidze, apparently already suffering from a head-wound, and another Georgian fighter recorded a video-greeting for a Georgian friend being treated for his wounds in Kyiv.
Compared with the general Georgian public, the Georgian government has tended to keep public displays of its feelings about Ukraine’s struggle with Russia more tightly in check. In Kyiv at the time of Janelidze’s death, Georgian Parliamentary Speaker Davit Usupashvili, though, stressed the hopes for peace, and that Ukraine and Georgia will soon become members of a “peaceful, European family.”
In the past, Tbilisi, pursuing the seemingly conflicting goals of integration with the European Union and reconciliation with Russia, has tried to distance itself from the Georgian volunteer fighters in Ukraine.
When another Georgian volunteer, Aleksandre Grigolashvili, died in eastern Ukraine last year, the Georgian Defense Ministry claimed that ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili and his loyalists held responsibility for the soldier’s death by encouraging Georgians to get involved in the Ukraine conflict. The statement sparked an angry public outcry. Defense officials were accused of disrespecting the deceased by connecting his death to petty domestic political rivalry.
This time, Georgian Defense Minister Mindia Janeldze, smartened up by last year’s controversy, expressed condolences to Janelidze’s family and promised to facilitate the transportation of his remains to Georgia.