The small town of Tkuarchal¹ in Abkhazia is relatively young. It first appeared on the map on April 9, 1942, conceived as a coal mine city.

“Some people think that if there are mines, then it means a polluted city, where everyone walks through knee-deep coal. Nothing like this!” notes Elena Yuryevna, a native resident of the city. “We had one of the cleanest cities in Abkhazia, and not only in Abkhazia. Our city was home to well-educated individuals, because working at serious enterprises like mines, regional power stations, and factories demanded skilled professionals. A majority of our population received higher education from mining institutes in Moscow and Leningrad.”

Elena Yuryevna is a school teacher who has devoted her entire life to supporting children. The topic of education is always a priority for her. Tkuarchal residents could always be identified by their good level of knowledge, she knows.

“Education in the city has always been at the highest level. Our schools are still ranked, and we can be proud that our students do not need to study with tutors. If Moscow or other universities found that an applicant was from Tkuarchal, they understood that this was a sign of high-quality knowledge.”

Caucasus Edition
Caucasus Edition

Once upon a time, the small town of Tkuarchal, located at the foot of the mountains, was well-arranged and self-sufficient. The town was not only proud of the schools, but also of the level of medicine. When the war broke out in 1992, this became a particularly important factor.

“We had excellent hospitals, especially the hospital in Akarmara; unique surgeons, excellent medical staff. When the war began, our hospital in Kuazan (one of the town’s names) became a military hospital. And all the local doctors – there were both Georgians and Russians – began to work in this military hospital. Thanks to them, a lot of our guys were saved, because they performed the most unique operations. Probably, in peacetime, a person who received such a wound would not have survived. But during the war everything was different,” said Elena Yuryevna.

During the 1992-1993 war, the city was under siege for 413 days. Tkuarchal was under blockade and went through very difficult times: hunger, cold, and deprivation. Another tragedy was an incident with a helicopter that brought humanitarian aid to the city and took children and pregnant women to Gudauta. On December 14, 1992, it was shot down over Lata. Everyone who was in it burned alive. This was one of the most tragic events in the history of the small town. Afterwards, it was especially difficult for residents to look each other in the eyes. After all, almost everyone had someone in that helicopter. The city survived this too.

Caucasus Edition
Caucasus Edition

“We survived because everyone helped each other. This unity saved us,” Elena Ivanovna is sure.

The war had not yet ended, there were a couple of days left until September 30, 1993, when Elena Ivanovna was already going work at the school, there were still battles in some places, but perhaps a person just wants, especially in wartime, to bring this feeling of “normality” closer.

“I remember that back in Pakuashya there were battles when we opened schools. It’s good that we have preserved textbooks in the library, and we have preserved educational funds throughout the city. If before the war children could be lazy and not want to go to school, then after the war they eagerly and happily went to school. We had to heat the stoves with wood. Our supply manager, Uncle Zhora, prepared tea in large cauldrons. For more than three years we didn’t receive any salary at all. They gave us a loaf of gray bread. And we also shared bread with the children. I always brought home half a loaf of bread. We, of course, felt sorry for the children, because we understood that they did not have the childhood that we had.”

Tkuarchal was also deprived of all electricity for several autumn-winter months, and this was during an unusually cold, snowy winter in Abkhazia.

“We were given electricity on February 26, 1993,” recalls Elena Ivanovna, “And we were ready to live without electricity for another 5 years, as long as there was no war.”

After the war, the city began to revive. The road was repaired (during the war it was called the “road of life”); houses were covered with new roofs; a music school, a kindergarten, and a memorial complex were rebuilt from scratch. The Palace of Culture (painted by the townspeople themselves) was restored. The park area has been updated. Recalling the pre-war plans for the improvement of the city, Elena said:

“Our Tkuarchel residents always traveled a lot before the war. And upon returning they always talked about innovations. Just before the war, the idea came up to make singing fountains.The place was chosen, everything was laid, and then the war began.”

Caucasus Edition
Caucasus Edition

At the suggestion of Russian tourists, who often travel in SUVs to see the “abandoned and outlandish Tkuarchal,” the city began to be called a ghost. Local residents admit that they are offended to hear this. They still remember the heyday of the city, and they certainly don’t consider themselves ghosts.

“Each microdistrict of our city was equipped. Kindergarten, school, hairdresser, bookstore, department store, grocery store, and the cinema. Living there, you don’t have to leave anywhere. You had everything. At that time, 5,000 people lived in Dzhantukh (microdistrict). And my grandmother lived in the “fifth mine” district. 2,000 people lived there. Now no one lives there at all and something is just being done. Akarmara was densely populated: even more people lived there.”

Elena Ivanovna lives in the city center on the upper platform in one of the houses built by captured Germans in 1942. These houses were built in the Georgian style: “similar otherness,” Elena said. “All the houses in the city center look the same. But if you look closely, you can see that each house has its own peculiarity.”

A beautiful city buried in rows of cypress trees, framed by mountains and hills, with unique architecture of slender houses with numerous balconies, where rare residents still grow geraniums. This city, which was once bustling with life, is now quite deserted. Our conversation with Elena Ivanovna continued with a series of sad questions and answers.

“What has happened now? There is no work. In our case, everything was focused on mines and regional power stations. The mines were closed. The power plant was bombed and could not be restored. That is, we needed large investments to launch it all. The outflow of population has begun,” reflects Elena Ivanovna.

But still this is not a ghost town. People live here. They teach children, they wonder whether they should be a mathematician or something else. And everyone has a glimmer of hope inside that the past, which they warmly remember, is possible in the future.

“I have already said that our city has always been international, and therefore we have never been interested in nationality. It is important for every city dweller what kind of person you are – that’s all. We always say jokingly: ‘nationality is Tkuarchelian.’ We used to play football yard against yard for a box of lemonade until very late in the evening. It was the time of my unbridled childhood: friendship, kindness. There was stability. There was work. There was no need to think about where to make money. Everyone was busy with their own business. Factories, mines, garment factory, the Palace of Culture. Tkuarchel schools were all famous. Even today I would choose to live in Tkuarchal. This is my city.”

Tkuarchal is a special city. Something changed in it forever. Something didn’t survive at all. But something remained eternal: people and their trembling hearts, full of hope.


¹Georgians call the city Tkvarcheli

Leave a Comment

What are your thoughts on the subject?