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‘They’re coming here and telling us we’re the occupiers’ A protest against Russian tourists in a Georgian coastal city ended with their cruise ship leaving ahead of schedule
On the morning of July 27, the cruise liner Astoria Grande arrived in the Georgian resort town of Batumi. The ship was carrying more than 800 people, most of whom were tourists from Russia.
That evening, when the ship was slated to depart, local protesters gathered at the city’s port. The demonstrators spoke out against Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine and Russia’s strengthening relationship with Georgia, and expressed outrage at the responses some of the passengers gave journalists when asked about Russia’s occupation of parts of Georgia.
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“Russia’s not an occupier. What, you think we occupied you? We liberated Abkhazia from you. They asked us for help, so we went in with tanks. I’ve been to Abkhazia, and I saw how all the buildings have broken windows,” said one Russian woman, according to the outlet Novosti Gruzia. “We’re the Soviet Union. We’re a single country,” another Russian passenger reportedly said.
Protesters held signs with messages like “Russian warship, go fuck yourself,” “Abkhazia is Georgia,” “Russia is an occupier,” and “Go back to your fucking country.” Additionally, they carried photos of Abkhazia and the 2008 Russo-Georgian War, and played the Georgian national anthem, according to the outlet Batumelebi.
“It’s currently 2023, and we know what they did back in 2008,” another protester reportedly told the BBC. “Now they’re doing to Ukraine what they did to us twice in the past. And today there are Georgian heroes fighting and dying in Ukraine! And they’re coming here on vacation and telling us that we’re the occupiers!”
The ship departed the Batumi port earlier than planned, about an hour after the protests began.
Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili voiced support for the protesters. “I’m proud of our people, who peacefully protested against Russia’s newest provocation: a stop by a Russian cruise liner at the port of Batumi in Georgia at the same time that Putin is blocking grain shipments and preventing free navigation in the Black Sea. The security of the Black Sea is vitally important for Georgia, Ukraine, and the European Union,” she wrote on Twitter.
According to the Georgian TV channel Formula, a separate protest against the Russian tourists took place outside the country’s parliament building in Tbilisi around the same time.
Georgian journalists began reporting on the Astoria Grande’s scheduled stop in Batumi several days before it occurred. According to the country’s Maritime Transport Agency, the ship sails under the flag of Palau and is operated by the Turkish cruise company Miray Cruises International. The agency emphasized that the ship’s stop in Batumi was of a commercial nature, that the ship itself is registered in the Seychelles Islands, and that it does not fall under any international sanctions, according to the outlet Ekho Kavkaza.
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