On the eastern coast of the Black Sea, in Transcaucasia, there is a place called Abkhazia—a partially recognized state that was formed during the collapse of the USSR. According to Georgian law, Abkhazia exists as a region within Georgia and has the status of an occupied territory.

Russia, on the other hand, shares a common border with the republic and provides it with economic and political support. They were, not coincidentally, the first country to recognize Abkhazia’s independence. Along with Transnistria, South Ossetia and Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia is one of several territories experiencing problems of self-identification, political instability, and economic inconsistency after the dissolution of the USSR in 1991.

These republics regularly attract the attention of the world community, including journalists and photographers. And although the protracted existence of these self-proclaimed territories is considered a curious phenomenon, no one takes them seriously, and they are thought to be political anomalies. “Time capsule,” “black hole,” “splinter of communism,” “museum of the Soviet Union”—these are some of the clichés which are often used to describe these regions.

However, their isolation from the rest of the world is becoming increasingly ephemeral. People have long adapted to existence even in places where their status is uncertain. In Abkhazia, for example, over the past 25 years, several new generations have grown up, and they consider these republics their homeland. They did not witness war or a Soviet existence, and their maturation is occurring in the era of globalization and the Internet. In these new conditions, the boundaries for economic and cultural activities as well as development are becoming less noticeable.

Having lived in and grown up in the unrecognized republic of Transnistria all our lives, we once asked ourselves how the youth live in Abkhazia. We wondered how difficult it was for them not to become a hostage to stereotypes. Exploring the terrain in search of heroes, we realized that we wanted to concentrate on the lives of young people outside of a political context. Rather than focusing on stereotypes like the “time capsule,” revealing an erstwhile Soviet state, we found a much more interesting challenge of discovering real-life images that revealed a person’s connection to the place where he was born.

In particular, we became acquainted with young boys and girls on the beaches of Sukhum, the capital of Abkhazia. We were fascinated by their beauty and the courage with which they dive into the water from piers and other water-consumed structures. These pieces of the Soviet past served only as a springboard and a platform for their innocent games. It felt as if their lives were closely connected with the sea, which not only molds their strong bodies, but also their way of life.

All summer they practically live on these half-abandoned, deserted beaches; they catch mussels, play in the waves, fall in love, lead unhurried conversations and throw stones in the water. Their whole lives lie ahead of them, but in between their carefree childhood and maturity, they do not think about the future. Instead, time is on pause; there is only summer, sun and boundless sea. This way of living gives them a sense of freedom, which is so necessary in adolescence, no matter where you live.

Anton Polyakov & Anya Galatonova