TRENTON, N.J. – A New Jersey couple is trying to get their two kids out of the Republic of Georgia after the Russian invasion of the country trapped the youngsters at their grandparents' farm.
Joseph and Tea-h Evans of Howell have sought help from U.S. Rep. Christopher H. Smith, whose office said Thursday that Ashley and Sophia Evans, ages 7 and 3, were safe.
The children were on their annual summer vacation at their maternal grandparents' farm in the western village of Chiatura. They were scheduled to fly home Aug. 26 from the Georgian capital of Tbilisi.
When the fighting broke out, the Evans decided to try and get the girls home as quickly as possible, but have not been able to get them to the airport or to nearby Armenia because the main routes are being blocked by Russian troops.
Reached by phone Thursday, Joseph Evans said his in-laws tried to drive the girls to the Tbilisi on Tuesday but were turned back at the town of Gori by Russian soldiers.
"I'm scared," Evans said. He said his wife "hit the floor" when they couldn't reach the girls by phone over the weekend. "It was devastating," he said.
Evans said he was able to speak with his daughters Thursday morning, and that they are still safe.
"Thank God the cell phones are still on and the electric is still on up there. They're OK, but my daughter's crying. She's 7," said Evans, 40, an NJ Transit bus driver.
Tea-h Evans' brother, Beso Tsutskiridze, a 28-year-old Georgian military veteran who lives part-time in Howell, has flown to Armenia to try and find a way to get the girls out of Georgia.
Smith, R-N.J., has been in contact with the U.S. State Department and spoken a number of times with the U.S. ambassador in Georgia.
"I dropped everything, because as a father of four I couldn't imagine what it would be like to have two of your children behind enemy lines, or in this case, Russian lines," Smith said.
The conflict broke out last week after the Georgian military tried to occupy the separatist region of South Ossetia. Russia responded by sending in troops and tanks.
Evans' wife Tea-h is a Georgian native who came to the U.S. 10 years ago.
Joseph Evans said he's never been concerned about sending his daughters away to the farm, which he compared to "Little House on the Prairie."
"It looks like Amish country, Dutch Pennsylvania. Everyone helps each other out," Evans said.
Now every time he reaches his daughters on the phone, he cries.
"It cracks you up," he said. "That's when the tears start going."