A tale of
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.
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
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 is a journalist in Sukhumi.
“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
Eka Minjoraia is ICRC field officer in Zugdidi, Georgia.
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 is ICRC field officer in Zugdidi, Georgia.
Many buildings bear the scars of fighting in Sukhumi in 1992–1993.
©VLADIMIR POPOV / ICRC