Skip to main content
  • Share to or

‘Zone of Fear’ A Meduza photo report on the territory bordering South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Georgia’s Russian-occupied regions

Source: Meduza

Exactly 15 years ago, in August 2008, Russia invaded Georgia — Russian troops took the side of the “self-proclaimed republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia,” which were not completely under Tbilisi’s de facto control. The conflict only lasted five days — the Russian army drove Georgian troops out of the republics, achieved a favorable truce, and avoided international isolation. Since then, there has been a so-called “Zone of Fear” on the border between Georgian-controlled territory and the territory of occupied South Ossetia and Abkhazia, where there are around 70 villages and ten thousand residents. At Meduza’s request, photographer Vitaly Malyshev traveled to the “Zone of Fear” with volunteers from the Georgian project to see what marks the 2008 war has left on the area.

Vitaly Malyshev

If you live in Russia and aren’t interested in the topic of the war in Georgia, it would seem that nothing’s been happening in the region on the border with the “self-proclaimed republics” for 15 years. But when you go, it turns out that in fact the conflict continues, albeit in a different form.

The occupation line isn’t a solid fence. In some places it’s wire, in other places there are signs, posts, or tape. No one marked the border right after the war. It was done later, and then the fences started to move — they still do now. In some villages, in the last five years, some of the houses have found themselves on territory outside of Georgia’s control: the fences were moved so that the inhabitants of those houses now live in another state. They’ve been seized.

There’s a very oppressive feeling in this border region — and the incredibly beautiful nature only emphasizes it. People live in constant fear of the Russian military, they start worrying when you speak to them in Russian. According to David Katsarava’s anti-occupation movement “Strength in Unity,” 1,400 people have been kidnapped here over the last 15 years.

A police car on patrol in the mountains
A destroyed house in the village of Gamdlistskaro. Some border villages have around a hundred residents, while other have only a few. calls their living conditions a humanitarian catastrophe. In many ways, residents of the “Zone of Fear” depend on the volunteers who constantly bring food and medicine to the remote region, and who help help people with house repairs, medical treatment, and legal issues. Most villages do not have a school. Children need to go to other settlements, sometimes on foot through the forest.
An abandoned house in the village of Goraki
Elena, an elderly resident of Goraki village, with her relatives
David Katsarava, leader of the Georgian anti-occupation movement “Strength in Unity,” inspects the border area. Members of Strength in Unity travel to the “Zone of Fear” regularly to record what’s happening on the border between Georgian-controlled territory and the Russian-occupied regions. Many members of the group also fight in Ukraine as part of the Georgian National Legion.
David Katsarava prepares to launch a drone. Members of Strength in Unity use them to monitor the occupation line.
Members of the movement launch a drone towards South Ossetia. A local resident shows them where he has recently seen Russian soldiers.
David Katsarava and another Strength in Unity member carrying humanitarian aid packages to a border village
Nanuli Osioshvili, a resident of Dusheti village
Life in Nanuli Osioshvili’s home
A house in the village of Gamdliszkaro
A flock of sheep on the street of a border village

Photography by Vitaly Malyshev

  • Share to or