TBILISI -- As tens of thousands of Russian troops mass near Ukraine's border, many in fellow ex-Soviet state Georgia are feeling a frightening sense of deja vu.
During the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, Russia launched a devastating ground assault against the small Caucasus country on its southern border.
Georgia was battling pro-Russian militia in its separatist region of South Ossetia, after they shelled Georgian villages.
The fighting in August 2008 lasted only several days but claimed more than 700 lives and displaced tens of thousands of ethnic Georgians.
Today Georgians are seeing frightening parallels as Western capitals warn of another possible imminent Russian attack on Ukraine.
"It's horrible what we see these days in Ukraine," said Zina Tvaladze, 53, a mother of two, who was displaced from separatist-controlled South Ossetia.
The separatists "burned our house as Russian troops nearby watched", she said. "We were lucky to escape execution."
"It looks like Russian President Vladimir Putin is ready to shed the blood of Ukrainians and of his own soldiers just because he wants to restore the Soviet Union," she said.
At the centre of both crises is a years-old Western promise that the two ex-Soviet countries would be able to join the US-led NATO military alliance.
Just three months before the Georgian war, NATO heads of state had agreed that both Ukraine and Georgia would "become members of NATO".
The move angered Putin, who views any expansion towards Russia's borders as a security threat, even though the West stresses that NATO is purely a defence organisation.
The 2008 fighting in Georgia ended after five days with a European Union-mediated ceasefire.
The Kremlin recognised independence for the two breakaway statelets of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and established permanent Russian military bases there.
Six years later, in 2014, Russian troops annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine.
They began backing Kremlin-friendly separatists in Ukraine's east in an ongoing conflict that the United Nations says has since killed more than 13,000 people.
Diplomacy at work
Ukraine on February 7 said it had received more than 1,000 tonnes of weapons and military equipment worth some $1.5 billion in the past few months as Western backers rushed in arms.
"Since 2014, we have seen many insidious actions by the Russian Federation; we have seen that they stop at nothing when they try to fabricate and blame Ukraine," Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba February 4 said in response to US intelligence reports on planned Russian "false flag" operations.
Washington's claim came on the back of visits from European leaders to shore up support for Kyiv, including from British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Later, French President Emmanuel Macron visited Moscow and Kyiv to spearhead efforts to de-escalate the crisis.
Foreign ministers from Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Austria also met with officials in Kyiv last week.
"Diplomacy is continuing to lower tensions," Kuleba last Wednesday (February 9) said after talks with his Spanish counterpart Jose Manuel Albares.
"The way the greater European community responds to this crisis will determine the future of European security and of each individual European state," he said.
Earlier, Kuleba said Western support had prevented Russia from "further aggravating the security situation".
Solidarity with Ukraine
As European leaders scramble to avert any Russian invasion, Georgian politicians have been voicing solidarity with Ukraine.
Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili last week criticised Russia's policy of "provocation", saying it posed a threat to both Georgia and Europe at large.
Georgia understands "very well what the people of Ukraine feel today", she said.
"This is solidarity from a country that has already suffered and is still suffering from occupation" by the Russians.
But for some in the small Black Sea country, words are not enough.
Mamuka Mamulashvili fought against Russian forces in South Ossetia in 2008.
Today, he is the commander of the "Georgian Legion", a unit of 100 former Georgian soldiers fighting in the Ukrainian army.
"Many Georgians have enrolled in the Ukrainian military," he told AFP.
"We are fighting for Ukraine but also for Georgia's freedom," he said, adding that a dozen Georgian volunteers have died fighting separatists in Ukraine since 2014.
As international tensions have risen over their country's fate, Ukrainian soldiers in the trenches of war-ravaged Maryinka have been living a strange paradox.
For even as fears have rocketed over a possible full-scale Russian invasion, they have seen a drop in the number of shells and bullets coming their way from Moscow-backed separatists.
"It's too quiet," Ukrainian serviceman Botsman, 49, told AFP, giving only his call sign in line with military regulations.
"It's unsettling, like the calm before a storm."
Still, he said, on February 7 his position came under fire from enemy mortars and rocket-propelled grenades. The odd explosion was also audible when AFP journalists visited.
Putin's 'next trophy'?
The Ukraine crisis is a worrying "deja vu for Georgians", said Gela Vasadze of the Georgian Strategic Analysis Centre in Tbilisi.
"There is a consensus in Georgia that the fall of Ukraine would spell the end of Georgia's statehood," he said.
Putin has dismissed claims that Russia plans to attack Ukraine but demanded "security guarantees" that include the reversal of NATO's promise to admit Ukraine and Georgia to the 27-nation military bloc.
Fourteen years on from that assurance, however, the two pro-Western nations are still not on a formal membership path.
"The United States has so far rejected Putin's demands to close NATO's doors to Ukraine and Georgia," but any membership still "remains a distant -- if not unlikely -- prospect", Vasadze said.
For many Georgians, the stakes are high.
Putin's goal now is to force the West to break ties with both Ukraine and Georgia, Nona Mamulashvili, a leader of Georgia's main opposition party, said.
"Georgia's fate is being decided today in Ukraine," she said.
A Russian victory in Ukraine could embolden Putin to finish what he started in Georgia, said Tvaladze, the woman displaced from South Ossetia.
"If Ukraine is defeated, Georgia will be his next trophy," she said.