SUKHUMI/TSKHINVALI, Georgia (Reuters) – Residents in Georgia’s breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia fired into the air, drank champagne and wept on Tuesday after Russia recognized them as independent states.
In Sukhumi, Abkhazia’s palm tree-lined capital on the Black Sea coast, office workers spilled into the streets moments after Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said he was recognizing the two regions.
“We feel happy. We all have tears in our eyes. We feel pride for our people,” said Aida Gubaz, a 38-year-old lawyer. “Everything we went through, now we are getting our reward,” she told Reuters.
In Sukhumi, celebratory gunfire could be heard as people opened bottles of champagne while others wept with joy.
Similar scenes unfolded in South Ossetia’s capital Tskhinvali, a small town badly damaged during the brief war in which Russia troops defeated a Georgian attempt to retake the region.
Tskhinvali’s main square, bearing visible signs of the recent battle, was strewn with cartridge cases and champagne bottles.
Groups of men shared homemade wine from plastic mineral water bottles, hugged each other, and every few minutes fired into the air with automatic weapons.
They unleashed a long volley of fire in greeting when three Russian armored personnel carriers rolled into the square.
A policeman drove through the square, appealing through a loudhailer: “Citizens of South Ossetia, that’s enough, please stop shooting.” But the revelers carried on firing.
In the South Ossetian village of Java, through which Russian troops poured in at the start of the conflict, the gunfire had died down but residents were still rejoicing.
“Many thanks to Russia and personally to Medvedev … We have paid with our blood for this victory for 20 years,” said Asmat Valiyeva, a midwife.
“My son was born during the first war with Georgia, he is 18 now. And now he is at his checkpoint defending the borders of his homeland.”
“I hope now everything will be good,” Valiyeva said. “If Russia has not abandoned us up to now, we hope it will continue like that because we are nothing without Russia.”