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Georgia / Abkhazia: blues on both sides of the line

07-04-2006 Feature

Five women reflect on poverty, families and solitude in the no-man's-land of life in a country divided since the conflict started in 1992. More than a decade on, lives remain on hold.

 Nadezhda: "The most terrible thing is loneliness”  

 
 
 
© ICRC Georgia 
 
Nadezhda's “luxury” is an old TV set that keeps her in touch with events in Abkhazia and in the world. 
    Nadezhda (70) lives in a small house in Sukhumi, Abkhazia, with just one room and a tiny kitchen. She arrived there from her native Russia in 1962, and found employment as a senior accountant in a state company.

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"  

 
 
© ICRC Georgia 
 
Despite the hardships, Luba found the strength to encourage her children. 
    Luba's family went through all the horrors of war, back in 1992-93: her husband was wounded while fighting in Abkhazia; she and her three children fled from their home in Sukhumi with just the clothes on their backs, leaving behind her mother, her friends…

" 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"  

 
The ICRC in Georgia 
 
The ICRC has been present in Georgia
  since 1992. Its activities include:
 
 
  •   visits to detainees to assess conditions of detention and treatment;
     
  •   support for the authorities in bringing tuberculosis in prisons under control;
     
  •   seeking to provide answers to families of missing persons;
     
  •   protection and assistance for displaced people and other vulnerable groups;
     
  •   support for the integration of international humanitarian law into the training of armed and security forces and into university and school curricula;
     
  •   help to strengthen the capacities of the national Red Cross society.
     
   
     

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 re ad 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…”
 
© ICRC Georgia 
 
Valentina keeps in touch with her brother through Red Cross messages. 
    For all her adult life, Valentina worked at a clothes factory in Sukhumi, Abkhazia, as a professional dressmaker. Her speciality was making wedding dresses.

" When the war broke out they were bombing the city, houses were burning, we couldn't stay there any longer,” says Valentina, tears welling in her eyes. “When we left, I couldn't take anything with me; I walked to Chuberi with my four-year-old daughter – she was bare-foot! There we received bread and blankets, and then we were taken to Zugdidi in vehicles.”

Now she lives in Senaki, western Georgia, along with many other people displaced from Abkhazia by the war. " When we arrived here two rooms were allocated to us in an abandoned hotel. We somehow managed to get a bed, the Red Cross gave us a mattress and relatives brought us some dishes. Later they gave me a sewing machine and I was able to sew to get sugar, bread, tomato, and so on.

“There was time at the very beginning of our displacement when we had only one plastic plate and I remember giving food first to my daughter, then to my husband and only after that could I eat.”

Valentina’s husband lives in the capital, Tbilisi, with their daughter who is studying at a pharmaceutical college. Somehow they manage to scrape by – he with his military pension, she by selling second-hand clothes. But to make matters worse, her eyesight has failed and she can no longer produce fine clothes to sell.

She returned to Sukhumi, for a few months, to take care of her mother; but despite a friendly welcome from her neighbours, she did not feel comfortable enough to stay. Now she keeps in touch with her brother through Red Cross messages. “Somehow I always know when I will receive a letter from my brother, I see him in my dreams.”

Despite the pain and the hardship, Valentina remains philosophical: “What can we do? What has happened is not our fault, but it all affected us. Time heals everything and our wounds will also be healed…”