Every River Has A Story
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Edited by Monica Ellena


The Mktvari river is deeply interwoven with Georgia’s history - it has inspired its bards, it has emboldened its warlords. Unwinding down the Caucasus’ mountains and spreading across its plains, it has marked its history for a millennia, proving a lifeline to Uplistsikhe’s first cave dwellers back in the Iron Age, and embracing its Christian capital, Mskheta. Along its 435 kilometers it carves gorges and ravines and it placidly witnesses Tblisi’s events.

One may contend that the Mktvari is Georgia’s lifeblood.

Its name is said to mean “good waters” in ancient Georgian. Yet today little remains of those good waters and the Mktvari serves as nothing more than a decorative wreath. The landscapes it glides through are beautiful and diverse, but its waters have been abused and polluted, and many call it a dead river instead.

The Mktvari Paata Mtiulishvili and Marika Lapachia know though is quite alive -- and kicking. Since moving to the small village of Skra, in central Georgia, the house where the young couple live with their two children faces regular floods. Every May, the river overflows and it deluges half of the settlement where about 80 families live in poor conditions.

“I got used to it. Every May, I swim my way out from the house, then I go save the neighbors,” explains 27-year-old Paata. “We are usually helped out by the rescue team from Gori [the nearest city].”

Skra sits right on the edge of the water, with no form of protection or levees to prevent the water from overflowing. May is the wettest month. It is also thaw time, when the snow on the Caucasus’ mountains turns into water and pours into the Mktvari or its many tributaries. The synergy pushes the river’s water level up dramatically. Residents and local authorities have been calling for structural intervention to reinforce the embankment and prevent the river from overflowing over its bed every spring, but to no avail.

“Unfortunately permanent housing is not provided for us,” laments Paata. “So I send the kids to stay with their relatives in Gori, while my wife and I wait in the house until it dries up. We wear big rain boots and walk around in the flooded house.” 

The soil at the surface remains often damp and unusable, which makes it unsuitable to grow crops or sustain small-scale, independent agriculture either as source of income or as sustenance.

The water that washes Skra is the same that experts describe as contaminated with a litany of garbage, chemical and biological hazards. Untreated urban sewage flowing directly to the river poses an additional public health risk.

Most families have no access to running water in their houses, and rely on draw-wells, with inevitable questions about its safety as the dump soil may not filter the water appropriately.

Paata and Marika moved to Skra from Gori in 2013. They are just two of the families I encountered while journeying along the Mktvari in Shida Kartli, a region in central Georgia - families who migrated from cities to rural areas as unemployment made their urban lives unaffordable. Left penniless by the lack of opportunities, they had no choice but to find shelter in the villages where life is cheaper.

Despite the hardships, the future that children in Skra envision is bright, but it is far away from this river village. They dream to return to the city their parents left.

As I was walking along the railtrack in Akhaldaba, a village of 900 souls in southern Georgia, I met an old man. I asked him to tell me something about the Mktvari.

“Every river has a story [to tell]. Here, I learned how to swim, I spent splendid moments with friends. Most of my childhood’s happiness floated on these waters.”


Ani, 10, stands by the bridge over the Mktvari in Urbnisi, central Georgia. Most Georgians know the village because Data Tutashkhia, a famous TV series from the 1970s, was filmed here. As a child, Ani’s father was featured in a scene.
Eteri Abramidze, 36, with three of her six children in Urbnisi. She got married when she was 17. Unlike Skra, which sits on the opposite side of the river, Urbnisi is located uphill from the bank and is not touched by the regular spring floods.
Jemo hangs on one of the cables of the bridge in Urbnisi. The village does not shine for entertainment, so children find alternative ways to have fun.
Marika Lapachia combs her daughter’s hair before school in Skra. Their house, like many others’, is flooded every May but families receive no compensation for the damages, nor an alternative shelter.
Mariam Lomadze, 11, dances in her living room during Christmas. She lives in Akhaldaba, a few kilometres from the renowned thermal town of Borjomi. Her dream is to become a professional dancer. Her grandmother pays for her dance classes from her pension. “It is the best money I have ever spent,” she says.
A local kid fishes in the Mtkvari in Uplistsikhe. In the evenings, children get together on the bridge linking their village to the homonym ancient rock-hewn town which is one Georgia’s key touristic sites.
Ani, 12, gets ready for school as Marika, her mother, asks her to hurry. Ani's house gets flooded every spring.
Ani, 10, having dinner after coming home from school. She and her six siblings live close to the Mktvari river.
Ani, 10, and her older brother Vano, 14 in Urbnisi. The Mtkvari is part of their daily life, they both learned to swim in the river.
Paata, 27, ties his younger brother’s shoelaces in Skra. Every year, when his house is flooded, a rescue team from the nearby city of Gori intervenes to help families like his.
Rusudan lives on the edge of the Mtkvari River. “They gave me this land during Soviet times, and I thought I would grow crops, but now look, it is all water. They knew the land was no good, that’s why they gave it away.”
A view over the Mtkvari from the Jvari Monastery which sits at the top of a rocky slope above Georgia’s ancient capital of Mtskheta.
Children from Urbnisi hanging out along the Mtkvari.
Luka, 4, hugs his mother’s hand in Grakali, a village close to the capital Tbilisi. His family lives right by the Mtkvari and own some land but it is too damp to be cultivated.
A fish loot from the Mtkvari. In Tbilisi, fishermen throwing baits in the river are a common sight.
Ani, 10, out on an afternoon walk by stream overrun by bottles and trash coming the from Mtkvari.
Misho, 14, and Andre, 10, play in the courtyard of their apartment block in Tbilisi’s Dirsi district.
The heavily developed district of Dirsi, in the capital’s outskirts, is located by the Mtkvari river.
Chai Khana
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