Tufts Now All Stories
The first time, he was only one year old, too small to understand why his family had to flee. Even his parents thought it was just for a few days when they left their home with its beloved apple trees and found shelter in a distant village, camping out in the windowless rooms of an abandoned building.But Zviad Adzinbaia, F18, and his family ended up staying in that building for fifteen years. Ethnic Abkhaz-Georgians, they had been forced from their town, Gali, in the territory of Abkhazia as Georgia fought against Abkhaz separatist forces and the Russian military during the 1992-1993 war.
After they were displaced, Adzinbaia’s father, an engineer, and his mother, an accountant, could not find work in their professions, so they sold fish in the market of the nearest city, Zugdidi. When Adzinbaia turned thirteen, he started helping with the business after school. The family scrimped and saved, and a few years later built themselves a new house in Zugdidi.
Shortly after they moved in, war broke out for a second time. It was 2008 and Russia was invading Georgia. Most residents of their city fled, but Adzinbaia’s older brother volunteered to fight and Adzinbaia and the rest of his family stayed in their new home with just one pistol and a hunting rifle to defend themselves.
“Leaving another house was non-negotiable,” Adzinbaia recalled, the emotion still raw a decade later. “You cannot lose your identity again.” For three days and nights, they watched as Russian bombers buzzed overhead and Russian tanks occupied the empty city. Their decision to stay might seem irrational, he acknowledged, but he said, “Love is sometimes irrational.”
Adzinbaia was sixteen then, about to start his senior year of high school. Once the danger passed, with a ceasefire negotiated by the EU and his brother home safe, he made a pivotal …