Abkhazia is a non-place. However, it was once considered a paradise. In the years of the Soviet Union, this strip of land spanning 200 kilometres by 100 and facing onto the Black Sea was the chosen holiday destination of the political elite, who could enjoy hospitality of the highest standards. Figures such as Stalin, Beria, Khrushchev and Brezhnev had dachas there.
Following the fall of the USSR, Georgia proclaimed independence, and in turn, in July 1992, Abkhazia attempted to secede from Georgia. There followed a ferocious war that, over the course of one year, devastated Abkhazia, leaving 30 thousand dead and tens of thousands displaced.
Today Abkhazia is an autonomous republic to all intents and purposes, but neither the United Nations nor the European Union recognise its independence. Only five UN member states (including Russia) and three other disputed territories acknowledge its legitimacy as an independent nation. An international embargo continues to stifle economic development and foreign investment in the country.
In spite of the fact that more than 25 years have passed since the end of the war, at least half of the buildings and towns remain abandoned. A large part of the Georgian population of Abkhazia fled during the conflict, thus depopulating the eastern part of the country. Ochamchire, which before the war was home to 20 thousand inhabitants, today has a population of less than one tenth of that number. In places such as Akarmara, Dzhantukha and Polyana, which enjoyed a golden era during the Soviet period and had populations of 4,000 inhabitants each, are now home to just a few dozen people.
While the arm wrestle between the Abkhazia government and its Georgian counterpart continues, the population struggles to establish a semblance of normality in that lost paradise that many still remember. As daily life in the region seems trapped in a permanent state of limbo, buildings that date back to the Soviet era and the time of the Tsars, such as hotels, spas, sanatoria, castles, railway stations as well as entire towns built in the Stalinist neoclassical style, are crumbling and this cultural heritage risks disappearing forever.