Crumbling palaces, airports and cities left to rot in abandoned republic lost to time

It was once a glitzy holiday destination for the Soviet elite – now, its grandiose buildings lie crumbling and left to the ravages of time.

Haunting images captured by Roman Robroek show an entire airport and train station abandoned in the forgotten republic of Abkhazia.

The photographer explored the partially recognised state, an autonomous region of Georgia located in the South Caucasus, and described it as the “land of the soul”.

Roman, from the Netherlands, was taken aback by the incredible nature and architecture on display, with whole cities and landmark buildings left to fall into disrepair.

During a bitter war with Georgia from 1992-1993, thousands were killed and the area was plunged into an economic crisis.

After the end of the conflict, Georgia attempted to take Abkhazia in 1998, 2001 and 2008 – but its crumbling architecture was left to rot.

Roman travelled around the region to document the deserted buildings, many of which sit just a few miles from the Georgia border.

In one haunting shot, the Airport Abkhazia appears deserted, with an empty main hall and large windows looking out onto an equally desolate land.

The airport was built in the 1960s but hasn’t been touched in 26 years after it was heavily damaged in the war.

Now, the airport is frozen in time with a non-functioning airplane still sitting on the abandoned runway.

The Yak-40 aircraft carried the former Georgian president Eduard Shevardnadze in March 1993 to take charge of forces in the region.

The airport is far from the only deserted travel spot in the state, and Roman also visited the Novy Afon train station – a majestic building with towering stone columns.

In one shot, the hollow building looks out onto the quiet town of Akhali Aton.

Roman also explored another abandoned train station in Gagra on the northeast coast of the Black Sea.

The station appears to have once been impressive, with stone pillars and intricate designs on the ceiling, but is now overgrown with greenery.

Also in Gagra, which currently has a population of 12,000 people, is an abandoned theatre.

In one chilling shot, Roman captures the eerie silence of the once-popular hotspot, with a large empty hall and crumbling walls.

Roman later visited the abandoned parliament building in Sukhumi, which lays dormant despite its prominent location in the main square of the city.

Inside, the grand staircase is disintegrating, with debris strewn across the floor.

Outside, the building appears to be half-vegetation, with leaves and grass growing around it.

In a similar state of disrepair is the abandoned palace, where greenery has burst through a doorway and moss covers the once-decadent building.

Despite the population of the republic at last estimate being around 245,000 people, the condition of the cities have largely not been able to recover from the financial fallout of the conflicts.

Since 2008, Russia has donated $150 million to support the state, but many buildings still sit untouched.

“My visit to Abkhazia wasn’t just a random traveling experience to a new and unpopular country that existed for limited people today,” Roman told Jam Press.

“Instead, it was more about exploring the history of places that spread peace and safety for every visitor’s soul, ensuring that each holds a particular part of its history within.”

Roman described the region as the “epitome of history and soulful beauty” but noted it was upsetting to see so many landmarks in disarray.

“Abkhazia has had many beautiful spots that turned into abandoned areas that were once a part of history,” he said.

“As much as it was sad to encounter, I found this beautiful and soulful country to hold each of its tourist spots and abandoned areas firmly in a way that each represents a story of its own – with some being untold.”

It’s a story he hopes to tell, in part, with the photo series.

Roman added: “Visiting this country was an experience that helped me explore the history, security, and a pleasing environment in a way that can’t be expressed in words.

“Yet again, with a place like Abkhazia being less identified globally, it’s interesting to visit there and witness the tales it speaks of the history and the present.”

Roman has previously visited the abandoned city of Pripyat in northern Ukraine, which has been closed since the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear incident.