10 p.m. local time (6 p.m. GMT)
Abandoned checkpoints outside Poti
After exactly one month and two days of the Russian military presence, the town of Poti is finally free again. The mood has been festive and euphoric all day long. Streets, parks, restaurants, and cafes are full of people, who keep congratulating each other on the occasion, expressing hopes the "aggressors" will never return to their town.
Needless to say, the events of the last month have left many scars on Poti and its residents. Once the euphoria settles down, the town will have to start coming to terms with the many traumas and losses -- the most tragic of which, of course, are human deaths. Apart from this, the last month has entailed looted military bases, destroyed and sunk ships, illegally logged forests, excavated trenches and ditches, and $2 million worth of damage inflicted on the town's seaport.
The demining units have finished inspection of the areas that, up until this morning, hosted Russian military checkpoints, and concluded they were all mine-free. According to Major Irakli Maisuradze, the head of the Defense Ministry's demining unit, the areas were actually mined against pedestrians -- however, the Russian soldiers had removed all mines prior to their departure. So it is now safe for everyone to go to those places, Maisuradze said.
But not many people have done so. The places that used to host the Russian checkpoints are deserted tonight, unusually silent and dark. Someone told me a pair of Russian combat boots was discovered at one former checkpoint earlier. Perhaps their owner found a better pair on a looted Georgian military base, and left the old ones behind; perhaps he just forgot to take them. Either way, this simple pair of Russian boots is a poignant -- and perhaps even a little bit obvious -- symbolization of everything that has happened here. Poti has had a firsthand experience of Russian military aggression, and our collective memory is likely to retain this trauma for many decades to come.