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Behind The Poti Lines

Abandoned checkpoints outside Poti

10 p.m. local time (6 p.m. GMT)

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.
A Russian tank leaving for Abkhazia

Noon local time (8 a.m. GMT)

Up to 150 Russian soldiers left Poti this morning -- their entire contingent. At exactly 8 a.m. the Russians vacated the Nabada checkpoint; 15 minutes later the personnel stationed at the Seventh Kilometer checkpoint followed them.

The Russian forces and their military hardware formed a long column. There were eight loaded Ural trucks and 10 armored personnel carriers; Russian flags were flying on the armored vehicles.

The soldiers were not aggressive towards journalists -- they were even waving good-bye to us. But they still declined to make any comments. On their way out of Poti they were taking photographs; some even crossed themselves as they left town. It seemed like they were happy to leave -- needless to say, this mood greatly resonated with how the residents of Poti felt as they watched them leave.

Demining units have started inspecting the areas where the Russian checkpoints were located. Journalists are not allowed to approach those areas, as it is still not known whether it is safe to go there. Presumably, the inspection will be finished by the evening and it will become possible for us to go and see those places then.

This is the first day in a long while that residents of Poti awoke to genuinely good news. A great sense of relief and joy is palpable everywhere.

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