MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Michele Norris. People who live in and around the former Soviet republic of Georgia are learning to improvise. Three months ago, Georgia fought and lost a war against Russia. Soon afterwards, the regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia declared their independence from Georgia, and that is creating dangerous complications for people who find themselves living on new borders, as NPRs Ivan Watson reports.
IVAN WATSON: Someone has been blowing up the bridges to Abkhazia. Georgian police say at least three of the footbridges that locals use to cross the icy waters of the Inguri River have been sabotaged over the last month.
In a throwback to times gone by, some residents have resorted to fording the river using horse-drawn carts. This driver beats his horse with a cane as it struggles to pull a wagon through rushing rapids. The cart is loaded with wood and one child-sized passenger, a 78-year-old woman named Meliko Varadaniya. She waited for hours by the riverbank to hitch a ride on this cart so that she can visit her relatives in Georgian-controlled territory.
MELIKO VARADANIYA: (Russian spoken)
WATSON: We had a very good bridge here, she says, pointing at the remains of a pedestrian suspension bridge that was demolished last month. But they blew it up, she says. And now, they tell us there's a border here, and we can't cross anymore.
Over the past three months, only the patron of the separatist regions, Russia, has formally recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent republics. Western diplomats in Tbilisi say the disappearance of the bridges fits with Moscow's broader strategy of cutting the region's links to the rest of Georgia. Nana Plieva lives in Tbilisi, the Georgian capital, but her father lives in South Ossetia.
NANA PLIEVA: I have not seen him since the war. We have talked by phone several times, but I think it is not safe to visit South Ossetia now, lots of military and lots of soldiers and uncertainty - completely uncertain situation.
WATSON: Gulnazi Katchmazova is a local government official in a village in Georgia's Kakheti region. She says, over the last year, more than 100 ethnic Ossetian families have packed up their houses here and left Georgia for good to be reunited with relatives who left years ago to find work in Russia.
GULNAZI KATCHMAZOVA: (Through translator) Not long ago, we buried a 90-year-old woman here. Her children in Russia weren't allowed to come attend the funeral. That's not the first time this has happened. People can't come and go, and that's the main reason they're leaving.
WATSON: Back at the Inguri River, within sight of the snowcapped mountains of Abkhazia, a gray-haired woman dressed in black takes off her shoes and socks on the rocky Georgian banks of the river. She's getting ready to go home, after paying a visit to her children.
Unidentified Woman: (Russian spoken)
WATSON: Before the war in August, we had a bridge here, she says, adding, who knows what they'll do to us next. With that, she hikes up her skirt and plunges barefoot into the icy water carrying a straw broom under one arm.
This route may not be open for the villagers much longer. Locals and Georgian officials say Abkhaz militiamen have started planting land mines along the banks of the river. Ivan Watson, NPR News on the boundary between Georgia and Abkhazia.
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