POLITICS
National Geographic uncovers tragic story of people living in conflict zones between Georgia and Russia-occupied territory
21 May, 2018
National Geographic uncovers the Russian intervention of Georgia in August 2008, also known as Russo-Georgian War. 10 Years have passed since the war, yet it still remains a painful issue of Georgians. As a result of Russia’s assault, 228 Georgia’s citizens and 14 police officers, 1 747 were injured. About 150,000 people were forced out of their homes, with 30,000 among them remaining refugees to this day. 169 soldiers deceased and 5 were missing in action, although due to no
trace of them being found for 2 years and no signs of them being alive reported, they are now officially considered deceased.

Alexandra Genova, author of the article published on National Geographic, starts describing the situation in conflict zones by talking about the village of Nikozi, which rests just south of Tskhinvali (so-called South Ossetia) border and which was heavily bombed during the Russo-Georgian War in 2008.
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10 Years have passed since the war

“At the time of the conflict, Isaiah, a metropolitan bishop, led a congregation that included people on both sides of the border. He chose to stay in South Ossetia with a portion of his community for three years, until finally returning home to Nikozi,” reads the article.

The article tells the story of people living on shifting borders between Georgia and Russia and their daily life full of intense terror and fear. They have to live in absolute chaos – as Russia’s illegal borderization on Georgian territory still continues, some people just wake up in the morning and find themselves on occupied territories - their home now sits on foreign soil and their money becomes worthless. The community members find themselves, their schools, and their places of business unexpectedly under occupation.
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Eighteen-year-old Mariam lives in Nikozi village near the southern border of South Ossetia. Her village was bombed during the Russo-Georgian War in 2008—a memory she says she'll never forget

“Fear, thick and unyielding, is a constant for many Georgians living along the shifting borders of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Russian-supported separatist territories that were once governed by Georgia—and officially still are according to the United States and the majority of the international community,” tells the journalist of National Geographic.
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A mother and daughter walk along a road that leads to and from Tserovani, a village created for Georgians forced to flee Tskhinvali (South Ossetia)

According to the article, the regions declared their independence in the 1990s and have been under dispute for decades. During the Russo-Georgian War in 2008, Russian forces invaded the territories and have continued to move their administrative borders farther and farther into Georgia.

The author of the article stresses the fact that the borders are not currently recognized by much of the world. However, they have real and serious effects on the people living in the area.
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Children play outside in Dvani village, located on the southern border of South Ossetia

The journalist talked with Georgian photographer Daro Sulakauri, who has spent nearly 10 years documenting this volatile region.

It is worth mentioning that Daro Sulakauri has recently published a photo project on the villages bordering the breakaway regions of South Ossetia (Tskhinvali Region) and Abkhazia. Her project focuses on people who live right at the occupied border lines to the breakaway regions.
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This bridge, in Napati village, was previously one of the main border crossings

According to the photographer, it is the “psychological games” imposed on those living on the borderlines that she finds most problematic.

As a Georgian child of the nineties, she says tensions with her neighboring country were a pervasive part of her daily life. “You never know how safe you are,” says Sulakauri. “I felt this when I was walking around visiting the [borderline] villages. There is no one around. If you scream out, no one will hear you.”
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Nine-year-old Nana plays in her yard in the village of Khurcha on the southeastern border of Abkhazia. One of eight siblings, she is a folk dancer who hopes to become famous

As Daro Sulakauri told National Geographic, Georgian villagers out for a walk may suddenly find themselves across a newly moved border—facing fines, arrest, or detention. “There are also a lot of cases where farmers lose cows because they will wander over to occupied territory and never come back,” she added. “This is a big issue when a lot of their income comes from their cows.”
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A child takes a swim in the Enguri River, which is used as the borderline of the Russian-supported separatist territory of Abkhazia. The river was previously known as a good location for safely crossing into Abkhazia, but recent installation of barbed wire fencing and surveillance equipment has stalling those crossings

The worst thing is that people living in conflict zones lose their family members, the do not have the opportunity to get proper education and they have to live in crushing poverty.
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Children in Tserovani board a school bus

Daro Sulakauri photographed 84-year-old Georgian citizen Data Vanishvili through a barbed wire fence. Sadly, he woke up one morning to find his home on the other side of the border and his money worthless.

“It is a really sad situation for him,” she says. “Since he got a pension in Georgian Lari (GEL), when he wants to buy bread he would call his neighbors and give them money over the barbed wire fence and then the neighbor would buy the bread and give it back to him. He's trying to survive somehow.”
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A family stands near their corn field in Pakhulani village

The journalist also stresses the fact that despite the terrible life conditions, the locals still maintain resilience and a warm-hearted optimism. Daro Sulakauri felt this most keenly among the children. “They're so pure, but they are also grown up because of what they have gone through,” she said.

All photos courtesy Daro Sulakauri

The first image depicts a brightly lit cross, erected after the 2008 Russo-Georgian War, stands on the road leading to the village of Dvani. Photo courtesy Daro Sulakauri

Related stories;

Living on the Shifting Border of Georgia and Russia – The New York Times

Georgian photographer depicts the creeping borders in her country

Russia's illegal borderization on Georgian territory continues! - What EUMM says

Georgian soldier who died in occupied Tskhinvali Region buried with honor

US Assistant Secretary visits occupation line: "We call on the Russia to withdraw the recognition of these regions"
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