Occupation Line

Author: Tamuna Chkareuli

Edition: Unseen Borders

Since 2008 the Russian military force has occupied the territory of South Ossetia, proclaiming itself a peacekeeper between South Ossetia and Georgia.  While only four countries (Russia, Nauru, Venezuela, Nicaragua) in the world recognize South Ossetia’s independency,  Georgian citizens still have no access to this territory. Furthermore, the occupation line, represented by the barbed wire, green banners and ground lines is expanding towards Georgia, cutting villages in half and taking over local people’s fields and farming facilities. Georgians refuse to abandon their homes at the occupation line, so they carry on working on the land under the daily risk of being abducted to the other side.

These abductions are of permanent nature and make a stable income for the Russian forces, as the abducted must pay a fine to return to their country.

After return they often continue working on the very same place they’ve been taken from, as they don’t have any other source of income. Even though most of the villagers can see the Russian bases right from the window, calling for the work on the land is stronger than a habitual fear. They might find their field smaller than it was yesterday, but they have to adapt to the new boundaries in order to survive. 

The latest movement of the occupation line banner took place in early July 2017. 

Amiran was captured while working on his own land. On February 23d, he's been dragged to the other side where the Russian soldiers took pictures of him, imposing him as a violator of state border. He's been detained for five days and abused physically.
Valia Vanishvili is Georgian, trapped on the occupied land. She and her husband Dato live on the Ossetian half of a village Khurvaleti, cut by the border. They refused to abandon their house, but lost the access to the most of their fields. Valia is still working on the remnants of her land every day.
Dato Vanishvili. "I'm not afraid of the Russians. My wife feels sick lately. What will happen if she dies? What am I going to do without her?"
Villager from the borderline settlement fishing in the bulrush. Country’s main road runs in the 400 meter proximity to the uncertain land.
In the village Ditsi, locals still let the cattle on the fields their ancestors did, and wait patiently on the other side.
Russian military base overlooking the village. After nearly ten years, constant surveillance became the part of the villager's daily lives.
Resident of the village Dvani preferred to remain anonymous, as her house is closest to the occupation line. She lives in the government built small cottage in the yard of her house, burnt in 2008 conflict.
Dimitiri on the ruins of his house. "I built it with my own hands. We had everything. Now I still sneak in sometimes to take the grapes from what's left of the vineyard, but not too often. I still remember how they caught me and others from the village in 2008 and spilled the petrol on us to burn alive."
Misha is showing me around his house, burnt in 2008. "My Mario used to stand in this corner, and the entire village would come to play". Misha's family still lives in the same village, in the former kindergarten building, given to them and another affected family. Large military road runs right behind their former house.
Gugutiantkari. Cross on the house was meant to bless everyone entering.
Working on the land next to the border has become a usual activity.
"We've been as one, us and Ossetians. We are one family. On the night before the shooting began, we were guests in the Ossetian wedding. We miss them, but we're afraid."
The other side of the bridge is the occupied territory. One of the bases can be seen in the background.
Ilia Beruashvili is one of the rare villagers that managed to claim back part of the occupied land by negotiating with the military. The large part of it, however, is still occupied.
In Sobisi, the occupation line was moved several meters towards Georgia this summer. Russian military base can be seen in the background.
Citizens protest agains the occupation on the spot, 2017.
Young protesters in the field.
Protesters camp was guarded by the border police at night, in fear of provocation or human abduction.
"They [Protesters] are not going to change anything, but they still create the noise, which is good. We can't do much in this situation, as we are not granted many permissions. We try to protect people as much as we can" - Georgian military police.
A small group of Georgian citizens was let on the potential risk zone to erect the sign saying “101 Kilometers to the State border”.
In the anticipation of forthcoming elections, several political parties financed the protest trips for their supporters, who came along with their entire family.

Occupation Line: work in progress is a project by Tamuna Chkareuli. 

We are a non-profit media organization covering the topics and groups of people that are frequently ignored by mainstream media. Our work would not be possible without support from our community and readers like you. Your donations enable us to support journalists who cover underrepresented stories across the region.