For almost 30 years now the Georgian community in Abkhazia has lived amidst an unresolved conflict
Over the Ingur/i Bridge to the other side of the conflict
The bridge over the Ingur/i River has separated the Abkhaz and Georgian sides since the conflict of the 1990s. It runs between the Zugdidi district of Georgia and the Gali district of Abkhazia. To cross the bridge, you need to go through three control points - Georgian, Abkhaz, as well as a point where Russian border guards are stationed. After the 2008 August War, Russia and several other countries recognised the independence of Abkhazia. Georgia, supported by the West and the majority of the international community, considers Abkhazia its territory.
Mostly Georgians live in the Gali district, and their lives are closely connected with the other side. There are always a lot of people at the Georgian checkpoint. Minibuses go one after another, but for many the final stop is right behind the bridge. Passengers jump off the steps and hurry to get in line, which leads to the door of another, more modern route. This is a mobile bank. “We stand here to receive our pensions. Georgia pays us – it is a very small amount, but it is better than nothing”, an elderly woman tells us.
A few days before we were walking across the bridge from the Zugdidi district, headed for Abkhazia. Many people came with us, they returned home and carried bags filled to the brim with goods and products from Georgia. People justified their trip with the fact that some things cannot be bought in Abkhazia. But one person carried with him only three bottles of Borjomi Georgian mineral water.
“I live in Zugdidi, but I have family in Sukhumi. I visit them from time to time,” said a Georgian woman of about 50 years old, who had been waiting with us at the Abkhaz checkpoint.
Soon we were joined by another woman, who was also going to visit her family. Her youngest daughter was arguing in Georgian with her mother and sister about what language we spoke - in English or in Spanish. We said to the girl in broken Georgian: “This is English.”
“Yes, I would prefer to go to America now with my family. But we need a visa, and who would give us one?” the girls' mother reacted sadly.
In the shadow of a big tree, several people stayed on the road, arguing over how many packs of cigarettes they would be allowed to carry with them. The conversation became so heated that the border guard approached them and asked to keep it down.
Half an hour later, finally, our turn approached the checkpoint where Russian border guards were waiting for us. The man with the Borjomi bottles, who was ahead of us, was still waiting for his turn, but Russian soldiers identified us as people who came from the West and offered us to skip the line. The soldiers were clearly bored.
Our passports were checked at the Abkhaz checkpoint. The Abkhaz border guards were all sitting together, smoking. One of them got up, threw his cigarette butt on the ground, crushed it with a heavy black military boot and requested our passports.
“Now, if your governments recognized us [the independence of Abkhazia] - you wouldn’t have to go through this,” he said, returning the passports - and we set off.
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