Skip to content Skip to footer

Fire Destroys Abkhazia’s National Art Gallery, Causing Irreparable Loss

Over 4,000 Paintings Lost in Tragic Blaze, Including Works by Renowned Artist Alexander Chachba-Shervashidze

In a devastating turn of events, a fire broke out at the National Art Gallery in Sukhumi, the capital of the breakaway region of Abkhazia, resulting in the destruction of thousands of irreplaceable artworks. The incident, which occurred on January 21, has left the cultural heritage of Abkhazia in ruins.

According to initial reports, the fire started due to an electrical short circuit on the second floor of the museum around 3:38 a.m. local time. Despite the efforts of firefighters, the blaze quickly engulfed the wooden structure of the early 20th-century building, causing extensive damage. By the time the fire was contained at 7 a.m., only about 200 paintings out of the 4,000-piece collection had survived.

Among the lost masterpieces were 300 works by the renowned artist and stage designer Alexander Chachba-Shervashidze, a descendant of Abkhazia’s former ruler. The collection, which had been carefully curated since 1963, included works by other prominent artists such as Viktor Sheglov, Khuta Avidzba, and Sergey Sangalov.

The director of the National Art Gallery, Suram Sakanya, expressed his profound grief over the loss, stating that the collection had survived Abkhazia’s civil war with Georgia in the 1990s, making this tragedy even more devastating. He emphasized the need for a more suitable location to store the unique art collection, as local artists had long been voicing concerns about the cramped and inadequate conditions in which the paintings were housed.

The fire has sparked international outrage, with Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili condemning it as a “tragedy for us all.” She decried the neglect of cultural identity by both the de facto leadership of Abkhazia and the Russian occupants. Russia, which provides military and financial support to Abkhazia, has pledged to send specialists to Sukhumi to assist in the restoration of the surviving paintings.

The destruction of Abkhazia’s National Art Gallery serves as a stark reminder of the fragility of cultural heritage and the importance of preserving it for future generations. The loss of these artworks is a tragedy not only for Abkhazia but for the entire art world.