Laura Seitz, Deseret News
Lasha is a research scientist at OmniLytics in Salt Lake City. His brother is in the Georgian military.

As the conflict escalates, so do their fears.

Georgians living in Utah were left scrambling to make sure their friends and family were safe this week after Russian forces broke a cease-fire agreement, moving deeper into the former Soviet republic.

"It is not finished. Russia is still killing," said Lasha, a Georgian national living in Salt Lake City. He did not want his last name used, fearing Russian reprisal to his family.

Throughout the conflict, Lasha said he has maintained daily contact with his family in Georgia.

His brother, a reserve in the Georgian military, was called into action after Russia entered South Ossetia, a border province at the heart of the dispute.

When a cease-fire agreement was made, Lasha said his brother's unit was deactivated. Lasha's brother and sister escaped the capital city of Tbilisi, seeking safety at their parents' house in western Georgia.

However, even though they are safe, they are prisoners in the village. Russian troops have the road blocked and won't let anyone in or out.

"They can't get back to work," Lasha said.

Lasha does not know of anyone close to him that was killed, only anecdotal evidence. However, he does know of people who have been displaced. He said his friend lives with his parents in Gori, a city that was bombed by Russian planes. The bombs hit an apartment complex where his friends lived, rendering it unlivable. They are staying in an old government building until they find another apartment.

Though he left his native Georgia more than a decade ago, George Safonov still has friends and family in the region, and he still has concerns.

"I am worried," he said. "Of course I am worried. It is not a good situation."

The American Red Cross has already started providing aid to the region. A day after sending 15 tons of supplies to conflict zone, more than 35 tons of water, water tanks and sanitization supplies were expected to be delivered, said Susan Thomas, a spokeswoman for the Red Cross of Utah.

No volunteers from the state have been asked to go to Georgia, Thomas said, though they remain on call.

"We are on standby," she said.

It was unclear if Lasha's brother would have to return to the fighting. For now, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has urged Georgian troops and citizens not to resist the Russian troops, but to do as they are instructed until a diplomatic solution can be found.

Lasha worries such a solution might not come easily.

"Russia is not reliable for diplomacy," he said. Still, Lasha said he continues to hope for peace — something that might come "if the entire world would stand together against Russia," he said.

He said he knows he can't turn back time — what's done is done. He said Georgians want to move forward, stop the war and live in peace.

The aid sent to Georgia from the United States was was much appreciated, but Lasha said more is needed.

"I hope international agencies will give some kind of aid to Georgia," he said, adding that after the war is over, the damaged areas will have to be rebuilt.


E-mail: lwilde@desnews.com; afalk@desnews.com