Tskaltubo, Georgia. Centuries ago, people flocked to this town for its therapeutic radon springs. During a Soviet-era that standardized restful retreats for the worker, its resorts served visitors from as far away as Moscow. Casinos and theaters with elevators, bathhouses, and columned verandas; Stalin himself had quarters there, minting its renown for luxe and respite. The town was also host to multiple sanatoriums, offering healing just inland from the Russian Riviera.
Today, the elegant structures of the former resort are striated and overgrown. The elements have been weathering local facilities since the early 90s when state-run spas and sanatoriums were forced to close with the fall of the USSR. Shifting politics sent a wave of tension across formerly Soviet Republics, igniting northern Georgia’s civil war. The affected region of Abkhazia would become an autonomous republic in 1999, but not before bloody clashes claimed more than 8,000 lives and drove hundreds of thousands more from their homes. In Tskaltubo, Georgian government statistics account for almost 6,000 of these displaced people. They were allotted small rooms in the abandoned sanatoriums, a temporary respite that’s now lasted 26 years.
This project is an environmental portrait of those who were displaced to Tskaltubo, a site that is an allegory of turbulent regional history. Some members of this community arrived there with only the clothes on their backs; some had lost everyone they knew. They have been going about life between crumbling walls and hollow salons where each errant shoe or dusty suitcase recalls the grandiosity and casualties of Soviet ideals.
The Georgian government is erecting new housing for the refugees. Currently (2023), over ninety percent of the Abkhaz refugees in Tskaltubo are already settled in their new homes in the same area. Accordingly, some sanitariums became abandoned again or renovated as a hotel for travelers.