Pictures of a deserted Soviet city

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Photography by V Mulder

The industrial town of Tkvarcheli is located in a disputed region on the Eastern Shore of the Black Sea,
sprawled across a valley that is sometimes shrouded in fog. Here, the Soviet period is still very much alive
and well, haunting the streets like an evil spirit.

Photography by V Mulder

To supply coal to the Soviet industrial complex, Tkvarcheli was constructed in the early 1940s. The town
was made to last. Currently, just five nations, including the usual suspects like Russia, Venezuela, and
Nicaragua, recognize the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia, the nation where the town is located. The
majority of nations throughout the globe do not view Abkhazia as a separate state but rather as a region
that belongs to Georgia. Tkvarcheli was taken prisoner by Georgian soldiers in the early 1990s
independence war. Before Abkhaz forces supported by the Russians intervened, the Georgian army
attempted to “starve the town into submission” for more than a year. The town’s population decreased
from 40,000 during the Soviet period by half. In the industrial town that was doomed after the war, very
few people could even make a livelihood, and by 2008, there were less than 5,000 people living there.

Photography by V Mulder
Photography by V Mulder

Ben Rich, a traveler from the Soviet period, visited the town last year, much to the chagrin of his local
chauffeur, who thought he may be a spy.
“As we rounded a bend, a vista of Tkvarcheli became visible. It was an ugly sight. Despite being in such
lush and gorgeous surroundings, a run-down, unsightly town… Nothing indicated that we were in the new
millennium or that modernism was here. Except for the rare Soviet-built vehicle and a melancholyappearing pedestrian who stood and observed as we went by, the streets were deserted. A few stores
with painted wooden signs displaying what they sold—shoes, products, and bread—were erected at the
base of Stalinist residential complexes. It resembled a movie set.

Photography by V Mulder
Photography by V Mulder
Photography by V Mulder

“The abandoned apartment buildings on the traffic circle overlooking the main street of the town were
too well constructed to have been constructed for the workers; instead, they were constructed for the
nomenclature of the Stalinist era: party cadres and their families, security men, and factory directors.
Furthermore, no one attained those positions during those gloomy times without spilling blood, turning
over a list of names, or reporting to someone. Nobody was allowed to dwell in the sturdy flat in Tkvarcheli
that overlooked the park unless they were able to silence their conscience and commit certain abhorrent
acts. Desolation Travel, Ben Rich

Photography by V Mulder
Photography by V Mulder
Photography by V Mulder

I’ve long wondered what it must have been like to live in the Soviet Union during the height of Stalin’s paranoid regime when nobody could be trusted and you were constantly being watched and spied upon by your closest neighbors and family. You were not allowed to enter some buildings because of the horrors they housed. I now experienced the first sting of anxiety and despair throughout my travels as I felt the tentacles’ gentle touch. The sodomization of Tkvarcheli by its own complicity with history made it a horrible place.

Photography by V Mulder
Photography by V Mulder
Photography by V Mulder

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