I recently travelled to Tbilisi, Georgia. with the plight of Ukrainian refugees filling our screens, I wanted to document the plight of long-term refugees from Abkhazia, who have made their homes in Tbilisi.
As the soviet union collapsed in the early 1990’s several regions of the former USSR descended into violence and terror as the newly independent nations fought over their borders. These borders are still fought over today and remain areas of potential and actual war.
The work shows generations of families who have made permanent homes in derelict hotels and former university accommodations.

Share:    Twitter    Facebook    LinkedIn
Tbilisi, Georgia
Shine build by the occupants of the Kartli complex. This is a complex of two hotels and a sanatorium built during the Soviet era. It is now very run down and home to IDP from the Abkazian conflict in the early 1990’s.
Mzelauri Janashia – from Gagra in Abkhazia, age 83

Mzelauri fled Abkhazia in 1992.

“I left Abkhazia I 1992. October, when I came here I was 58 years old. I lived the best life, I had a villa on a beach with a boat, 4 bedroom flat and a house from my parents. I fled with my only dress with my husband and son. My husband died in Georgia and my son now works in Kyiv.
Girl in one of the converted hotel rooms which now functions as her home.
Former student accommodation for Tbilisi University. Now occupied by primarily by internally displaced people from Abkazia and South Ossetia.
Mayvala Bagishvili – Abkhazia, Gali age 64.

Mayvala is from Sokhumi. She left Abkhazia when she was 30 years old.

‘it was 1993. civilians were being killed. Georgians were massacred and that’s why we fled. In Abkhazia the majority of the population was Georgian. No Russians and only a few Abkhazians. And all we lived happily together.’
‘As I remembered Russian armed extremist groups, mercenary soldiers entered the border from the Russian side and war started. We didn't have time to pack, it happened very quickly. A lot of my neighbours and friends were killed. We had to leave. My girl was 4 years old and my son was 7 years old.
Mayvala’s grandchildren at home
‘I dream a lot about my past life. I wish my children had experienced how I was living there, we lived a very good.’
‘Now we are here for a 30 years and in this conditions'.
Mayvala helps out looking after her grandchildren on a daily basis and she still supports her family. She makes sausages and sells them at the local market.
Mother and son
Genadi Akhalaia – Abkhazia, Sokhumi aged 55. They were farmers back in Abkhazia and have set up a small farm in one of the disused building in the complex.
Genadi with his father Shota Akhalaia aged 86.
Calves on the upper floor
Shota was a forest guard in a nature reserve and also a farmer. He fled Abkhazia when he was 50 year old. He escaped with his family, his father, 2 brothers and a sister. They travel by foot, by mountain pass. His Mother was captured and held in prison because his brothers where wanted by the Russians. she was released and joined with her family in Tbilisi. They came without anything ‘not with a single spoon.’
Genadi was a fighter in this war. He managed to captive 6 enemy soldiers 5 Russian and 1 Chechen. They were later exchanged in a prisoner swap with Georgian prisoners.

‘now the only way to come to peace is by Russian defeat. If they leave our land, I think we will find a peaceful way to live together and we will reconcile.’
Several of Genadi neighbours come daily to help on the farm. They all used to work on the land in Abkhazia and it helps them overcome their sense of loss.
Milking. The farm only survives by selling the calves. By day Genadi drives a bus.

‘All day I think about getting back to my farm and the cows’
Preparing the feed.
‘The new generation don’t remember Abkhazia, nature, life.’

‘some nights I dream about my home, in my dream I play football in my school, I run with my horses in Sokhumi, in my place.’
X < >