Earlier this year, I traveled to Abkhazia to photograph a series of the decay and abandonment after the civil war in the 90’s of the 20th century. Abkhazia doesn’t ‘exist’ for everyone. Meaning, it is a de facto state and only partly recognised republic. In 1999, Abkhazia declared independence from Georgia. 5 Countries in the world (members of the United Nations; Russia, Syria, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Nauru) recognise Abkhazia. All other countries (also United Nations members) consider Abkhazia legally to be a part of Georgia. Abkhazia is located between Georgia and Russia and has around 250.000 inhabitants.
During and after the war, a lot of people fled their homes. Many of these people, which are Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), are housed in the city of Tskaltubo, Georgia. Check out my article ‘22 Photos show Decaying Buildings of ex-Soviet Spa Resort‘ to read more about this city and take a glance at the buildings they live in.
I’ll be writing more about the history and my travel experience in Abkhazia (which was challenging from time to time) in an upcoming article. In the meantime, if you need help traveling to and through Abkhazia, feel free to contact me. This article focusses solely on one of the locations that I’ve visited during my stay, Sukhumi Babushara Airport (previously known as Sukhumi Dranda Airport).
Sukhumi Babushara Airport
Even though it might sound great to fly to Abkhazia, you simply can’t. The airport is closed for international traffic since the facility is not recognised by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). You either need to enter from Russia or Georgia, most likely by foot. There are a couple of ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ involved that I won’t be covering in this article. However, I’ll definitely write about that later. This article is about the Sukhumi Babushara Airport in Abkhazia, 20km from Sukhumi which is the capital city of the republic. The airport has an interesting history, played an important part in the war and has typical architecture.
Entering the airport without permission is not advised. Part of it is actually still in use, and the military is guarding it. They even have a couple of Russian helicopters, jet aircrafts, small planes and trucks parked there, ready for action. Unfortunately, I was not allowed to photograph these, but they looked impressive. At this moment, the airport only carries out flights to the mountain village Pskhu and flights by the Abkhazian air force (what is left of it).
Sukhumi Babushara Airport is originally built in the 60’s of the 20th century. During that time, the region was still part of the Soviet Union. At first, the airport was only used for domestic flights (mostly beach holidays). Close to 5.000 people per day used to travel through the airport in the summer. At the end of the 70’s, and the beginning of the 80’s, of the 20th century, the runway was improved and extended with thicker concrete, and the airport’s main building got rebuilt. The longest runway was over 3.5km, long enough to receive an Airbus passenger aircraft.
During the civil war in the 90’s of the 20th century, the airport was heavily damaged and eventually abandoned. Take at look at this page in case you’re interested in specific accidents and attacks that happened with planes on or near this airport. Especially the attacks during the civil war show how heavy the war was. The war, that started in 1992, lasted for just over 1 year and killed more than 8.000 people. Next to that, close to a quarter of a million (250.000) people had to flee their own country.
Example attack on a Tupolev Tu-154B aircraft, 22 September 1993:
The aircraft was shot down by Abkhazian rebels after a flight from Tbilisi. The Tu-154 crashed onto the runway and caught fire. 132 Occupants, 108 deaths.
One of the still intact but non-functioning planes standing at the airport, is the Yak-40 of former Georgian president Eduard Shevardnadze. He used this plane to make the dangerous flight to Sukhumi during the war in March 1993, to take charge of the Georgian forces.
After the war, repair works were carried out towards the end of the 20th century in an attempt to revive the airport. A restaurant even opened the doors for a short while. However, in the year 2000 a natural disaster happened and ruined the other planned repair works. In the meantime, hostilities between Abkhazia and Georgia continued. In the following years, more conflicts occurred and in 2008 it escalated with the war in South Ossetia. During this war, for the first time in 15 years planes landed on the Sukhumi Babushara Airport when over 30 Russian military transportation planes arrived at the airport. Over 3 years later, the airport received repair works again with plans to re-open the airport in 2013. However, until now it never has.
As long as the ICAO doesn’t recognise the Sukhumi Babushara Airport, there won’t be any international traffic. Even though Russia officially recognised Abkhazia as a sovereign state, they don’t fly to Sukhumi Babushara Airport in order to avoid sanctions by the International Air Transport Association (IATA). Therefore, the airport remains mostly abandoned and in decay.
More photos of Sukhumi Babushara Airport are found below: