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UNTOLD PROJECT

MANONI’S STORY

TRUE STORIES FROM PEOPLE THE MEDIA WON’T TALK TO


ABKHAZIA IN 1992 THE WAR BETWEEN ABKHAZIA AND GEORGIA BEGAN. ABKHAZIA IS A PARTIALLY RECOGNISED STATE, TRADITIONALLY ASSOCIATED WITH BEING A PART OF GEORGIA, BUT IS HOME TO NUMEROUS ETHNIC GROUPS; ABKHAZ, RUSSIANS, ARMENIANS AND GEORGIANS. THE WAR BEGAN AFTER THE SPLIT OF THE SOVIET UNION DUE TO YEARS OF TENSION. ABKHAZ SEPARATIST FORCES WANTED TO BECOME AN INDPENDENT STATE AND BEGAN A MILITARY OFFENSIVE IN 1992, BACKED BY NORTH CAUCASUS MILITANTS, COSSACKS AND RUSSIAN FEDERATION FORCES. THEY FOCUSED ON ETHNICALLY CLEANSING THE AREA OF GEORGIANS, AND SO BEGAN A LONG RUNNING TENSION THAT STILL HAS NOT BEEN RESOLVED TO THIS DAY. BETWEEN 20,000 AND 30,000 ETHNIC GEORGIAN CIVILIANS WERE KILLED DURING THE CONFLICT AND AROUND 200,000 WERE DISPLACED.


MY NAME IS MANONI AND I LIVE AND WORK IN TBILISI, GEORGIA, AS A BEAUTICIAN.

THIS IS MY STORY OF HOW I ESCAPED THE WAR AND ENDED UP WHERE I AM NOW


MY FAMILY ARE ETHNIC GEORGIANS AND I GREW UP IN A TOWN CALLED GALI.

IT’S IN THE SOUTHEAST OF ABKHAZIA, ABOUT 70KM FROM SUKHUMI, WHERE THE WAR BEGAN.

GROWING UP WAS NORMAL. I WENT TO SCHOOL, STUDIED, LIFE WAS GOOD.


BUT THEN THE ABKHAZIAN MILITANTS ATTACKED GOVERNMENT BUILDINGS IN SUKHUMI


AND THE WAR BEGAN.


PEOPLE IN GALI BEGAN TO FLEE AS THE MILITANT ARMY ADVANCED CLOSER.

BUT MY FAMILY DIDN’T REALISE HOW SERIOUS I]T WAS, SO WE STAYED, NOT WANTING TO LEAVE OUR HOME.

IT DIDN’T FEEL REAL.


IT WASN’T UNTIL OUR NEIGHBOUR CAME ROUND AND TOLD US THAT WE SHOULD GO TOO

DID WE THEN REALISE.


THE NEXT DAY WE PACKED EVERYTHING IMPORTANT; DOCUMENTS, JEWELLERY, AND MONEY.

MY FATHER HAD TO STAY BEHIND IN ORDER TO LOOK AFTER HIS SICK PARENTS BUT MY MOTHER AND I LEFT, JOINING THE OTHER REFUGEES.


ON OUR JOURNEY HELICOPTERS SUDDENLY APPEARED OVERHEAD

WE DIDN’T KNOW IF THEY WERE GEORGIAN OR ABKHAZIAN

I FEARED WE WERE ABOUT TO BE BOMBED.

BUT WE WERE LUCKY AND MADE IT TO THE BRIDGE THAT LED OUT OF THE TOWN


BUT WHEN WE GOT THERE, PEOPLE HAD ABANDONED THEIR CARS,

BLOCKING THE WAY,

AS THE ARMY WAS GETTING CLOSER.


INSTEAD EVERYONE WAS RUNNING FOR THEIR LIVES.

I REMEMBER SEEING PEOPLE GET TRAMPLED AMONGST THE PANIC.


LUCKILY WE MADE IT OUT OF ABKHAZIA SAFELY. MY GRANDMOTHER LIVED IN GEORGIA SO WE WENT TO STAY WITH HER


WE DIDN’T THINK WE WERE GOING TO STAY THAT LONG,

ASSUMING THAT WE WOULD BE ABLE TO RETURN HOME IN A FEW DAYS.

BUT WE WAITED 1 MONTH


AND THEN 2

THEN 3


WHEN WE REALISED THINGS WEREN’T GOING TO GO BACK TO NORMAL, WE HEADED TO THE CAPITAL, TBILISI, WHERE MY SISTER WAS STUDYING.


REFUGEE HOUSING HAD BEEN SET UP IN HOTELS AND UNIVERSITY ACCOMMODATION FOR EVERYONE FLEEING ABKHAZIA.

WE MOVED INTO THIS HOUSING AND I BEGAN STUDYING LIKE MY SISTER..

BUT THERE WERE SO MANY PEOPLE, MAKING CONDITIONS VERY CRAMPED, AS EACH FAMILY ONLY HAD ONE ROOM.


ALTHOUGH WE WERE LUCKY ENOUGH TO MAKE IT OUT ALIVE, UNLIKE MANY OTHERS, WE STLL FACED TROUBLE IN THE CITY SOME PEOPLE DIDN’T LIKE THE FACT THAT SO MANY REFUGEES HAD MOVED INTO THEIR CITY, AND THEY DIDN’T WELCOME US IN.


THOSE PEOPLE DIDN’T REALISE THAT, 15 YEARS LATER, RUSSIA WOULD INVADE THE REST OF GEORGIA

AND THAT THEY WOULD BE IN THE SAME DIFFICULT SITUATION.


THE RUSSIAN ARMY ATTACKED MANY GEORGIAN TOWNS

BOMBING CITIES SUCH AS GORI AND THE OUTSKIRTS OF TBILISI.


EVERYONE WAS AFFECTED BY THE 2008 WAR IN SOME WAY OR ANOTHER

FOR ME IT WAS THE SAME FEELING AS 1992.

NO ONE COULD KNOW HOW SERIOUS IT WAS GOING TO BE.


WHEN INNOCENT PEOPLE ARE KILLED IN WAR, IT DOESN’T MATTER WHERE YOU COME FROM.

.

IT IS THE FAULT OF POLITICAL ARSEHOLES.


I CAN EMPHATHISE WITH THE REFUGEES CURRENTLY FLEEING THE MIDDLE EAST.

EUROPE NEEDS TO DO SOMETHING TO HELP, IT IS HARD TO LEAVE YOUR HOMELAND.


I WAS 18 WHEN I HAD TO LEAVE ABKHAZIA AND I STILL LIVE IN THE REFUGEE HOUSING.

EVEN THEN I AM STILL GETTING USED TO LIVING HERE.

BUT I STILL HAVE HOPE. HOPE OF RETURNING HOME.


I MET MANONI IN AUGUST 2016 AT THE BEAUTY PARLOUR WHERE SHE WORKS IN TBILISI. MY FRIEND INTRODUCED US AND ACTED AS A TRANSLATOR WHILST I LISTENED TO HER STORY. SHE WASN’T HESITANT TO TELL ME ABOUT HER EXPERIENCES BUT YOU COULD SENSE HOW DIFFICULT IT WAS FOR HER TO RECOUNT SOME OF THE THINGS THAT HAPPENED. LIKE THE MAJORITY OF PEOPLE IN GEORGIA, MANONI IS USED TO HARDSHIP BUT MAKES THE MOST OF EVERYTHING SHE HAS WITH A SMILE ON HER FACE. GEORGIANS ARE A TOUGH RACE OF PEOPLE THAT YOU CANNOT HELP BUT ADMIRE AS THEY PERSEVERE THROUGH EVERYTHING THAT IS THROWN AT THEM AND MANONI IS NO EXCEPTION. WHILST I HAVE DONE MY BEST TO KEEP THE STORY AS CLOSE TO MANONI’S WORDS AS POSSIBLE, I HAVE ADDED A FEW THINGS IN ORDER TO GIVE A BACKGROUND CONTEXT ABOUT THE WAR. HOWEVER THE STORY ITSELF IS ACCURATE AS I HAVE NOT CHANGED THE CONTEXT OF WHAT SHE SAYS BUT RATHER SOME OF THE WORDS THAT DIDN’T FLOW WITH THE STORY. IT’S EASY TO FORGET NEWS ARTICLES ABOUT PEOPLE DISPELLED BECAUSE OF CONFLICT BUT IT IS IMPORTANT TO PUT A FACE TO WHAT YOU READ AND TO SEE DISPLACED PEOPLES AS INDIVIDUALS RATHER THAN JUST A GROUP LUMPED TOGETHER BY THE MEDIA AND POLITICIANS. HOPEFULLY THIS STORY WILL INFLUENCE YOU IN SOME WAY. ALL CONFLICT HAS TWO SIDES TO IT AND WHILST THE MEDIA MAY PORTRAY WAR AS BEING BLACK AND WHITE, IT IS OBVIOUSLY FAR FROM IT. THE VIEWS HERE ARE EXPRESSED BY ONE PERSON AND IT’S IMPORTANT TO REMEMBER THAT ABKHAZIANS CLAIM TO HAVE LOST 1820 CIVILLIANS AS WELL. MANY THANKS TO MANONI AND MARIAM DOM CULVERWELL


UNTOLD PROJECT TELLS THE TRUE STORIES OF PEOPLE WHO HAVE EXPERIENCED CONFLICTS FORGOTTEN BY THE MEDIA, IN ORDER TO SPREAD AWARENESS USING ILLUSTRATION. THIS IS MANONI’S STORY, WHO SURVIVED THE 1992 WAR IN ABKHAZIA, GEORGIA AND THE IMPACT IT STILL HAS ON HER YEARS ON.

INTERVIEW AND ARTWORK BY DOM CULVERWELL

Profile for Dom Culverwell

UNTOLD PROJECT MANONI'S STORY  

True story from the Abkhazian War

UNTOLD PROJECT MANONI'S STORY  

True story from the Abkhazian War

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