Abkhazia is a de facto independent republic located on the eastern coast of the Black Sea, bordering the Russian Federation to the north, and within the internationally recognized borders of Georgia. Abkhazia’s independence is not recognized by any international organization or country and it is regarded as an autonomous republic of Georgia.
A secessionist movement of Abkhaz ethnic minority in the region led to the declaration of independence from Georgia in 1992 and the Georgian-Abkhaz armed conflict from 1992 to 1993 which resulted in the Georgian military defeat and the mass exodus of ethnic Georgian population from Abkhazia. In spite of the 1994 ceasefire accord and the ongoing UN-monitored CIS peacekeeping operation, the sovereignty dispute has not yet been resolved and the region remains divided between the two rival authorities, with over 83 percent of its territory controlled by the Russian-backed Sukhumi-based separatist government and about 17 percent governed by the representatives of the de jure Government of Abkhazia, the only body internationally recognized as a legal authority of Abkhazia, located in the Kodori Valley, part of Georgian-controlled Upper Abkhazia.
Nadezhda: "The most terrible thing is loneliness”
She was one of 11 children. “Before the war began in 1992, my relatives used
to visit me several times a year and I exchanged letters with those who could
not come. Then the war broke out; it was very difficult."
During the war, Nadezhda lost contact with her family. The links were restored once the ICRC opened its Red Cross message service, which Nadezhda uses regularly.
From 1996 to 2000 she worked as a Red Cross social worker, delivering food. "After the war, when you could not buy even a loaf of bread, this job was a real lifesaver," she remembers. But because of poor health she had to stop working, and she now survives on the Abkhaz pension and – a recent addition – a pension of about 35 US dollars paid by the Russian authorities. Her one “luxury” is an old TV set that keeps her in touch with events in Abkhazia and in the world.
Over the years, Nadezhda’s health has worsened, and she now has a Red Cross social worker to look after her, while she prepares to move back to Russia to live with her sister and niece in Semipalatinsk.
“I am tired of living alone here,” she sighs. “I am grateful to the Red Cross for assisting me; their support and my belief in God helped me to hope for the better and contemplate spend my remaining years peacefully with my family. The most terrible thing in one's old age is loneliness.”
Original article by Nizfa Arshba, published in "Nuzhnaya Gazeta", Sukhumi, Abkhazia, 7 March 2006
Luba: "When my children look at me… I feel strong"
"We managed to get to the capital, Tbilisi. Everything seemed temporary, but
it is now 13 years since we were forced to leave our home. When my husband died
in 1998, from a heart attack, I was left alone with my children," Luba (47) says
with tears in her eyes. "Home" for her now is some space at a military barracks
in western Georgia.
But despite the hardships, Luba found the strength to encourage her children. Her eldest son, Giga (21), recently graduated from the National Military Academy and serves with an elite army commando unit. In February 2006 he married the girl he had been courting since his teens – Tsitsino, also aged 21.
"She's a medical student, from a well-off family," says Luba. "I was stunned when I was told they were going to marry – after all, they are well off and I'm just a poor refugee. I felt terribly awkward when Tsitsino's family invited me to their place. I told them - my three children are all my wealth, I have nothing else.
"Sometimes I want to commit suicide because of the poverty, but when I look at my children and remember what I have gone through, I force myself not to do that. When they look at me with hope I feel strong, my courage returns."
Luba's mother still lives in Sukhumi, a place Luba considers too dangerous to return to. They communicate through the ICRC, which collects and delivers Red Cross Messages every Thursday. "I wrote to my mother last week, and hope to get a reply tomorrow; that will comfort me for another week," says Luba.
Lamara and Maria: "Life takes its course"
At a time in life when most people would be happy to receive a little help
themselves, 84-year-old Maria dedicates her energies to looking after Lamara, a
middle-aged woman handicapped from birth.
Lamara was born handicapped. She cannot walk, couldn't ever. She can move only by crawling on the floor and views the world from below. Music is the main hobby of this woman who has never gone to school, and can neither read nor write. Her tastes include regional stars as well as internationally-famed performers; she regards them as friends. But whenever she is tired of them, Lamara sings to herself.
Maria has been living with Lamara for thirty years. And she is not a mere nurse-maid: she has taken the place of her father and mother, of her entire family. In the most difficult times during the war of Abkhazia, she never abandoned this handicapped woman.
"When she strokes my head it is like mother," Lamara says, and looks at the grey-haired woman with love. Maria gazes out of the window, her thoughts elsewhere. It is raining outside; the yard is damp and muddy, but she has to go to the local cafeteria to fetch Lamara’s dinner. She also needs to buy medicine for her blood pressure.
These days, Maria is officially a social worker of the Red Cross in Abkhazia – she takes care of Lamara, washes and cleans, things that she had done for ages anyway. Maria receives a Russian pension, while Lamara has an Abkhaz pension of about 4 US dollars. Vital support comes from the ICRC, in the form of food and clothing.
"Life, both mine and hers, takes its course," Maria sums up, her voice tired. She has never asked for anything; nor does she expect help from anyone. The idea of a wheel chair for Lamara seems superfluous. Lamara has done without one all her life; besides, Maria hasn’t the strength to put her in one. For now, at least Lamara will have to make do with her view from below and her musical friends…
Original article by Rozita German, published in "Nuzhnaya Gazeta", Sukhumi, Abkhazia, 7 March 2006
Valentina: “We had only one plastic plate…”