Tskaltubo, Georgia – During Soviet times, Tskaltubo was an extremely popular holiday destination, famed among the Russian elite for its unique radon-carbonate mineral waters and grand sanatoriums.
Direct trains connected the resort town to the capital Moscow and former Soviet leader Joseph Stalin even kept a dacha nearby.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the declaration of Georgian independence in April 1991, the sanatoriums lost their steady stream of Soviet visitors.
As tourist numbers dropped, the sanatoriums were forced to shut down, and the impressive buildings were abandoned.
Shortly afterwards, Abkhazia declared its independence from Georgia and a bitter war ensued, marked by allegations of ethnic cleansing.
Hundreds of thousands of ethnic Georgians were displaced from Abkhazia, and many found themselves living in the abandoned sanatoriums of Tskaltubo.
At first, Nodari Kometiani, 80, enjoyed his beautiful new home. But as the situation dragged on for years, furniture and equipment were sold off, facilities fell into disrepair, and fires and floods further damaged the buildings.
According to Kometiani, “Life used to be great when we first moved in and the building was in good condition. Now I’m not sure if something is going to fall on my head”.
Combined with a lack of economic opportunities, residents soon realised these sanatoriums were not fit for long-term habitation. For years, little changed.
But recently, as the economy improved and Georgia became known as a tourist destination, a glimmer of hope appeared. Investors began to show interest in refurbishing and reopening the sanatoriums and the government announced a grand plan envisioning Tskaltubo as a modern resort town.
The government began building apartments for the IDPs, clearing out the sanatoriums, and selling them to investors. According to the deputy mayor of Tskaltubo, Aleksandre Dadunashvili, 1,759 IDP families have already been moved with the remaining 920 families scheduled to be re-homed by 2021.
These people are ethnic Georgians who were living in Abkhazia, but were forcefully displaced.