Text Andrei Abramov and Polina Merkulova
Photos Anna Gleser, Kolarzkova Misha, Dmitij Manchenko
We couldn’t be any fewer.
“If someone would come to visit, I would love to be able to take them by the hand and proudly say: Let’s go, I want to show you little Georgia.”
To find traces of Georgian culture in Ulyanovsk, we contacted a cultural representative on Facebook. During the meeting, we discussed Georgian culture, the Friendship park, and life in Ulyanovsk.
Tamara Abashidze has lived for around 20 years in Ulyanovsk with her husband Valery. Tamara completed her secondary education in Abkhazia. After that she moved to Tbilisi. For Valery, he was invited to come to Ulyanovsk by his friends when he was in the military, and he agreed to come without hesitation. He studied engineering at the Technical University of Ulyanovsk. Later, when he was in Georgia, he met Tamara and they got married. After the war, they moved to Ulyanovsk which quickly became their second home. However, their friends and acquaintances were dispersed across the whole world. Only a few relatives remained in Tbilisi. “After the war, we all separated. The internet has been our savior. Without the internet, it would be very difficult. Now we all keep in touch online.”
There is no Georgian diaspora in Ulyanovsk.
As it turns out, there are only a few Georgians living in Ulyanovsk. Tamara and Valery know almost all of them – around 15 people. In the region, there are around 200. Due to the small number, there seems to be little point in organizing a Georgian diaspora.
However, they keep regular contact with those who stayed in Tbilisi. A few years ago, they visited their relatives in Georgia for the first time in years.
“Batumi is very beautiful. We went there 5 years ago and were captivated by its beauty. When we left during the war, everything was difficult there. But when we went back – it was very beautiful, we were overcome with emotion. Many people say Tbilisi is a gem, but there is a problem with that notion.”
Traveling to Georgia is easy, the problems appear when you go to leave. Not everyone has the resources and the will to fill out the massive amounts of paperwork to get the required visa and to pay the duty taxes.
“There is no cross-border movement and people forget about each other – and their culture. Georgians cannot easily travel to Russia. The other way around – no problem. What kind of Friendship of Peoples Park are we talking about? No one thinks about it.”
Park of Peoples Friendship
Valery says he went to the Friendship Park in the 80’s. The park was always kept clean, with each republic taking care of its own corner.
“People gathered there, they all came. I saw a Hero of the Soviet Union, Meliton Kantaria, who hoisted the flag over the Reichstag in Berlin. It seemed as if life could only get better.”
According to Valery, people who visited the park in Ulyanovsk would remember that there is a section for Georgia. He feels that some of these people would come and help somehow today if they only knew. In the park’s Georgian Republic section, nothing has changed for a long time. Now, only protesters go there and cause trouble on occasion. Subbotniks (voluntary work days) used to take place here regularly. Each section of the park had a representative, who was responsible for its upkeep. But since the fall of the USSR, it has been neglected.
“I’m not interested in the park anymore, I have no time to go there. At the local level, the question of restoring the park is never raised. Everyone just let it go to shit, and people would just do whatever they wanted there. As far as I can remember, there hasn’t been any information about it on TV, where a local authority spoke about the park – on how to restore it or to tidy it up somehow. I have two jobs and a family. I never have the opportunity to go to the park. That is the whole point.”
Recently, restoration work has begun in the park. With a presidential grant, new pathways have already been laid, the lighting has been restored, and shops have quickly popped up. The Armenian Diaspora, under the leadership of Arsen Abrahamian, is making a significant contribution to the restoration of the park.
“I want to be able to go to the park, for example, when someone would come to visit, I would like to be able to proudly take them by the hand and proudly say: “Let’s go, I want to show you little Georgia.” We would arrive, take photos, walk around, but currently there is nothing to see there.”