6 a.m. Dariali. Volunteer point at the border of Georgia and Russia. It hasn't dawned yet. The night shift of volunteers leaves their post and the morning one starts its work. The sun replaces the crescent of the moon. There are 4 people in our solar chariot: two volunteer girls, a driver and me. Taxi drivers crowded at the table where volunteers hand out hot tea, snacks, wi-fi, provide with first psychological aid to those who have recently crossed the border. Black eyes gleam from under the pulled hoods. They, like a crow flock, surrounded the table with convenience food and either furtively, or impudently pour themselves a tea constantly praising what a wonderful job we are doing. There is a completely unremarkable, lightly dressed, thin little man among them. By noticing me he gets up from the pallet on which he was sitting and begins to explain something to me in an aggressive tone, but I can’t make out what he’s trying to explain. His speech is some kind of mixture of Georgian and Russian. The night shift coordinator says pointing to him that this person is out of his mind and his behavior is aggressive. If he decides to cross the border, it will be necessary to call call the guard. The thought flashes: crossing personal borders without permission you can be detained, just like during illegally cross of the state borders. The little man continues to swear at me. I guess somehow intuitively that he does not like my beard or my long hair or my face in general. At some point, he disappears and then returns from the darkness, already with a stationery knife and an uncut cookie. He tries to wave the knife in front of me, but it doesn’t come out skillfully enough. Feeling that the knife isn't enough of a threat, he grabs my bottle of water and throws it on the asphalt. Does he want to cut my hair? I don’t get it. Taxi drivers are trying to persuade him to put down the knife, someone promises to get his knife, but for some reason he leaves in a hurry continuing to hang over out of the car. The little man disappears again. I change my clothes and purchase a name by sticking a badge on myself. At this moment, I get a hit in the back, thank God, not with a knife. This little man beats me and runs away checking what will happen. Nothing happens. I do not answer and continue pouring tea for a family that has just come up. A girl of ten years old enjoy the tea. I manage to notice her smile before being been strangled in front of her eyes. Strangling wrongly, non-skillfully. The man is dragged away. I go for the guard believing that my borders have already been illegally crossed. He drives him away and advises me to call 112 the next time. I thing inwardly that there is a possibility that I will not have time to call 112, so I pass the responsibility for this action to my companions. But the figure of the little man moves away into the darkness past the sliding trucks and passing cars and does not reappear. This is how my shift begins at the volunteer point at the Daryali checkpoint. When Putin announced mobilization, people began to flee en masse the country, there was a collapse on the land border with Georgia. Some people were stuck in traffic jam for seven days with a minimum amount of food and water, without the opportunity to sleep properly. Almost immediately Russian emigrants in Georgia began organizing help for people crossing the border now. At the beginning, it was a self-organizing movement. People created chats and collected donations themselves, handed over humanitarian staff on their own initiative. There were even daredevils who crossed the border and distributed aid on neutral territory at their’s own risk. There were also volunteers helping on the territory of Russia. Then the Emigration for action organization joined the Georgian movement. They improved the logistics and collection of donations, began to provide first psychological aid and also organized a humanitarian aid point in Dariali to meet and help those who had just crossed the border and did not understand why they were here. The tops of the mountains are being covered with sunlight. I notice It by stealth through the mobile phone of the person who is filming. The three of us work without raising our heads constantly pouring tea and boiling water in the «sim room» (that is how the volunteers called the place where people buy SIM cards and change money, and also sleep on the floor as it is the only heated room). And only after some time we realize that we serve mostly taxi drivers that becoming impudent drink their 5-th cup of tea. So for the first time we are faced with the main dilemma of all the volunteers being on duty here. You can’t refuse taxi drivers because it’s more dear to yourself to quarrel with the taxi driver mafia: they can initiate rising prices for visitors, they can just disturb or because of all this situation they can become angry with the entire «Russian people». But we also can’t deal with them instead of people who really need help. Until we find a profitable solution for this situation, we limit them and if they really ask, we answer to serve themselves. The sun is already covering the whole space, it’s getting warmer, we take off our jackets. I notice that my partner Polina is working in a stylish blazer. I inspect my jacket with long sleeves, faded with sweat spots, and leave for Polina a privileged seat at the table. Now it looks beautiful, only the music is missing. Some of the visitors remember the legend that during the reign of Saakashvili everyone who crossed the border was presented with a bottle of wine. I remember the Brazilian flower necklace. While waiting for the teapots to heat up I joke with Ariadne (the second partner) a stupid joke asking if she has forgotten her guiding thread to lead people out of the labyrinth of neutral territories. She laughs out of respect. For a long time we can’t figure out how to send the “humanitarian” to the “neutral”. Then we can’t find the time to do it. Finally, I go out onto the road with a piece of paper “Humanitarian aid to neutral territory” and with food packages. That is how I remember my past as a hitch-hiker when drivers responded easier to a destination card than to a thumbs up. I stand with a tablet and remember how a month ago I crossed the neutral zone myself, how I drove along it and laughed to myself that finally it’s anarchy, a territory that does not belong to any state. And now I hear what is happening in this territory, how much rubbish has accumulated on the roadsides, and I confirm my previous considerations: yes, anarchy, but now I mean the chaos that is happening there. Almost immediately after I entered the oncoming lane trucks start to cross the border and there are no cars that could deliver the cargo to the neutral zone. My idea fails and I return to work on the point. But then, as if by order, three guys appear. They say that they brought food and want to send them to the neutral zone, and ask how is better to organize this. I tell them about my idea with a piece of paper that didn’t work out. They take it into service, wait until the trucks pass and send their products and then our ones. After that, when it’s said in the chat that the “neutral zone” is more or less provided with food and water, but the “hell” is happening on the territory of Russia, these three honorary masters send help there too. When I ask them if the piece of paper really works so magically, they answer that not exactly, it’s more like a sales funnel that sucks drivers into it. Whatever that meaned, it worked. A driver in a suit is smoking and walking by the black minibus. He contacts me diminutively and offer to advertise cheap seats in his minibus. I agree. After that, every time I pass him he asks how things are going. I am not a very productive advertiser, so our business is not developing. The driver even offers to raise the price of a seat and give the difference to me. I don't agree. I explain that people need to leave as soon as possible and as cheaply as possible. But the driver continues to call me diminutively. Once again I promise to advise visitors of his services. People coming to the point are in different and opposite states. Someone picks up food silently and concentratedly, almost not answering questions; someone, on the contrary, needs to speak out and food is not required at all. Others are shy to take anything saying that they do not deserve it, that they are on their feet only for 2 days and somewhere people stand for seven. Sometimes large families come up. We give them baby food and diapers. Children are happy with kinders, sneakers and coloring books. Sometimes lonely bikers or cyclists drive up. One biker from Kherson sits with us for a long time waiting for his friends. He says that he is leaving to visit his son and then will return to Ukraine. We laugh with him when a foreign journalist not realizing that he is Ukrainian asks why he left his homeland. He says: «It rumbles. It’s difficult to sleep». Mostly visitors come to us in a certain euphoria of liberation: they rejoice, thank, offer help. Only one couple sits clearly lost. Because of lack of sleep they don’t understand where to go and they don’t have enough money for a taxi. Therefore, by coming up to us, they immediately ask if it is possible to pitch a tent here, but we persuade them to go to Tbilisi. The guys who have a some free places in the car help, and Polina offers them an overnight stay in her Tbilisi apartment. So they could sleep and take conscious decision. Sometimes we stop passing buses with passengers and like robbers break into them and throw packages with humanitarian aid: «Quickly take bananas in your hands and refresh yourselves», — we joke with our partners after another such outing. The sun is already shining hot enough so that it becomes hot, sweaty and sticky. A man with big eyes runs up to me, says: “Let's go, let's go, there is a camera…”. I refuse thinking he is a journalist, but he drags me along and point at the surveillance cameras. “Look, on September 21, here is the teapot and she says that this is her one”. When he says "she", he means Ariadne, who brought her teapot to the shift. But either she messed up and used their teapot, or they did. As a result of this dispute which has been going on for an hour now, tired Ariadne says that she is giving them this teapot. But a man with big eyes does not need a teapot, he does need a justice. He does not admit that he is taking someone else's teapot, but he wants Ariadne to agree that this is his teapot. “I don’t need someone else’s things. And she also says, take MY teapot, but I don’t need someone else’s one”. In general, from time to time, we start to annoy local workers and get refusals and scandals, but other people open doors for us. We are forbidden to boil the teapot in the "sim room», but instead a convenient platform is built nearby and an extension cable is thrown through the window. It is forbidden to draw water in the toilet as this interferes with taking a shower, but but they give a bottle and show a spring where this water can be drawn without obstacles. We are forbidden to stand in our place because we interfere with the truck passage, but the store employee promises to fence off a space a bit closer to the checkpoint where we can stand up and will not disturb anyone. And we are moving. Taxi drivers fly after us and surround our new point. Some of them help to bring packages. F person with big eyes helps to carry tables. A store employee gives us a table and a rack from the stock. He says that he gives it to use till the end of this situation. We are transforming the area, it becomes bigger and more comfortable. Now it is not just two tables with a huge amount of packages, but a whole fortress of humanitarian aid. The side walls are protective metal cables and the front one is built of tables, the rack and water bottles. But even into this fortress taxi drivers make their way shouting out fares to Tbilisi. While we are moving, the next shift of volunteers arrives, then other guys bring humanitarian aid of their own free will. I remember them pulling suitcases with food out of the car. They open them and I see columns of neatly stacked chocolates strapped with straps. If you count everyone, there are about fourteen volunteers working at the time of the shift change. The work is so productive that our shift overworks for four hours because it’s addictive. Every time new tasks give strength and desire to continue. Each product now is at its place, bags of products are sent to “neutral”, rubbish disappears from the roadside. We talk, listen, give advice, reassure. Foreign, Georgian, Russian journalists spun around us: they interfere, film, ask questions, fly like bees collecting their journalistic nectar. A man with a beard was sitting here even before the arrival of our shift. He kept sitting and watching and he was sitting for so long that he noted all the metamorphoses that were happening to us and to our point. He pointed out to me that a taxi driver had stolen our blanket. He scolded us for being too kind to taxi drivers and they took advantage of it. He and I laughed at the fact that the journalists missed all the fun when the man strangled me. And he eventually pushed me into a conversation with taxi drivers and took part in it himself. We are reactively discussing with Polina the terms of the contract that we will offer, and two bearded men go out to negotiate with a crowd of taxi drivers. We express dissatisfaction with the fact that they consume so many products taking away humanitarian aid from those who really need it, that they become impudent, and so on. At the end of our speech, we offer a verbal contract: they run to the spring for water and boil it when it’s necessary and then we pour tea for them for free and treat them with non-deficit products. Silence hangs in the air. Someone move away laughing. I’m thinking that the wave of the famous Georgian indignation is about to rise. But the majority of drivers suddenly begin to ask where the teapots are, where the water is and they run to boil tea. They grab some rags and start washing the tables and the rack confessing that they all understand that we're doing a great job. And at the end of the shift of one volunteer the taxi driver drops him off to Tbilisi for free. So, we are gaining another 5 volunteers. However, to be honest, this agreement did not survive for a long time. When we left, from the indignant messages in the chat I realized that the taxi drivers had returned to their previous behavior again. A cyclist who is going to return to Russia drives up to us in the midst of the activity of taxi drivers. She asks if she can help by taking something to “neutral”. We give her something rare and not heavy like chocolates. Hearing that she is returning to her homeland journalists pounce on her and ask questions. I’m also interested, but I do not have time to hear her answers. At this moment we are allowed to go straight to the checkpoint itself, to the «lattice" where tired people are standing waiting for their relatives and not knowing about the existence of our point. We bring tea and snacks there. At the first police post I notice a short-haired journalist in a sweatshirt “Russian ship go fuck yourself”. She is a foreigner speaking to the camera. To get to the checkpoint itself, we must get into the shot. In the frame we go fuck ourselves. With some part of my brain I realize that it’s a good composition: the journalist stands against the background of lonely wandering people in red vests with thermoses. I agree that the ship must go down, but nevertheless we try to get out as many people staying being human as possible. After four hours of overwork we are no longer ourselves. We literally drag ourselves by the hair from the our point which sucks and sucks in new tasks. But we understand that if we rework now, we won’t be able to work later. By the hair, we put ourselves in the car and go back to Tbilisi. The sun is going down. Through my sleep I hear the driver looking for an apartment for her friend who crossed the border with a training sword and shield. I hear jokes about the fact that there must be a person who crossed the border on a horse. The driver talks about the coliving the owners of which decided to let everyone in need go there, and now so many people live there that you have to sign up to wash your clothes. I hear a story about a tattoo artist who does tattoos in the yard and about a hairdresser who does his job in the same place. I hear endless stories of kindness and help. I fall asleep, my eyes lose focus. I fall asleep, mountain landscapes turn into paints smeared on the palette. I fall asleep and dream of waking up in my apartment in St. Petersburg driving away objective reality like a slumber.
Us: two children, me and my husband. We were thinking about what to do after the announcement of mobilization for a very long time. There seemed to be no way out. Plane ticket prices skyrocketed the very next day. As a result, I came up with an idea to fly to the city which is not far from the border of Georgia, and from there by land transport [to Georgia]. With help of our acquaintances, we agreed that a driver would pick us up at the border with Georgia and get us through the border for 40,000 [roubles]. We bought plane tickets for 36,000 for all of us to Mineralnye Vody. We arrived there at 19:40. There, at the airport, we wanted to take a taxi, but the manager said that there were no available cars a the moment and the waiting time was two hours. We went out into the street. While my husband was trying to call a Yandex taxi, one man approached us first and offered to take us to Vladikavkaz for 30,000. We said that we would think about it. He left his number and went away. Then another person came up and said that he would take us there for 4,000 rubles. Of course, we quickly agreed. He said that he could take us to the checkpoint [only] because vehicles with non-Ossetian license plates were not allowed into Vladikavkaz already at that time. And from there we would need to walk for 3 kilometers on foot and find another car that will take us to the beginning of the traffic queue [before the border]. It was already night, so our two small children fell asleep in the car immediately. Finally, we managed to pass through so we didn't need to walk. We found a car with Ossetians, and while we were switching our transport, the taxi driver we were coming with, advised us to look for adults who would take pity on the children and would not take a lot of money in good conscience. We quickly took the children and ran to another car. And just when we split apart, I realized that my phone was nowhere to be found. It turned out I left it there in the first car. Via geolocation, my sister found out that my phone was going in the opposite direction, but it was impossible to get through because the sound was turned off, plus it wasn't charged enough. Nevermind, let's move on. On the way to Vladikavkaz, we picked up a friend who had arrived there on another plane. At the same time, we thought about how to go on: through the mountains and arrive within 7.5 km before the border, or along the usual road and at the end of the traffic jam, which is 25 km before the border. We decided to go through the mountains, as it was too long and too cold to drag the children through the night. The Ossetians with help of their acquaintances somehow drove through the traffic police along a closed road. They were driving through the place where Bodrov died. For this ride, they took 20 thousand rubles. When we arrived at the place it was already 1 AM. Mountains all around us and very chill weather, only 7 degrees. Although when we arrived at Mineralnye Vody it was quite warm. As far as we could, we warmed the children and redistributed the suitcases. One child was in a stroller, and the other was in my arms. My husband had two suitcases and a stroller (one 25 kg, the other 13). We often stopped to rest, because it was too hard to drag our stuff. The road was uneven, with large stones here and there, sand, mud, and somewhere you had to bypass cars. There were some guys who wished us good luck and one girl in the car who called us to warm up when she saw us with children. Sometimes we changed, and one of us carried one child on our shoulders, changed suitcases, etc. It was very difficult. At about 5 o'clock we came to a place where the border was already near. There was one store/cafe with a huge queue, a tent with coffee, and a toilet. There was a sign saying that there was a mother-and-child room, but in fact, there was none. So I had to breastfeed the baby in the restroom. There was already little food left, a couple of baby purees and some cookies. We searched for a car to get into [to pass the border]. A lot of people were walking. [Drivers with] minivans offered transport [through the border] for 45,000 per person, it was too much for us. In the end, we didn’t find anything, so we went back to the minivan which took us on board for 40,000 for each adult, and children for free. We were so insanely exhausted, the kids wanted to eat and sleep. There were 4 other guys there besides us. The Georgian driver went and agreed with the traffic police that he would drive right through the traffic jam. For this, he gave 10,000 [to the police] for each person. We turned around and stopped. Even being 300 meters from the border, we practically did not move. Then my husband took out our passports and for some reason one of them was a slightly different color. He opened it and it turned out that I'd messed up and taken the old cancelled passport instead of the new one with me In shock, we told the driver about this and got out of the car, thanks god he returned the money. Our friend moved on. I walked back in tears. The only phone was discharged. We decided to walk to another store, charge the phone there and think about what to do next. The wheels of the suitcase were worn out, we just dragged it along the ground. We were terribly tired of dragging all this and did not sleep all night. On the way, everyone asked if they[border guards] turned us around, seeing that I was crying and we were going back[from the border]. We got to this parking lot, where the store is. The queue there was in several rows and twisted around. But without food and water, it was impossible to walk. And we had to walk for 30 km to the city because due to traffic jams, no taxis could pick us up from there. So we got in line. My husband stayed with the children, I'm in line. I tried to ask to buy food with those who were at the beginning because I was afraid there would be nothing left when our turn will come up. I explained to the girl [in front of the line] our situation and started crying, but she did not agree to let us through. She said to ask someone who is closer. I approached two more girls and they also refused me, saying that they had been standing there for 3 hours. They suggested asking the men. But I gave up and went back to the end of the line. Stayed for a very long time. Constantly someone was trying to get in line or something, but I had the feeling that the queue did not move at all. I stood at the entrance to the store for an hour probably. Finally, after 4 hours, my angry husband came with crying children. I took them to my queue and that's when they[people in line] started allowing me to go ahead. Although there were only 7 people left in front of me, still there was a man indignant about why I took my children [with me]. And I thanked people that I moved on and justified myself at the same time. But I was glad that at least there would be some food for the children. We bought some water, cookies, bread and lemonade. On the street, another man asked for a diaper for his baby, they had been stuck in a traffic jam for several days and we gave him one. So, we had a snack, gathered our strength and set off. We began to go out onto the road and then a girl [shouted to us]: “Oh, but I remember you. I offered you to warm up" We talked to them and they decided not to go and return home, and at the same time agreed to take us to a hotel in Vladikavkaz. How happy we were! There were no places, but the administrator called another hotel, booked a room for us and called a taxi. We went there, ate some sushi and passed out at about 20:30 to sleep. I honestly thought that we would die of cold and hunger right there in the parking lot Now, of course, it’s funny to remember all this, but then it seemed that I ruined our lives with my mistake.
Well, the main thing I understood properly both while going to Georgia and being here for a few days -- is that you should send all your energy outside, and transform it into your body movement. During this time I often felt that it was unbearable. Sad/futile/scary but every time when there were a situation where I had to run/fight thugs/find a place or a person/find food or water, it turned out that the body has this power and when it moved from these sticky annihilating reflections to action the body starts to exult. I’ve been thinking that among other things protests in Russia, for instance, feel so hopeless because there it’s unclear what you should put your effort into. in traffic jams on borders there were situations when you felt like shit but there was a space for direct actions – towards help as well as towards fight. As for fighting thugs: the thing about the jam in Verchniy Lars: there are two road lanes towards the border, one oncoming, and one and a half roadside. On the right trucks go through a roadside. Then there are two rows of cars. They’re sitting in traffic. The jam is about 10-20 kilometers (at least, when we arrived there) Sometimes cars go from the border through the oncoming but the rest of the time the local cars are racing through it passing through the jam in like 10 minutes (whereas others stand there for days!!) and the passengers pay them big money, well, like 50, 80, 100 thousand. So on the last mile, these road hogs wedge into the common line. They get help from men with their faces covered, wearing camouflage and without insignia who split the line so that those who drove from the oncoming. Yeah, and of course, it was protected by the local DPS (traffic safety police) (now this shit is brought down or so according to the news). So it’s like thousands of cars slowly pass 10-20 km whereas around 50% of the traffic on the last kilometer consists of those who wedged through the oncoming. So naturally, they take their clients through the Russian border and come back to take new ones. At the moment when we made it to the last 2 km before the border, the cars were standing in 6 (SIX) rows in complete chaos. Then the sun had risen and now a miracle happened; the drivers suddenly rose, said “come on, stop that”, and told the DPS guys something like “what are you doing shitheads maybe you’ll do your job”, teamed up, created two tightly packed lines whereas the dudes from the oncoming were met by a crowd of people and simply not let in, I even think they put some kind of rocks so that no one would get ahead through the oncoming. And came to an agreement with the DPS guys that like “you can let 8 regular cars and okay, two Ossetian taxis at a time” That was really cool and even led to a slight likeness of movement but then by the evening when I was near the border I saw that once again no one controls anything and these rude men in camouflage kept screwing the entire line and also making millions. Got into it anyway, hustled with these men, and shouted something like "why are you letting them go! stay closer to each other!" to the cyclists but generally saw that the DPS guys actively support all this, and um the fight is lost again. Basically, everything there is built around that one dudes set up some fight but they move away towards the start of the line and the new guys in these places don't know that they can fight it yet. As you know, learned helplessness is our damn thing and I've got fricking tons of it; I was very happy that I managed to push it back even a little bit. Afterward, on the international before the Georgian border dudes from the line actually managed to organize a brilliant system for crossing the border to liquidate the blockage created by pedestrians and cyclists at the checkpoint where people rushed in chaotic crowds, and because of this blockage, the Georgians let one person at a time to the checkpoint. To do this they/we: 1.Freed up two lanes for cars and trucks to pass freely 2.Fenced off our pedestrian line with walls made of bicycles from left and right to minimize the number of those who get into the line from the side 3.Gave back a little bit and made the line less crowded, +-5 people per row 4.Controlled those who tried to get ahead of the line on foot through the oncoming: yelled with the whole crowd, explained politely why this is wrong, etc. it was hard (those with kids, etc. were allowed without waiting in line) Unfortunately, in this case, it depended on their honesty because a lot of people just told the volunteers to go to hell and kept doing. Well, I mean, because they could. The guys that came after me at night were saying that when they were there the situation radically went out of hand; people were going wild and breaking through out of turn ignoring all the attempts of others to tell them that it’s not okay. Well, I think it even got to brawls. When I was there, nothing like that happened, probably, because when I was there, really neat guys, those who initially launched this system, were around and their system was mostly based on honesty and goodwill and trust and being ready to team up. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work, and not with everyone and not in all environments. Everything is much more difficult and dreadful at night. 5.Right before the checkpoint, we lined up into clear-cut rows of 5 with the help of volunteers and by ourselves whereas the volunteers counted 10 rows. It turned out that this whole system works because as soon as the crowd on the border dispersed and took clear shape within a few hours the Georgians now started to allow 50 people at a time! 6.The volunteers were going along the crowd collecting the empty containers and headed to the Georgian checkpoint to get water! 7.A couple of times someone needed a doctor and the message was spread through the crowd promptly and the right doctor was found 8.Right before the border, I saw that the volunteers were already instructing new volunteers which they found back in the tail of the line; they were showing who is responsible for what, how they measured the right number of people, etc. That was when I cried for real. All in all it was really touching as a picture of a certain alternative Russia where people can negotiate and solve real problems together. Well, we also resembled the alternative Russian army especially when 50 people started to form a line. It’s like hundreds of men (there were mostly men) who chose not to go to war and who can do something together just like this.
We drove forward and stumbled upon policemen three more times. First-time cops stopped us right away and asked us to pay 20000 rubles or else we would have to go to an auto pound and stay there indefinitely. When we started driving behind a policeman to the auto pound some local guy with a hidden face drove up to us, said “follow me” and then fled into some dark bushes. We remembered what a fucked up situation it was. Our driver was shocked too, trying to choose; he decided to drive through these bushes as well. A mere miracle happened then: we simply rode out back to the road passing by the cops like in “The Blues Brothers” movie. It is as if the policemen are just hypnotizing people. They are not restricted in movement, they willingly stand and wait to give in their money. The second time they stopped us right away as well. Now they told us to drive a little bit further and wait (to make us give them our money, obviously). We drove a little and then our dude [driver] despite the risk of his license being suspended, returned the car, drove through a double line and we passed the cops in the opposite direction. The third time we wanted to go by an uncommon road but we were told that there was a block station and they would not let us out. Some drivers in cars with local numbers offered to take us in exchange for 30000 rubles but we didn’t go for it. After that, I didn’t notice how we got to Vladikavkaz and unnoticeably we drove through it and arrived at the end of the queue (around 21 kilometers to the border). It took us 23 hours. So, It had been 23 hours already and we were at the end of the queue. Our local driver left us, taking less money than we originally agreed on. He wasn’t able to get us through the short path as it was closed. Our main driver said that we could take a nap for a couple of hours but our biggest chance ( was) the pedestrian border checkpoint. When I got out of the car to stretch my legs I met locals who offered me to jump the queue for about 10 kilometers for the price of 3000 rubles per person. We had a police blocpost ahead and the car of these locals stood after the policemen. And here the freaking agiotage of endless bribes got us: after figures of 20 and 30 thousands we thought that these 3 thousand per person were normal. Now I understand that it is still way too high of a price: 9 thousand for a 10 minute ride. But we were exhausted and agreed. After that we got out of the car and started walking. It was 10 kilometers to the border. Guys didn’t sleep the previous night (but I did! god bless Alia, Yasya and her grandmother) and Vladik had a case with movie devices, it was pretty rough. We walked for 6 kilometers and rode a couple more (we paid 3000 rubles for it). I was measuring the distance walked. Each 650 meters we had a stop so we wouldn't tire ourselves to death and still arrive at the border. At 4 o’clock in the morning of the 26th of September we were standing 2 kilometers away. I remember that there was a 6 lane car queue, the pedestrian border crossing was not still open and we didn’t have any bicycles. We began freezing and combined with sleep deprivation it resulted in an awful condition when you think that you are dying. We asked a woman to let us in her car so that we could warm up and she agreed to take us with her through the border for 15 thousands. // Oh hell, it has been three nights that I wake up in horrible anxiety and a wearisome fear. I’m always looking around trying to understand if we move, how far is the border , will we get through, will someone try to overtake our car and should we start taking our bags to start moving further. And only then I realize that I am in a room in Georgia and not in a tunnel before or between the borders. And still it takes several minutes to get out of this dreadful limbo. Shit I’m in another city, I’m in another country Now I’m going to continue my story about the borders. A week since my recollections seem expired and minor. It seems that I have lost the passion that I developed for a moment in the turmoil of Verhniy Lars. Regardless of that, I wake up every night and don’t understand where I am. The empty space of my room resembles the free spot in the queue before us that will be taken now. // Catching up, on the first night of our route having started at the Russian border checkpoint we arrived at the end of the queue. People that we would meet were spreading frustrating information about the borders. We heard that Georgia's border is closed for now, that there is a behemoth line in the neutral zone and that’s why they don’t let people in, that there are no bicycles left, that cars in front of the queue have no seats, etc. Nevertheless, Vlad and I started knocking at cars’ doors asking if they would let us in to get to the border or just to sleep inside. (Now I understand that we should have walked by foot for as long as possible before starting to look for a car. However, back then we didn’t know that these 2 kilometers would mean a couple of days of standing in the queue). Drivers in that area were morally down as they had stood in the same place for a long time already. Lol, I was even choosing cars driven by women because up to that moment had already stumbled upon several surly men and I was simply afraid of getting into another “situation”. In one of the cars passengers told me “I could get you in but what’s the point? we will stand here indefinitely, you better go further and try finding a car there. You seem like a cozy person, you will surely find a car.” Now I see that it was wise advice, however, I couldn’t just leave my guys behind with all their guitars and suitcases. Meanwhile, Vlad found a car with a woman named Nastya. She had her husband walk through the pedestrian checkpoint and he had already arrived in Georgia. She was so devastated to sit through this queue alone so even we were of comfort to her. We got into the car and I tried to fall asleep. My condition was horrible. I had a tremor because of all the anxiety, sleep deprivation, and cold. At that moment I thought that this should be the worst feeling in life one can have. In that context, all these feelings developed into a catastrophically hopeless feeling. I didn’t have a perception of myself as an alive person with goals in life. All the bullshit around me: the war, the mobilization, the border (not closed nor open), not knowing do they let you out of the country, and how to come back to it if necessary, all the “bandits”, cops, aggressive-sounding Ossetian slang all this combined in my head in a harmonic appalling feeling. Looking back at it now I realize that there was not that much endangering my health, but it all went down with the news about the referendums in the back and the collective thought that the borders would be closed shortly after. So basically I was feeling that the value of my life is at zero. In the morning I woke up, realized that we were not moving forward and I went out of the car to stay in a toilet queue. In the midst of me doing that the sun came up, also car drivers and policemen managed to split the queue into two little ones and the queue finally started moving. It was a liberating feeling but in reality in three hours we passed like 50-100 meters. The sun made me feel better, I took another nap, I ate, and went on a walk to the border itself to take a look at what we are to wait.
I'm Tanya. I crossed the border with my partner and my daughter. Our plane from Saint Petersburg arrived at Stavropol at September 25, then, having taken a taxi, we passed Mineralnye Vody (we changed three cars on our way even though all three drivers had been planning to take us to Lars). Getting closer to Vladikavkas, we took another car. Our fellow travellers were a man and his mom who were coming back home to Armenia from Krasnodar. Theh had no choice but to drive a car because at that moment there were no air tickets at all. The tickets available cost 400k+. Actually, while we were travelling to Lars, we met some people whose plans to leave Russia failed because of the air tickets' price. Though they couldn't even be affected by the moblization, they wanted to emigrate. At first, we didn't reach Vladikavkaz because the traffic police refused to let us there and turned us back. Our driver made a deal with some "local" (I'm not sure whether it's right to say that but I don't know any other options) that they would show us another way. So we followed the other car leading us across the highway which was North-Eastern to Vladikavkaz. I guess, it's one of the two most unforgettable and disconserning experiences of this whole story. We passed through five checkpoints and at every single one of them our car was stopped, its doors were opened and we were said we weren't allowed to continue our journey. After guys from the car in the front talked with the soldiers a bit we were finally let go. At one of the checkpoints a man in body armor, in a helmet and with a gun blocked our way. It was night and I was scared. I was happy, though, that my daughter was sleeping and didn't see all this. By the end of the night, we had reached the traffic jam and began moving closer to the border. The second unforgettable experience was going to the toilet with my daughter away from the highway. There were high mountains all around and there was a military base near the border. Apparently, there were some military and exercises and shooting going on. The sound of shooting was echoing from the mountains while we were looking for a pace to pee at. I was anxious to cross the border not only because my partner could have difficulties with the border guards but also because I was not sure my daughter would be allowed to enter another country without her father's permission. We crossed the border on foor - just before the pedestrian checkpoint opened we decided to do so. After crossing the Russian border, while going to the Georgian we saw a Starlink satellites between the cliffs. Back then nobody knew about them and I got a panic attack. Seeing something flying in air I thought: "Fucking old man has fired the nukes". The guys nearby quickly explained to me these were satellites and I calmed down. I also want to say that on both Russian and Georgian borders one rule appeared. It wasn't controlled by anyone, not even by the border guards. Those who had children with them were to cross the border first. Even if we were standing at the end of the queue people asked to move forward, not minding it. It really helped us - my daughter had a stomach ache. Thanks to this, we passed all pedestrian checkpoints quickly. The car we were travelling in crossed the border a day after we had. We also met other migrants from Moscow while driving to Vladikavkaz - they wrote they couldn't enter Georgia because one of their passport had expired and on their eay back they were attacked. I'vegot another thing to mention: while we were stuck in the traffic jam we saw this infamous armored personnel carrier but back then we already new about a military base nearby. That's why noticing those soldiers wasn't anxious for me but watching them standing over this machine in some mannered poses was even funny. In genefal, the whole journey felt like delirium in a dream - especially a night when I saw guns and soldiers. But, after all. I don't think it was hard.
Prologue When we finished our business in Petersburg, us, me and Pavlik, we packed our stuff into huge backpacks and headed to my dacha, taking our cat Gosha with us as well, to establish a creative union there, so no one would distract us like it could be in the city. On our way there in the morning we realized that the partial military call-up had started. I thought back then that it’s good that we are leaving now, it would be hard to find us there. During the first days after we arrived we had some rest, went to sauna, ate some delicious garden treats, did some gardening and were constantly reading the news. In a few days Vlad was supposed to come visit us, bringing some equipment to compose music for my cartoon, and I suddenly decided to call him and to clarify when should we meet him. And Vlad responded with in a very concerned voice told me that he’s not going to come to us – instead he will collect his travel passport from the Finland Visa centre (without the visa issued) to leave the country immediately. This was so unexpected for me - another close friend is going to leave the country where it is anyways almost no one left to stay. To completely process this and to make a decision it took me five minutes. At that time we went to a small town close-by with my dad in a car to buy groceries for the week ahead. So I was there standing by a grocery store, smoking a cigarette with Pavlik, discussing possible options, when I started checking the tickets. Dad came out of the grocery store and I briefly explained him that there are some rumors about that the borders will be closed on 28th of September and that we most probably have to return already tomorrow back to the city and to search for options how to leave the country. Dad didn’t say much and we quietly drove home, slightly above speed limit. When I was at my laptop I of course didn’t see those cheap tickets to Georgia for 12,000 rubles, and then I also understood that it looked like some kind of a clickbait. By the evening situation with the prices did not become any better, but we were optimistic and spent this evening together with our parents talking about everything. We didn’t want to think that this could be our last talk. Nevertheless, this evening was way better than any family celebration. It was a lot of revelations we hid from each other. And in a very kind mood, we went to our beds late after midnight. In the morning, I quickly packed my backpack with the most necessary things, leaving the most of my belongings at the dacha, and we went to Petersburg by train. Since that very moment there was a constant From that moment on there was constant tension inside due to not knowing what would or could be waiting for us in the city and what was ahead of us. In the city we talked to the taxi driver on the way from the train station to our home, about what was going on and who had received a notice paper, where and how. Passers-by seemed to understand everything, nevertheless they tried to remain calm, as if nothing at all was going on. At home, I monitored tickets all the time. I looked at options to fly to the most unthinkable countries, anywhere you can go without a visa and where they allow to enter now. In addition to that, I came up with other options. Right up to going all the way south across the country in Vlad's Volga 24 (jumping slightly ahead, I am very glad that we did not take such a decision). Nevertheless, there were no options. Or rather there were tickets for unthinkable money. The whole time we were deciding where to go, we kept changing our minds about how to do it. Literally we could change our minds 10 times a day. In the end we settled on the option of flying to Grozny and then thinking about how to get to the border. This plan suited us because it was at least the quickest way to the south of the country. There was also an option to fly to Minsk. It was the cheapest option. But luckily I was dissuaded from it, because then reports started coming out that their police were working together with our police there. So we finally bought tickets for 7300 rubles with a connection in Moscow. All that was left to do was wait. And even in the meantime we had doubts about the right decision. We were thinking about an additional plan. There were four of us to go: me, Pavlik, Vlad, and his friend Artem. The morning before the flight, I called Vlad to see if he had picked up his passport. Not yet. They say at 4-5 o’clock. And by 5, we're already to leave the house. And Artem couldn't stand it after all and refused to take part at all... Nerves. We bought the cheapest tickets, but with hand luggage not more than 10 kg. Therefore it took lots of time to collect my backpack. I chose only the essentials. In the first place everything for work: laptop, earphones, microphone, tablet, hard disks, records - all this took up half of the backpack. And we need at least some more stuff. As a result, the backpack stretched to its incredible size and began to weigh more than 10 kg. I took a cloth bag where I put some more things and the basic necessities for a long term trek. I thought that if they start picking on me I would just stuff it in my pockets and put my clothes on top of everything at the airport and be like Superman with my underpants on top of my pants. I fed the cat, sat on the bench in the yard, went to the store, exchanged rubles, gave out the keys to the house - everything like it's for the last time. And we order a taxi... PIGGY PIGLETS ARE LEAVING THE COUNTRY It happens that when you have to go somewhere, everyone around you acts as if they are purposely slow. And so it was this time. When I ordered a taxi and saw the driver's picture, I immediately thought that the trip would be very slow. And so it was. The driver was driving too accurately, no more than 50 km/h. And he accelerated up to that 50 not faster than a pedestrian. A little worried that he understands why we are going to the airport, in the conversation we even had to lie a little, that we don't care about the whole situation and we are just going on a long- awaited vacation. Then he started driving already 60. But all my worries were in vain. I had completely forgotten that I had planned my departure in advance and plus a little bit more in advance in case any of the guys were going to be late. Got so stoked that at the airport I even got in the wrong line to check in for the flight an hour before ours. After exhaling a bit and realizing the flight was still 2 hours away, we went out to eat and stuff. At the airport no one molested us and boarding went smoothly. First flight to Moscow. Sheremetyevo. I heard a lot of negative talk about this airport. I do not know, maybe it was just a coincidence, and maybe it is really this there all the time. After getting on the bus from the plane to the terminal we got stuck in traffic. You know, it’s Moscow))) We were stuck in the traffic jam for about 10-15 minutes, because the workers were fixing some kind of cable and we had to bypass them on the oncoming traffic lane. And so we bypass them and then stop to disembark. 10 meters before that, of course, we shouldn't have been dropped off. Everyone would have run away in confusion. It was here that I felt for the first time the beauty of traveling lightweight. Without any expectation of luggage arrival, we left the airport. The plan was to take ground transportation, but Vlad was not well, so we called a taxi to Domodedovo for 2500 rubles. We were in no hurry, because the next flight was at 6 am, and we even told the driver about it, but he was in a hurry somewhere, apparently. It took us an hour to get there. At the airport we hung around again, there was the exhibition of vintage cars, ate, drank some beer for the trip. We waited. We waited some more. Constantly monitored the chats about what was happening at the border. Vlad chatted with a guy who was also flying to Grozny. We decided to get together. We got to know each other. I managed to get some sleep, about an hour. Being a bit late, we went to board the plane. As we boarded the bus towards the plane we sensed where we were going. Two half-drunken Chechens, about fifty years old, came in behind us and one started talking loudly, so that we could hear him, about how they were going to conquer us Russians. We pretended that we could not hear this. We had a task in the next few days to finally get rid of it all. On the plane was also not without incident. Pavlik's seat was occupied by a girl who was not in her seat or even in her row. After a little talk with her and seeing that she is building a look of bewilderment on her face, as if she does not understand how this could happen, Pavlik agreed to take her seat. I walked over to my seat and there was some man sitting there too. He wasn't old, but he had a grey beard. He looked like Ivan the Terrible. A dialogue ensued as to where one would sit, he answered as if rudely, but then he smiled and offered to do the right thing. I understood that this is a normal situation and normal conversation is such, and not even rude. Flight took 3.5 hours, it was uncomfortable to sleep for me being this tall. Rather dozed off. We left the airport and then I saw what Chechnya was like. Actually, after 50 meters from the airport there were no more trees, there was nothing else. Fields and nothing else. A lot of billboards with Akhmat and three billboards saying that it was Putin's birthday soon. The guys said that we could see Grozny, namely the high-rise buildings, but I must have missed it. Our new traveling companion Artem said that he had made a deal with a taxi driver, whom he had found in the chat room, and that he would take us as close to the border as possible for 15,000 rubles. After a little discussion with him about the route, what we could expect, some backup plans, how best to behave in different situations and other things, we set off. On the way Khalid told us about life in the region, about the neighboring areas, a bit of history, and showed us where the newly formed traffic police stations were and where he had been stopped on previous occasions when he had driven away people just like us. We made all sorts of manipulations with the passing cars and passed all the checkpoints, where there were usually two policemen and two militaries with submachine guns. It seemed that we were very lucky, because Khalid himself was surprised. The stories we had read in the chats gave us the feeling that we would be stopped everywhere and would have to give out money, under threat of a U-turn in the opposite direction. We even invented a legend, memorized in detail, stating that if we were stopped we had come to see Grozny, and now we were going to Magas airport in order to take a flight to Moscow. It didn't come in handy. As we approached Vladikavkaz, Khalid again performed a deceptive maneuver, letting cars with local license plates go ahead in order to get behind them and skip the checkpoint at the entrance to the city. As he said, the officers there are the meanest. We even put the more bearded of us all up front and Khalid gave him his sunglasses. It didn't work... At the very last moment a police inspector manages to pull us over. We saw no point in bullshitting him, so we answered as we were, that we were going where we were going. Here we go. He immediately said that we would not get there under any pretext whatsoever. The conversation was quite long. I absolutely did not want to listen because there is nothing interesting in such conversations. As usual one pretends to be not interested in anything at all and the other tries to beg. A conversation between a deaf and a mute. Around, local men in cars with the letters 'Z' on them were offering us their services. Someone was offering to buy bikes 'two for fifty', someone was offering to drive us straight to the checkpoint for the same unthinkable fee, just because he knew the inspector and he would let us through in his car. At the same time we stood back from the imposition of services and thought about what to do next. There were not many options. The most real option was to go around the checkpoint through the cornfield. We finally decided to turn around in Khalid's car, drive 500 meters away, catch a car with local plates and drive through the checkpoint and Khalid would pick us up afterwards, driving past the checkpoint empty. So we did. We caught a Priora that was tinted to zero. Another guy was put in the front and given sunglasses too. We drive. They pull us over again. 'Inspector so-and-so, your papers' - he says to the driver. He looked inside: "Ah, these are our Georgian acquaintances", smiled, "Get out of the car". Asked for our passports. And that was just our biggest mistake. The understanding of what we did came to us almost immediately. Then there was this dialogue: - Who's in charge? - We're not in charge. - Don't you two know each other? - We know each other, it's just that everyone's equal. * looking at passports * - Piganov, come here. We're going to talk * The oldest one among us has been chosen * They were talking, but they didn't agree on anything. It took about 20 minutes after the second stop. Finally they started to agree on something. We didn't want to give them any money as a matter of principle. At the end just talking that everything is solved with money and the issue was resolved: - We understand that we can't solve anything right now without money, but we only have money left for food. - Not everything is about money - Well, we can see you didn't just stop us and keep us here, so it's only money. - Imagine not! He gave us our passports and told us to walk five kilometers further, there would be a café where we could take a taxi for 200 rubles and drive it to the border. He wouldn't let us go back because 'the local Muslims will kill you, and I don't need it’. At least that's how it is. We continue walking, thinking that we had left food, water and some things in Khalid's car. We hadn't even gone 500 meters when Khalid stopped abruptly, jumped into his Camry like a paratrooper and rushed forward. Those same cops overtake us and stand in front of us after a traffic light. They get out. Khalid turns right in order to avoid passing them again and here we are in Vladikavkaz. Or rather, a billboard informs us that the town is now called VladikavkaZ. We went to the local Sportmaster shop to buy sleeping bags and sleeping poles, because conversations in the chat rooms had been going on about people standing for 10 hours to get across the border. We bought Ossetian pies, which turned out to be insanely delicious. Then there was one last checkpoint on the way out of Vladikavkaz. We passed it without stopping. All in all, we were really lucky to pass this way without spending too much on extra people. Khalid took us to a traffic jam, the beginning of which was blocked by policemen, not allowing anyone to stand in it. We said goodbye to the wonderful man Khalid (by the way he still writes to me constantly asking how we are doing), said a thousand kind words to him, promised that if he were ever in St. Petersburg, if we were to come back, he would visit us any time and feel at home at our place, we paid him, had some pies and went on foot up the hill to the border. We covered the distance of ~16 km in about 4-5 hours. We walked intensively. For all time we had only one break for a snack. We saw a lot of things and people: cars with volunteers, sellers of bicycles, gasoline, sunflower seeds, a lot of bikers who were taking people with huge suitcases up to the border zone for exorbitant money, policemen in cars escorting the cars to the border zone oncoming traffic for even more exorbitant money, crying children, crying mothers, playing children, cars on the cable without gasoline and the military post formed the day before our arrival there. At the last one the military stood with people in civilian clothes, asking everyone to show their passports. When asked where we were going I cheated and said a phrase to him (I will not say what it was because it was personal), to which he even stopped looking through my passport. He replied that in this case he had no further questions for me. Hoses with drinking water constantly on were stretched out from the rare houses in the area. At about 5 p.m., we ran into a pedestrian traffic jam. At that time already a day our border guards allowed to cross the customs control on foot. Before that, only by bicycles. Even scooters were turned around. There were absurd cases. For example, how two people tried to cross the checkpoint on the same bicycle. The border guard allowed them if they showed how they were riding two on the same bike. Or how someone crossed the checkpoint with a three-wheeled children's bicycle. In general, of course, we later regretted not looking for bikes at an adequate price, because they were passed with a passport stamp like cars, but the cyclists had an advantage over everyone else. They stood in their own separate queue, bypassing both cars and pedestrians. After two hours in the pedestrian traffic, we got about 15 meters further. Our new friend Artem said he would go and see what was ahead. And then he disappeared. We thought he might have cut in at the very beginning and gone the fastest. And that's how it turned out. He called us about 6 hours later and said he was already on the Georgian side. I got very angry at him. I immediately forgot all our agreements to meet up in Tbilisi sometime afterwards for a beer and to discuss our journey. The distance to the checkpoint itself was short. Maybe a kilometer or two, but there were a lot of people. They let in about 50 people per hour. It was nighttime. Everyone had nothing to do but start chatting, getting to know their neighbors in traffic. There was a guy behind us, who kept talking about all kinds of silly stories, then all kinds of theories, then jokes (that was the worst part), then riddles, then stories again, then philosophical stuff, then something about space, about the structure of planets, and again about space. At about 5:00 a.m. I realized I couldn't even sit still. I tried to sleep sitting up. It didn't take very long, because the queue was rarely, but it moved per about 30 centimetres. We approached the wicket of freedom. Immediately people began to organize themselves, who would not let those who bypassed the queue and tried to cut in. And there were plenty of such smartasses. It would seem that you go to another country to leave all the bad things in this one. And you should not behave this way. But, unfortunately, not only good people left. I got an idea about self-organization which our country needs so much. That you don't need a leader to unite. People in line united against such detours because of one idea. I have to say that it wasn't particularly cold at night. I was wearing just a sweater. But the wind was blowing hard all the time, kicking up dust and sand. And when it started to get light, everyone saw how dirty they had become. People didn't care about that anymore. The main task was still here. So close and so far away. Already 5 meters before the checkpoint everyone was asked to line up in lines of 10 people. Those in the queue controlled the issue by pulling a rope to make sure everything was correct in terms of the number of people. And now I have three lines in front of me, two, one... We go to put the stamp in the passport. The border guard only asks the purpose of the visit. I told him the same thing as I told him the day before when they were checking my Russian passport. He looked for something in the computer for a minute. The second border guard outside, standing next to me shouted to him 'Well, is there anything? The first one silently shook his head, stamped and handed me my passport. With a sense of tired joy I wandered off to the side to wait for the lads. Everybody passed. The task had been completed. And it did not matter what awaited us next. The main thing was that from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. we stood in line and entered the neutral zone. Having rested for a while, we moved on. Ahead of us was a tunnel in which it was impossible to breathe. At the entrance some enterprising men offered to buy masks. We did not even ask how much they cost. For sure they cost as much as the budget of the whole Georgia. Halfway through the tunnel I remembered that I had a coronavirus mask somewhere and I had it with me just in case there was a new wave. But I did not want to stop in this dusty, polluted dark tunnel and look for it at all. Just so you understand, there was a very old paved road and even a sidewalk. But it was completely covered with sand and people with big suitcases on wheels tried to move through it and raised dust clouds. We tried to walk quickly, making our way between the parked cars. The tunnel was not very long - about 350 meters - but it was difficult to get through because of the lack of space. Once out of the tunnel we entered a new queue of people. This time it was already moving towards the border zone of Georgia. This queue was already moving much faster. Exhausted people were lying down on a small meadow in order to get some sleep. Volunteers appeared again, handing out some kind of food. People took it, but reluctantly. I decided for myself that if I eat, then I would want to sleep even more and this would delay me. There was also a dump of bicycles. Some were picking them up, fixing them as best they could to carry their heavy bags on them further. Some were ripping out the shifters, brake triggers, and other valuable attachments from the broken ones. Some of them were reassembling two broken ones into one. Many enterprising guys took bikes, which they then sold right after the checkpoint on the Georgian and Russian territories. Pavlik and Vlad decided to get some sleep. It seemed to me they slept for 15-20 minutes, but they thought more. When they woke up they did not understand where they were for a while. There was another longer tunnel ahead. In front of it there was a man (as I understood he volunteered from the queue), who controlled the order of passing cars and the passage of pedestrians. As we were told later there was no such thing yesterday, people were going the same way as in the first tunnel, through the gassed and dusty environment. Thanks to the man, we got through the tunnel very quickly without disturbing anyone. A few more hours of waiting in line and we approached the new line with a rope. Everybody's nerves were starting to give out here. It was easy to spot the people who wanted to cut in now. Everybody who had been in line from the beginning had red eyes. Arguments began about who would be fairer to go through first. This caused the queue to freeze for a while. Maybe for two hours, I don't remember. Some man was led out around the queue under his arms. A woman had a psychological breakdown and was also let through. It so happened that Vlad and I went through the rope together, and Pavlik was a bit late. The Georgian border guard put the stamp without asking any questions at all. Just then a man who was being led under his arms was given some kind of medical assistance by doctors. We went to the lobby, where they immediately started offering us a taxi to Tbilisi for 5000 rubles per person. But Pavlik did not come out. We started to get worried. I remembered that he had told me about a small conflict with someone in the queue. The situation was a bit desperate. We didn't have internet, the only currency exchange office was at passport control, where we couldn't go back. The phone was dead and there were no outlets anywhere. We were offered free beer by a volunteer, but there was no time for that. I must have been fussing too much so a policeman came up to me and asked for my passport. Checked it, looked at my red eyes, gave it to me. Vlad paid for his phone and started texting/calling Pavlik - his phone was off. At the same time I was trying to figure out how to get a cheaper ride from here. The plan was to go to the nearest town Kazbegi, where I had been in summer, and there take a shuttle bus to Tbilisi. But there was not much time left. It was getting darker outside. The shuttle buses from Kazbegi are running until 6 pm. Vlad was constantly asking those leaving the border-crossing point who were standing in line with us if they had seen Pavlik. One guy said he had seen someone like that and that they were giving him medical attention. I thought he meant that man. But it turned out he wasn't... Vlad receives a text message saying that Pavlik has come online. He dials him and gets an answer. Vlad didn't realize who answered right away. The doctor answered. She said that they were going to take Pavlik out in an ambulance and that we should go and meet them. As it turned out, Pavlik was approaching his turn at the rope, felt he was shaking, he fell down and lost consciousness. His legs began to cramp. When the doctors regained consciousness he temporarily lost his memory. They gave him an anticonvulsant shot. It turned out they were the same doctors who helped the man. I don't know if they were there on purpose, but it's a good thing they were there at the time. - Do you remember who you are? - Yeah. - Was someone with you? - I don't know. - You're in Georgia now. - Which Georgia? - Your president started a war. - Whaaaaat? The doctors showed him me and Vlad, asked him if he remembered who we were. Yes, he does. The doctor told us everything. Asked where we were going now. 'To Kazbegi’. She offered to take us there for free. It was hard to think, so of course we agreed and got into the ambulance. We asked Pavlik about details of what happened on the way and how it happened. He said that he felt everything and before he fell down, he thought that now no one in the queue would believe him. They would say that he was faking in order to get through the queue quicker. And also, realizing that he was going to fall down, he put his fingers in his mouth to hold his tongue so as not to suffocate. We checked his passport to see if he had been stamped. It was stamped. The doctors brought us to Kazbegi right to the exchange point. They didn't take any money. We thanked them twenty thousand times, exchanged the money and went to eat urgently. Kazbegi is a small town, so I knew my way around there quite well, although it was already quite dark. We went to a nice restaurant with good food. Pavlik was prohibited to drink alcohol under threat of the death penalty. We ate a lot, got drunk. There were only Russians in the restaurant and all conversation was only about this crossing. Trying to keep up a conversation and not to fall asleep was becoming unbearable. I went to find a taxi driver, negotiated over the price and warned him that we would definitely fall asleep. He said that we should definitely get some sleep and he would try to drive more carefully. We got in the car, I said something to the taxi driver, blinked and we were in Tbilisi. He took us to the address of a friend of ours, Valera, at whose house we are still living. As a result, we spent 26 hours in a pedestrian queue. And the whole journey took more than two days. If you've read to this point, put some kind of smiley face in the comments. It will make me feel good to know that you were able to do so. EPILOGUE For the first two days we were coming to our senses. We bought Georgian SIM cards. I bought summer shoes, because I had spent the whole trip in autumn Adidas. I decided to wear them because I didn't know what the weather would be like. And these are my most comfortable and waterproof shoes. Halfway through the trip I thought I had huge blisters forming on my feet. I didn't dare take them off on the way and look. Thought it would be only worse. But there was nothing wrong with my feet, apart from the horrible smell that started coming from them as soon as I took my shoes off) Basically, we are doing quite well now. Our neighbors are very hospitable, nobody swears at us for coming here. There are some unpleasant moments, but everything is solvable. The next day after our arrival, Dasha Jurishcheva came to live with us. So far the six of us have been living in a communal flat, helping each other with everything.
A short report about my trip. It was the 21st of September I bought a ticket from Saint Petersburg to Makhachkala. It cost 3’500 rubles including luggage weighing 10 kg. (In the airport I had to pay extra 1’900 rubles for overweight luggage because I took a kick scooter with me) I took a direct flight from Saint Petersburg to Makhachkala on the 24th of September at 5:30 p.m. I landed at 9:30 p.m. and left the airport at about 10 p.m. My idea of a night hitch-hiking towards the Georgian border was canceled because of the rain and I spent the night in a tent in the attic of a residential building where I also dried my wet clothes and shoes. On the 25th of September I woke up at about 7 a.m. and rode the scooter a bit. Then I took a taxi to the northern bus station and got on a bus to Khasavyurt. The direct bus to Vladikavkaz departed and stayed late. I arrived in Khasavyurt, had breakfast in a café near the bus station, rode the scooter to the position and then hitch-hiked. I passed the checkpoint in the direction of Dagestan to Chechnya without any problems. I got to the Grozny at about 1 p.m. and was dropped off in the city. I got to the western bus station on the scooter. All the buses to Vladikavkaz and Nazran were full so I rode the scooter to the position and then caught a car to Vladikavkaz. In Vladikavkaz I bought some food for the trip, also some water and a gas bottle, and had lunch in a café. I called a taxi from the café to the traffic jam’s start in the direction towards Verkhny Lars. The taxi was turned around at the first checkpoint so I went on foot and then by scooter to the boundary. After the second checkpoint where I paid 1’000 rubles (I was asked for 2’000 rubles but it required bargaining) I got to the traffic jam’s start with Ossetian helpers. Further I rode the scooter along the traffic jam and went on foot, making stops along the way to have snacks and coffee brewed on a gas burner. Around 10 p.m. when I didn’t get about half a kilometer to the border crossing, I started asking to get into some cars because those who had scooters with themselves were no longer allowed. I got into one car successfully and for free, although I had to throw off the scooter cause the car was full. Helpers asked for 20’000-50’000 rubles for the border crossing but the rates kept going up. On the 26th of September we crossed the Russian border at about 11 a.m. I was asked absolutely nothing and not frisked. After arriving in the neutral zone and the new traffic jam’s start I got out of the car and walked to the Georgian checkpoint. At about 2 p.m. I crossed the Georgian border. I rinsed myself in the river, cooked some food on a gas burner, had a meal and then took a ride to Stepantsminda. It cost 50 lari for me to get from Stepantsminda to Tbilisi.