On April 7, the bodies of four ethnic Georgians were pulled from the Enguri River. The river serves as a natural “border” separating Gali district in Abkhazia from the rest of Georgia. The drownings offered a stark reminder of the hardships and dangers that ethnic Georgians face in Gali, and the risks they take when they try to enter Georgian-controlled territory.
Ethnic Georgians living in Gali have faced increasing restrictions on their freedom of movement since 2008, when Russia recognized Abkhazia’s independence following the Georgia-Russia war. But traveling to Georgian-controlled territory became almost impossible after the Covid-19 pandemic broke out in February 2020 and the Abkhaz authorities closed all legal crossing points.
Prior to the pandemic, ethnic Abkhaz with Abkhaz passports were allowed to freely travel to Georgian-controlled territory for medical treatment. Abkhaz authorities did not extend the same right to ethnic Georgians living in Gali, however. They had to apply for a five-year residency permit if they wanted to cross into Georgian-controlled territory.
Gali residents need to travel to Georgian-controlled territory for many reasons. Some cross because the food and other goods are much cheaper in Zugdidi, the closest Georgian-controlled city. Others make the trip to see family, attend Georgian-language school or even to get medical treatment.
Now that official crossings are closed due to the pandemic, however, life in Gali has become a daily struggle. Families have become separated, people cannot get to doctors, and food costs are soaring. M.K. lives in Gali. She collected the stories of people trying to survive in Gali and sent them to Chai Khana. Due to safety reasons, she requested that Chai Khana not publish her name or the full name of her respondents.
To get the material out, M.K. typed the stories one by one and tried to send them through Facebook Messenger between electricity outages. There are rolling blackouts in Gali, where the lights go out for an hour every three hours, leading to internet outages as well.
A sick toddler and no doctor
Locked out of care
A family apart
Pregnant and alone
A life of isolation
T.K. is 83 and lives in Dikhazurgi village, Gali district. Her husband died 40 years ago, and they had no children. Her relatives live in Georgia-controlled territory. With the crossing points closed, no one can come to see her and she cannot leave either. She doesn’t even have any neighbors—everyone near her abandoned their houses after the war. She depends on her garden, chickens and a cow for food and milk.
"When I was young, there used to be different diseases, but it was easier for us to get through everything. There used to be more kindness,” T.K. said. “The lack of kindness scares me more than any pandemic. I’ve noticed that the ones who watch TV very often feel so much worse! It was announced that everyone should avoid contact with the elderly because of this virus. That is why everyone tries to stay away, and no one ever comes to see me. They act like I have the Black Death or something.”
T.K. 's only relations live in Kutaisi and, before the pandemic, they used to travel to Zugdidi to meet T.K. But she has not seen them for a year.