In this blog, I would like to take you with me on a journey photographing several abandoned towns (mining settlements) in one of the poorest regions in Abkhazia. Visiting forgotten towns in Abkhazia such as Polyana, Akarmara, Jantuha, and Tkvarcheli was a surreal experience.
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Abkhazia doesn’t ‘exist’ for everyone. Meaning, it is a de facto state and only partly recognized republic. In 1999, Abkhazia declared independence from Georgia. 5 countries in the world (members of the United Nations; Russia, Syria, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Nauru) recognize Abkhazia. All other countries (also United Nations members) consider Abkhazia legally to be a part of Georgia. Abkhazia is located between Georgia and Russia and has around 250.000 inhabitants.
During and after the civil war in the ’90s of the 20th century, a lot of people fled their homes. Many of these people, which are Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), are housed in the city of Tskaltubo, Georgia.
One of the bigger towns I visited is Tkvarcheli, which is situated near the river Ghalidzga. The train station above is part of a railway that is connecting the town to Ochamchire, a city in Abkhazia near the coast of the Black Sea. Clearly, this train station is not functioning anymore yet still considered as a ‘strategic point’ thus residents keep an eye out for people taking photos of it.
The main industry of the area has always been coal mining. However, the Soviet mines are now all closed and coal is quarried solely by an Abkhazian / Turkish company (using the open-pit method).
In the 1980s, Tkvarcheli used to have a population of 40.000 people. However, at this moment there are only around 5.000 people left, slowly turning the town into a ghost town. Big apartment blocks with multiple stories are inhabited by only a handful of families.
Other towns I visited are considerably smaller and even less to none people live in them. The once busy mining towns with the most amazing Soviet architecture, are now all falling into disrepair. Nature is reclaiming the area with forgotten towns and the buildings that still stand are being dismantled by residents for whatever material they can use. For years there have been talks about restoring the glory to the towns and turn it into a ‘resort’. However, since this would be a very expensive project and Abkhazia is in a complicated situation, it is most likely not going to happen anytime soon.
On the internet, people warn about traveling to this area of Abkhazia. There are multiple reports of robbery and aggressiveness. However, I did not experience such a thing at all. I must say that while traveling through these towns I was accompanied by a local which might have helped. Most of the time though, I was walking around alone or with my two friends, I traveled with, after we were dropped off. When photographing in these towns multiple kids were playing around and one of them even joined me. There was no way for me to communicate with her because of the language barrier but hand gestures and smiling does get you a long way.