September 6, 2021
In the village of Zemo Nikozi, reminders of the 2008 war are hard to hide. Walls are pocked by bullets and shrapnel; a unit of Georgian soldiers is stationed in the cemetery behind a barricade of tires. A few hundred meters north stands a post manned by Russian and South Ossetian armed forces.
The ongoing tension has exacerbated the exodus common to most rural areas in Georgia: According to census figures, the village’s population decreased from 1,053 in 2004 to 643 a decade later.
But help for Zemo Nikozi has come from an unlikely source. The region’s Georgian Orthodox bishop has established an art school and international animation festival in the village.
“Bishop Isaiah convinced us to stay in Nikozi for the kids’ education,” said one resident, Pelagia Gvaradze, 42, a mother of six. Gvaradze and her family were forced to flee from their home in a nearby village, Achabeti. But that village ended up on the other side of the de facto border that emerged following the 2008 war, so the family moved into her parents’ home – itself damaged in the war.
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