Georgia: Relief and grief surge as remains of loved one are handed over after 30 years

Badri, then 32 years old, was a lieutenant of internal troops. Maia was left alone with one toddler and another child soon to be born. Discovering her own resilient spirit, Maia picked up the pieces of her life to raise her children and take care of her heartbroken mother-in-law.

In December 2023, Maia and her children received news that Shalikashvili’s remains were identified along with the remains of 22 other missing people. On one hand, 30 years of uncertainty were finally over for Maia and her family. On the other hand, the news opened their wounds afresh.

An advocate for what families of missing people experience, Maia talks about the impact of a loved one going missing, coping with ambiguity for 30 years and the mixed feelings of relief and grief on hearing news about their remains being identified.

“I could not believe it at first. I read the identification report compiled by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) with great attention and carefully observed the attached photos. But I was very anxious, my eyes were foggy and I could not register the information. We were told that we could also see the remains if we wanted to. My initial response was to refuse because I thought I couldn’t make myself see his remains. My children also suggested that I spare myself the pain. However, the next day I dared and requested to see my husband’s remains,” shares Maia, with tears. “When I saw them, I did not doubt that they were Badri’s. I could recognize the shape of his chin,” she adds.

On 7 December, Maia and her family experienced intense pain as well as relief. Their long wait in ambiguity was over and they were able to bury Shalikashvili in Dighomi Brotherhood Cemetery together with other identified people. “A husband, father and grandfather was buried with dignity. From now on, we will know where my husband’s grave is and we will be able to visit it when we want to,” she says.

However, Maia also plans to continue visiting the Memorial for the Missing in Tamarashvili Alley.

There are still over 1,900 people who are still unaccounted for in Georgia and whose families are still waiting for answers.

Supporting the families of missing people has been a significant part of Maia’s life since 2010, when the Programme for Missing Persons and their Families was initiated in Georgia with the ICRC’s support and family committees were formed in five big cities – Tbilisi, Gori, Kutaisi, Zugdidi and Batumi. Maia joined the Tbilisi Committee of the Families of Missing Persons and was actively involved in its activities. Besides raising awareness of the problem of disappearance and holding events and meetings, the family committees offer peer-to-peer accompaniment support. Along with other members of the Tbilisi Family Committee, Maia was also actively involved in creating the Memorial for the Missing as a place where families can gather and pay respect to their disappeared loved ones.

Talking about the three decades of waiting, Maia says the family had to mostly rely on the state’s allowance to survive since her husband was their breadwinner. “Sometimes I took up temporary jobs like cleaning to make sure there was bread on our table,” she says. Maia’s main aim was to make sure her children could get proper education and settle well. Investing in them helped her survive and get through her years of misery.

Source : Icrc