The Doukhobors' Land

Shortlist 2018

Natela Grigalashvili

The Problem
2018

The Doukhobors' Land

The Doukhobors (a self-designation meaning "spirit warriors") are a Protestant Orthodox schism. They first appeared three centuries ago in Russia, the Tambov province. Exiled by the Russian Tsar and relocated to Georgia, Doukhobors founded eight villages in the Javakheti region. Gorelovka was the largest of these. To Doukhobors Javakheti is a holy land, they call it the Doukhobor Land and believe that Gorelovka is the spiritual center of all Dukhobors scattered about the world. In the Soviet days the Gorelovka collective farm was the second most prosperous in the entire Soviet Union. The Doukhobors stood out among others as very hard-working and disciplined people.

Their creed is such: they reject all material symbols of faith, the cross, icons, even priesthood and church rituals. They say that God is everywhere and in everything, especially in the human soul and that every person is a temple unto himself. The last twenty years have been especially difficult for Doukhobors. Lack of opportunities in education and work is forcing youth out of the villages and the country. New owners of their houses, unfamiliar with their culture, are destroying and remaking these unique Russian-Ukrainian buildings, their exteriors and interiors, their original ornaments. I have been photographing this community for three years now, and every time I return there are fewer Doukhobors and more destroyed buildings that once represented their unique culture. Those who have left more or less settled down, but cannot find solace, because their homeland and their true place is here in Javakheti. Peace for them is only here.