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article 7 co-author

Shorena Sadzaglishvili, MSW, PhD
Ilia State University, Professor Georgian Association of Social Workers, Chairperson Tbilisi Georgia

article 7 co-author

Ketevan Gigineishvili, MSW
Ilia State University, Invited Lecturer Georgian Association of Social Workers, Director Tbilisi, Georgia

article 7 co-author

Olga Rogovska, MSW
California State University, USA

article 7 co-author

James Decker, MSW, PhD
Azovi State Technical University Maripol, Ukraine

Georgian Association of Social Workers’ Response to the Ukraine crisis

This paper aims to highlight the role of the professional association (Georgian Association of Social Workers - GASW) in organizing humanitarian support for people affected by the Ukrainian War. Georgian social workers empowered their colleagues by initiating various social support activities including online platform for coordinating assistance, organizing conference meetings to develop social workers’ skills in working with refugees.

This article highlights the critical importance of social work profession and social workers who have a central role in practice and research with war affected populations.


On 24 February 2022 the Russian invasion was ordered by Vladimir Putin as a major escalation of the Russia-Ukraine war that started earlier in 2014. This forced many Ukrainian people to flee their homes seeking safety, support and assistance from neighbouring and other countries. With no border between Georgia and Ukraine, most of the arriving Ukrainians have fled besieged Mariupol and Kherson eastward into Russia before crossing Georgia’s mountain border. Having made this perilous journey, they arrive with escape stories of appalling humiliation and tragedy (ASB-Georgia, 2022). One of the reason for Ukrainians to come to Georgia is that there are very close connections between these two countries as both countries are striving for NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) cooperation and the European Union (EU) and their main enemy is the Russian Federation. In particualr, the Russian government occupied 20% of Georgian territories after the 2008 war. In early March of 2022 Georgia applied for EU membership, together with Ukraine and Moldova.

Ukrainian refugees are welcomed and supported in Georgia by the government and citizens of Georgia as well as various non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Among them is the Georgian Association of Social Workers (GASW). GASW was founded by the first western educated social workers in 2004 with the aim to underpin the development of the profession in the country on all three levels: micro, mezo and macro (Sadzaglishvili, 2018).

The Georgian Association of Social Workers (GASW) is the largest membership organization of professional social workers in Georgia, over 600 members. GASW has been playing a key role in developing social work practice, education and a regulatory framework in Georgia. GASW is a part of the global social work professional community. GASW was established in 2004 by the first group of American-educated social workers. GASW was created as a local Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) to support the continued development of the profession within Georgia. Besides providing professional expertise and support to the Government of Georgia, social service providers and social workers, GASW is active for establishing a strong educational framework based on recognized professional standards.

In relation to support Ukrainian refugees, the aim of GASW is to find support for the Ukrainian people during the crisis. Historically, social activism, solidarity and the fight for social justice have been an integral part of the social work profession and underpins the practice of Georgian social workers. As a response to the Ukrainian crisis and the influx of fleeing refugees, Georgian social workers came up with an initiative to support and empower the Ukrainian friends. For this purpose, a special online platform via Facebook - Group - was created as a means of Georgian social workers sharing information and initiatives to support the people displaced by the war. The group was joined by about 200 social workers and has carried out a range of activities under the leadership of GASW, as a direct response to the needs of citizens in the Ukraine and the displaced Ukrainian people arriving in Georgia.

GASW has constant communication with the Embassy of Ukraine, from which it received information about the needs of the people living in Ukraine, and accordingly carried out charitable activities and mobilized items and facilities. As a direct response to the urgent needs of citizens in the Ukraine, GASW has supported a Blood Bank to mobilize blood donation for wounded children and others in Ukraine. GASW has mobilized volunteer social workers and students and organized humanitarian support for Ukraine. In particular, humanitarian aid has been sent to the Ukraine on a number of occasions: including clothes, non-perishable food, sweets, toys for children (including developmental toys), medicines, hygiene items, special medicines for cancer patients. GASW has cooperated with the Oncology Organization in Georgia, which aims to support children with oncological diseases, and in consultation with them mobilized special medicines and medical facilities for children with oncological diseases. These projects, identified as priorities by the Ukraine, have ensured that support is targeted and directly relevant to the needs and priorities of those people remaining in the Ukraine.

Supporting displaced Ukrainian citizens arriving in Georgia has also been a focus of the work of the GASW. GASW has created a database of services that offer various services to Ukrainians living / arriving in Georgia. The database has been shared with various affiliates and organizations. In order to better coordinate services, GASW held a webinar where all organizations presented their services to Ukrainians to share information and support each other’s understanding. At the meeting, a social worker from Mariupol, a city in south east Ukraine besieged by Russian forces shared her experience of being forced to flee her country together with her school age son and other family members. Here is her story:

“I have a terrible story. My husband’s parents apartment was completely crushed and burned. My university where I studied and worked was destroyed. Almost nothing survived in the city, in a city with a population of 450 thousand, according to the modest estimates, 20 000 citizens died, hundreds of children from 0 to 1 yaers old died. The city was under a total siege without food, water, light, gas and heating when it was -12 degree below zero. The city was under constant bombardment, which could not be counted, only minutes of silence... By a great miracle and with God’s help, my family managed to get out of the city under shelling for more than 21 days of the war, without a single corridor, without any help, the chances of being saved were 50/50, many were not so lucky and their lived ended due to the fault of the Russian Federation”

Social work has a critical role to play in supporting families during times of crisis and living through the experiences of war and internal displacement. The issues they present are immediate, ongoing and complex; they have far reaching implications for social work. As Boccagni and Righard suggest (2020: 375): Social workers, as a part of their institutional and professional mandate, have played a central and mixed role in addressing the needs, rights and claims of asylum seekers, refugees and other displaced persons. To support and extend social works and other understanding, GASW in collaboration with Ilia State University, situated in Tbilisi, capital of Georgia, held a conference on April 12, 2022, entitled "Social Work to Support Children in Crisis" that was dedicated to the International Day of Social Work on March 15 and April 12 - the International Day of Children Living and Working on the Streets. The aim of the conference was to raise awareness about the situation of children in crisis, war-affected and street children.

Within the Conference several online events were planned, mainly in the Georgian language; however there were also guest speakers holding seminars/trainings in English to provide an opportunity for our Ukrainian colleagues to participate. A specific example was the seminar "Learning to Work with Victims of Trauma: Lessons from Georgia and Ukraine for Georgian and Ukrainian Social Workers” was organized by Professor James Decker from California State University, an international consultant for master's and doctoral programs in social work at Ilia State University. Dr. Decker outlined the historical background and parallels of the Russian- Georgian and Russian -Ukraine war and ways of implementation of social work practice in the developing countries to address the needs of disaster affected refugees and trauma victims. This provided a directive that war and displacement form a lasting impact on children’s physical, social and psychological functioning (Denov and Shevell 2018). These children have fears of being injured or killed, being displaced and more than likely never being allowed to return to their homes, increasing the impact of this disaster. Early intervention related to potential Post Traumatic Stress Disorder PTSD could be reduced through, for example, the use of play therapy and mindfulness (Decker, Brown & Tapia, 2017). The participants of the conference were actively involved and learned strategies of how to work with survivors of armed conflict and deal with the children who may experience traumatic stress, psychological symptoms, distress, or other behavioral health issues related to the disaster of war.

The social work profession has its historical origins in the support of war victims. In particular, refugees, who are forced migrants, are one of the most powerless classes of persons who are characterized by disruption, loss and the need to rebuild networks and support (Denov and Shevell 2018). Traditional approaches for helping victims include enabling them to overcome “unresolved grief” by using cognitive-behavioral interventions to confront distressing trauma-related memories and reminders, ventilate accumulated aggression, etc. These steps are understood to facilitate habituation and successful emotional processing of the trauma memory (Kazlauskas et al., 2016).

Somewhat complementary to this, the paradigm of empowerment and inclusion recognizes that displacement violates human ecology, causes deprivation and social exclusion, and increases the risk of violence and the emergence of a psychological “catch of dependency.” Therefore, longterm intervention strategies should be employed with refugees (Kang, 2013). In addition, these interventions anticipate that services for refugees are multileveled (individual assistance, connection with the community and advocacy, participation in collective political actions) and focused on recovering the relationship between a person and his or her surrounding social systems (Semigina & Gusak, 2015; Kang, 2013).

Our approach is to apply differential remedial interventions. Psychological rehabilitation should be aimed at developing skills and internal psycho-social resources in refugees. Focus from an ecological perspective should be afforded concomitantly, meaning that involvement of the people themselves in securing and applying environmental resources must occur. Social workers and other clinical and “helping” personnel must bring flexibility to the gamut of their interactions with refugees, and politicians and other structural actors must find the courage to more fully embrace a “person centered” perspective in conceptualizing policies and programs that more authentically meet the needs of the refugees (Sadzaglishvili and Scharf, 2018). Trauma, distress and recovery has to have focus on the context and culture of the experience (Denov and Shevell 2018).

As a profession and discipline, social works has a central role in practice and research with war affected populations. For us, the fight for human rights and for social justice is the foundation of the profession. The Georgian Association of Social Workers call on colleagues in Russia and across the globe to raise their voices against the injustice experienced by Ukrainian citizens and displaced citizens, to support Ukraine and to fight for justice!


ASB- Georgia, Situations and Needs of the Ukrainian Refugees in Georgia: an assessment carried out in June-July, 2022. Retrieved from web-site reliefweb.int on 26th of August.
Boccagni, P. and Righard, E. (2020) Social work with refugees and displaced populations in Europe: (dis)continuities, dilemmas, development. European Journal of Social Work 23 (3) 375-383.
Decker, Brown & Tapia (2017) Learning to Work with Trauma Survivors: Lessons from Tbilisi, Georgia, Social Work in Public Health, 32:1, 53-64, DOI: 10.1080/19371918.2016.1188744
Denov, M. and Shevell, M.C. (2018) Social work practice with war affected children and Families: importance of family, culture, arts and participatory approaches. Journal of Family Social Work, 22 (1) 1-16.
Kang, H. S. (2013). Claiming immigrant cultural citizenship: Applying postcolonial theories to social work practice with immigrants. Critical and Radical Social Work, 1 (2), 233-245. doi: 10.1332/204986013X673290
Kazlauskas E., Javakhishvilli, J., Meewisse, M., Merecz-Kot, D., Şar, V., Schäfer, I., Schnyder, U., & Gersons, B. (2016). Trauma treatment across Europe: Where Do we start now: From a perspective of seven countries. European Journal of Psychotraumatology, 7, 29450. doi: dx.doi.org
Sadzaglishvili, Sh. (2018). Reconstructing Social Welfare Institutions and Building a Professional Social Work Workforce in Post-Soviet Georgia: An Ecological Systems Framework, International Social Work, 2016. DOI: 10.1177/0020872816674790
Sadzaglishvili, S. and Scharf, S. (2018). Measuring IDPs’ Psycho-emotional Responses to War. The Journal of Internal Displacement (JID), journalofinternaldisplacement.com.
Semigina, T. & Gusak, N. (2015). Armed conflict in Ukraine and the Social Work response to it: What strategies should be used for internally displaced persons? Social, Health and Communications Studies Journal, 2 (1), 1-24. Retrieved from journals.macewan.ca