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.
“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.”