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Georgia
A tale of
three women

 

Since Georgia gained independence in 1991, thousands of families have been uprooted and torn apart by the tensions caused by the secessionist aspirations of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The stories of three women poignantly attest to the suffering these people have endured.

 

GALINA

The house was engulfed by flames. Galina was lucky to have escaped alive. Despite her panic, she tried desperately to go back into the burning building to save some vestige of her past — papers, photos — memories of her happy life in Abkhazia from 1969 until the terrible war of 1992–1993. Others attempted to restrain her. She struggled, weeping, until the walls collapsed and everything she owned was reduced to ashes.

Thus began a new life for Galina. She could remember almost nothing of her previous one. Someone took her to a small place on the outskirts of Sukhumi and told her she could live there. “The owners have fled,” she was told. “If they come back, all you have to do is leave.” The house had a garden with fruit trees, a vegetable plot and flower beds. Whenever she heard the sound of aircraft or bursting bombs, she would panic.

Once the war was over, Galina’s memories began to come back in jumbled pieces. Doctors diagnosed stress, shock, depression and partial amnesia. Galina realized that the war had shattered her life. She wandered through the ruined streets of Sukhumi searching vainly for familiar faces, taking on housework to make ends meet. But her efforts to track down some scrap of her past proved fruitless. As it happened, Galina still had family in Kazakhstan, where she had grown up, studied and married. In 1969, the young couple moved to Abkhazia, where Galina’s husband, a builder by trade, worked on the construction of a hydraulic plant on the banks of the Inguri River. They lived in the town of Primorskoye, and Galina had a job on an industrial poultry farm. In 1985 they resettled in Sukhumi, but things didn’t work out as they had hoped and the husband went back to Kazakhstan alone. When their three daughters — Ira, Valia and Tania — grew up, they also left to join their father and pursue their studies in Kazakhstan. Galina was happy that her daughters were receiving an education. Of course she felt lonely, but she had her job, her neighbours, her friends. Then came war with its attendant horrors — and her house burned down.

Recently a woman working for the ICRC knocked on the door of the house she was living in. “Are you Galina Rakhmanova?” she asked. “Your relatives are looking for you.” Throughout the years since August 1992, her children, her mother and her sister had been actively searching for her and had submitted a tracing request to the Red Crescent Society of Kazakhstan. Liana Abidzva, from the ICRC mission in Abkhazia, undertook a number of steps to check whether the elderly lady living in the little house hidden by vegetation was indeed the person they were looking for. After talking with her family on the telephone, Galina exchanged news with them by means of Red Cross messages. A copy of her birth certificate, destroyed in the fire, was obtained and Galina was finally allowed to return to Kazakhstan to be reunited with her family and retrieve her lost memories.

Liliana Jakovleva
Liliana Jakovleva is a journalist in Sukhumi.

 


©ICRC


LIUBA

“Who knows how many lives have been destroyed by the conflict between Georgia and Abkhazia, how many dreams have been broken?” says 47-year-old Liuba, who had found refuge from the violence in the garrison town of Senaki. “We had a good life before then,” she adds sadly.

Liuba’s family is no stranger to the horrors of war. Her husband fought and was wounded near the village of Gumista in Abkhazia. “Miraculously, we managed to escape and reach Tbilisi with our three children in tow. The youngest was only two years old. We thought our troubles would soon be over, but we were dogged by misfortune. It has been more than 13 years now. When my husband died, I was left alone with the children. Icouldn’t even afford to bury him. Some soldiers kindly did it for me,” she says with tears in her eyes.

“I had to raise my three children alone. Now Guiga is 21. He is a boxer, a born athlete, and he has taken part in several European competitions. He was on the boxing team of the academy where he studied. He was a good student and gained many honours for his academic and sporting achievements. Now he is married and living in Tbilisi, where he is a contract worker for the Georgian army. As for my daughter-in-law — who is from a well-offfamily — she is studying medicine. Poverty sometimes makes me suicidal, but then I look at my children, remind myself of what we have been through, pull myself together and rediscover the joys of life.

“David, my second son, is in secondary school and says he will only marry a girl from Sukhumi. I believe in God and count on his help. This war makes no sense. The Georgians and the Abkhaz have always got on well together. The staff of the post office where I worked was multinational and we were a close-knit team. Tomorrow,Thursday, is the day the Red Cross messages arrive. Last week I wrote one, so I’m hoping for a reply so that I can get through another week without worrying.”

Eka Minjoraia
Eka Minjoraia is ICRC field officer in Zugdidi, Georgia.

 

 


©ICRC

 

 

 

 



VALENTINA

Valentina, who comes from Abkhazia, was separated from her family and is now living in Senaki. Her former life seems like a distant dream. Life is indeed harsh for the countless people who have fled the conflict between Georgia and Abkhazia and settled in different villages in the districts of Mingrelia and Upper Svanetia.

“We used to harvest up to 12 tonnes of tangerines and a tonne of tobacco leaves. Our cows weighed more than a tonne each and produced 20 litres of milk a day. We made huge quantities of cheese,” says Valentina. She used to work as a seamstress in Sukhumi. “I earned 100–150 roubles a month making wedding dresses. I had been at the factory for 25 years and never had a problem with any of my colleagues. When fighting broke out, we thought it would only last three days. Well, 13 years later we still can’t go home. At the time, my daughter was 4 years old. With Sukhumi under bombardment and in flames, we fled, leaving behind all our belongings. We had to cross the Chuberi-Sakeni Pass on foot. On the way, my parents and brother were taken prisoner.

“In Senaki we were given two rooms in a disused hotel. The Red Cross provided us with mattresses and household items. Later, they brought me a sewing machine, which enabled me to make clothes to exchange for sugar, bread, tomatoes and other food. Now I sell second-hand clothes, as my eyesight is failing and I can no longer sew.

“I keep in touch with my brother in Abkhazia by means of Red Cross messages. My parents also live there, even though their house was burned down.

“What can we do? We are not responsible for what happened, but we are the ones who suffer the consequences. They say that time heals all wounds. That is what I am counting on.”

Eka Minjoraia
Eka Minjoraia is ICRC field officer in Zugdidi, Georgia.

 



©ICRC


Many buildings bear the scars of fighting in Sukhumi in 1992–1993.
©VLADIMIR POPOV / ICRC


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