In the Soviet era, Tskaltubo was a renowned spa town: its natural springs and 22 grandiose sanatoriums were frequented by the Soviet elite and workers sent for rest and medical treatment. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the closure of the railway line connecting the town to Moscow, however, began Tskaltubo’s decline. Two hours’ drive to the Black Sea, today Tskaltubo is a semi-abandoned town in western Georgia, its old sanatoriums long since called into action to respond to an emergency by housing refugees from the conflict between Georgia and Abkhazia.
Abkhazia, originally part of Georgia, has for almost thirty years been a substantially independent republic recognised by Russia but few others. Between 1992 and 1993 the conflict between the Abkhazia militia and Georgian armed forces displaced more than 10 thousand people, half of whom arrived in Tskaltubo expecting to receive a home. But thirty years on, hundreds of families are still living in the old, run-down Soviet sanatoriums, where health and hygiene conditions are precarious and there is no gas or heating. The lockdown imposed to combat the spread of Covid-19 has only worsened a situation that was already dramatic.