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World Cup try-scorer against England digs in to fight for Ukraine

By Kim Ekin
(Photo by Sportsfile/Corbis/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

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Dimitri Basilaia, the scorer of a try for Georgia against England at the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand, has revealed he is fighting for Ukraine in an effort to stop the ongoing Russian invasion. The ex-Edinburgh and Perpignan back-rower had been living in Kyiv in recent years, setting up businesses and coaching rugby locally.  

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Rather than leave the under siege city, Basilaia, the 36-year-old veteran of 38 caps for Georgia, has been working away daily in his restaurant to provide food for people at a time of crisis. He was featured in a World Rugby video this week that showed him busy at his premises preparing meals but he also gave an interview to Midi Olympique where he explained why he opted to stay on in Kyiv.

“When the war started on February 24, I was impressed by the reaction of the Ukrainians,” said ex-Georgia forward Basilaia to the French rugby newspaper. “It was one for all, all for one. It was amazing. The panic quickly passed and there a great determination emerged. They started to build barricades, we saw the mayor of the city, the boxer Vitali Klitschko, take up arms, the actors publicly mobilized… 

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“When I saw how united the people were, I said to myself that I should stay by their side. As a Georgian, I experienced the Russian invasions of 1990 and 2008. I’m tired of living next to this neighbour, I can’t take it anymore. Especially since Ukraine has always been the first country to help Georgia when it was attacked. 

“At first, people were wondering about me, there was a bit of mistrust. There are some who even challenged me by asking me what I was doing. I answered them: ‘I’m staying here to help you, it’s our war, give me a gun and I’ll stay with you.’ Luckily everyone in the neighbourhood knows me.

“I decided to keep my restaurant open in order to cook dishes that we distribute to civilians, retirement homes, disabled people. The facility is also used to collect and supply medication. Some of the guys on my team bring them and there are the women who handle the orders… The civilians organise themselves, it’s quite amazing. 

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“From the first days, we also made patrols to flush out saboteurs and subversives. They are those who work for the enemy. In particular, they make crosses to indicate the buildings to be bombarded by the Russian army. We are tracking these people. Everyone is doing what they can to defend the capital.”

Reflecting on what initially brought him to Ukraine, Basilaia explained: “I have been there for three years. I set up businesses in Kyiv. I have an import-export company in logistics and I opened a restaurant. At the end of my career as a player in Perpignan, I trained as a baker on Ile-sur-Tet with Henri Poch. 

“It was a dream to have my establishment, to introduce Georgian flavours, to bring back a bit of French gastronomy which is the best in the world. Besides that, I became the coach of the Rugby Club Epoch-Polytechnic. It is a club with a rich history. We celebrate the 50th anniversary of its creation, which corresponds to the beginning of rugby in Ukraine.

“Originally I didn’t want to coach but I missed rugby too much and I was asked to help the club. The first year, we moved up to the first division winning almost all of our matches. Last year, we finished third in the elite. This season, the objective was to be champion… Then the war arrived.”

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