Suzanna (9) sitting in a “shelter” made of old car rusty parts. Ten days ago her father committed suicide, as people say, because of debt. (Yulia Grigoryants)

On Dec. 7, 1988, northern Armenia was devastated by a near 7.0 magnitude earthquake; 25,000 were killed, thousands more injured, and hundreds of thousands left homeless in what was then a Soviet republic. The collapse of the Soviet Union greatly hindered the reconstruction of the affected cities, including Gyumri, Armenia’s second largest city. Many families are still waiting for aid, but are ineligible for government housing if they are not considered direct victims of the quake.  Photographer Yulia Grigoryants stumbled upon some of these families inhabiting one of the abandoned apartment buildings in Gyumri. She shared her experience with In Sight.

“Back in Soviet times these huge twin dormitory buildings accommodated around 60 families each. Today there are just four families living here… four families and generations that were born and raised here. Among decaying walls and corridors. Living in this emptiness… living their hopeless, imprisoned life.


Levon (7), brother of Suzanna, entering his world: Gortsaranayin 2A. (Yulia Grigoryants)

Sose, 35, with her children and mother, who comes to visit her almost each day, since Sose’s husband left the family. (Yulia Grigoryants)

“The Prince’s and his wife’s thrones,” Knyaz’s apartment in the decaying building.  (Yulia Grigoryants)

“Almost one year ago, last June, I was driving through Gyumri and because of wrong turn I was paying more attention on the road, in search of the right way. I noticed those two huge twin buildings one in front of another. From the first sight it was obvious for me that they are not inhabited because of all the missing windows and roof, and whole condition of the buildings. But what caught my attention was the laundry hanged on the second floor above the entry in the half-round construction of the building with arches. This second floor actually serves for them as a kind of “balcony.” That first day I just walked to the buildings and made sure that people are living there. A few days later, I went there again and met people from two families, they were sitting outside of the buildings just on the stairs. I talked to them for a while, but didn’t enter the building. Almost a year I kept thinking of them but because of being absent from the country I didn’t have chance to visit them again.

In March, I spent nine days in Gyumri working on this story, each day meeting the families and spending all the days with them in those buildings.”


Lusine, mother of five, at the age of 30, in her single room apartment with no support after her husband committed suicide 10 days before. (Yulia Grigoryants)

Knyaz (38), which means ”Prince” in Russian, an Assyrian by origin, is preparing dinner for his daughter Astghik, 10. (Yulia Grigoryants)

Lusine’s children: Levon, 7, Karine, 11 and Syuzanna, 9 after school in their single room apartment in Gyumri. (Yulia Grigoryants)

Sose’s son Alex (10) in their apartment. (Yulia Grigoryants)

Sose says her husband and stepmother beat her when they discovered, her second pregnancy, trying to force her to get an abortion. She insisted on keeping the baby and gave birth to a daughter. Her husband recently left her. (Yulia Grigoryants)

The main place the inhabitants have chosen to socialize is the “playground” in between the two buildings. (Yulia Grigoryants)

Due to the condition of the buildings, this “museum” of childhood may turn into a grave soon. During the last years people living on the upper floors had to move because the roof and the ceiling started to collapse. (Yulia Grigoryants)

Levon is looking at the image of his father, who committed suicide few days before. “I held my dad’s jacket and I felt his smell,” says Levon. (Yulia Grigoryants)

Suzanna taking care of her toddler sister Nare. (Yulia Grigoryants)

Karine, 57, gathered all dry stems and bushes after the winter and launched a fire in between the twin buildings. (Yulia Grigoryants)

Back in Soviet times these huge twin dormitory buildings accommodated around 60 families each. Today there are just four families living here. (Yulia Grigoryants)