Within a disputed territory on the Eastern coast of the Black Sea, spread across a valley often hidden in fog, lies the industrial town of Tkvarcheli, where the Soviet era still lives on like an evil spirit that haunts the streets.
Photography by V Mulder
Tkvarcheli was built in the early 1940’s Stalinist period to supply coal to the Soviet industrial machine. It was a town built to last. Today the country in which the town resides, the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia, is only recognised by five other countries, including the usual suspects, Russia, Venezuela and Nicaragua. The majority of the world’s governments do not consider Abkhazia as an independent state but as part of Georgia’s territory. During the independence war in the early 90’s, Tkvarcheli was captured by Georgian forces. For more than a year, the Georgian army tried to ‘starve the town into submission’ until Abkhaz forces aided by the Russians stepped in. The decline of the Soviet era had seen the town’s population cut in half from 40,000 people. After the war, very few residents could even make a living in the doomed industrial town and by 2008, the population was down to less than 5,000 inhabitants.
A soviet era explorer, Ben Rich of Desolation Travel paid a visit to the town last year, much to the discontent of his local driver who half-suspected him of being a spy…
“Rounding a corner the view of Tkvarcheli opened up in front of us. It was not a pretty sight. An ugly town, run down and decaying but paradoxically set in such lush and beautiful surroundings… There was no sign of modernity, nothing to suggest we were in the new millennium. The streets were empty except for the occasional Soviet built car and glum looking pedestrian who stood and watched as we drove past. There were a few shops built into the bottom of Stalinist apartment buildings which had painted wooden signs advertising what they stocked ‘Shoes’, ‘Products’, ‘Bread’. It was like a film set.”
“The abandoned apartment buildings on the traffic circle overlooking the only road into the town were too well built to have been built for the workers; instead they were built for the nomenclature of the Stalinist period: party cadres and their families, securitat men, directors of the factories. And nobody achieved those positions in those dark days without having blood on their hands, without handing over a list of names, without reporting to someone. Nobody got to live in the well-built apartment overlooking the park in Tkvarcheli unless they were able to mute the voice of their conscience and do certain despicable things.” – Ben Rich, Desolation Travel
“I’d always wondered how it would have been to have lived in the Soviet Union in the height of Stalin’s paranoiac reign where nobody was to be trusted, where you were watched and spied upon by your closest neighbours and family. Where there were certain buildings you dared not walk past because of the horrors contained within. Now for the first time in my travels I felt the faint touch of its tentacles, the first sting of fear and despair. Tkvarcheli was a cruel place, sodomised by its own collusion with history.”
–Ben Rich, Desolation Travel
Photography by V Mulder via English Russia
More Urbex Exploration at Desolate Travel
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: