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Georgians in the U.S. watch violence back home

Khatuna Baghaturia has spent countless hours in the last week on the phone with relatives in her native country and watching the bloodshed on TV.
Georgians In America
Leila Mikeladze, 46, left, an immigrant from Georgia, listens to Khatuna Baghaturia, 37, also from Georgia, is interviewed in New York. Mikeladze, a cook at a restaurant called Tbilisi in Brooklyn's Sheepshead Bay owned by Baghaturia, says she is concerned for her family in Georgia following the Russian incursion into her country. Bebeto Matthews / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Khatuna Baghaturia had spent countless hours in the last week on the phone with relatives in her native country and watching the bloodshed on TV. The sight of Russian troops laying waste to Georgia was all the more horrifying because her three children are there now — on vacation.

"Every bomb — we hope it's going to be the last," said Baghaturia, who lives in Brooklyn and whose children have managed to stay out of harm's way. "It's like a bad dream."

The 37-year-old is among about 20,000 Georgians living in the United States and about 5,000 in New York City — home to the nation's largest Georgian population, according to the country's New York consulate.

They have spent the past five days making frantic phone calls home and praying in crowded churches in Brooklyn, where Georgians are scattered in different neighborhoods.

Baghaturia is a former teacher who now runs a restaurant called Tbilisi in the Sheepshead Bay section of Brooklyn, where she says neighborhood Russians have been flocking for days to offer their support. Brooklyn is home to a sizable Russian population, creating the odd juxtaposition of people from two warring countries living side by side.

"They try to support us, they understand us, they come and say that, you know, we are really sorry, and we are your friends — and we are, we are," Baghaturia said.

Skirting danger
Katya Ivanova, a Russian-born architect who lives in Ocean Parkway, in Brooklyn, said she supports the Georgians "because we Russians remember those days when we were quite friendly. I vacationed almost every summer on the Black Sea (in Georgia). They're great people, so friendly."

She added, "I hope intelligent Russians are against their government. And I think most Russian-Americans support the Georgians. The Russian government will always be the same — even if its name changes."

With tears in her eyes, the cook at Tbilisi prepared the kitchen Tuesday to make her country's "comfort" food — kachapuri, a kind of Georgian cheese pizza that warmed tables as daily life moved on under a sunny Brooklyn sky.

"I'm scared for my children and my grandchildren," said Leila Mikeladze, the 46-year-old cook whose grown daughter, son and pregnant daughter-in-law, as well as three grandchildren, are skirting dangers.

Her parents, caught in the heart of the conflict, cannot be reached by telephone; she relies on calls from her children for news.

'Hands off Georgia'
Her husband and staff rely on Internet phone connections, including video images, to keep track of events hour to hour. She hopes her children — two daughters ages 19 and 13, and a 7-year-old son — remain safe and make it back to New York for the start of the academic year.

But that doesn't solve the problems of Georgia, whose President Mikhail Saakashvili is a lawyer educated at New York's Columbia University. Baghataria says that despite Russia ordering a halt to the war, friends and relatives reported that bombs were still going off Tuesday.

"We need the whole country to be saved and all Georgians to be alive," Baghataria said.

On Saturday, a rally at the United Nations drew Georgians carrying signs that read: "Hands off Georgia" and "Stop Evil Russia."

Protesters included members of St. Nine's Georgian Orthodox church choir who formed a circle to sing their native songs. A room on the third floor of a Roman Catholic school in Brooklyn's  serves as the chapel of the church on most Sundays.

Hoping for quick end
In the meantime, Georgians — including ethnic Russians — gather at places like the  restaurant to talk and eat together, make calls, and share hopes for a quick end to the conflict.

Last weekend, there was no entertainment at .

"We said, 'People are dying, we can't sing and dance here,'" said .

She and her husband came to the United States in 1999, leaving behind a shattered Georgian economy — and their children, whom the couple didn't see for four years until their U.S. immigration status was settled.

"I still hope that everything is going to be OK," she said, smiling faintly.