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Photographing the decay of that colossal wreck…

Georgian photographer DAVIT TABAGARI produces stunning images of the rusting remains of the once mighty Soviet empire in his hometown Tbilisi.

: An underground water reservoir in Tbilisi, with a shaft of light striking photographer Davit Tabagari.

Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair! Nothing beside remains. Round the decay Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare The lone and level sands stretch far away.
Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley

The Soviet era may be receding into distant memory, but the rusting remnants of its bitter legacy linger into the 21st century.

As many people still come to terms with the emotional effects of living under communism, photographer Davit Tabagari records the period’s physical artefacts as they fall into disrepair in his hometown of Tbilisi.

A control panel that connected Tbilisi to other cities in Georgia

Born in 1996, some four years after the collapse of the USSR, and now working in the Georgian capital’s city hall as an official photographer, Tabagari has visited ruined factories, car ‘graveyards’ and much of a network of 400 bunkers built beneath the city.

A private collection of cars in the town of Pasanauri.

“They were built during the Soviet period to increase self-defence capabilities during the Cold War,” he explains. “Each of them had the same power source – a diesel generator – and special equipment for air filtration and water. There is one huge shelter consisting of three sectors with a total of 150 independent rooms, halls and four diesel generators; this facility made the most memorable impression on me.”

A former sewing factory in the city of Chiatura.

While many of the bunkers were intended to act as shelters in the event of conflict, and others to store food and equipment, Tabagari also found cells beneath a former secret-police station, fuelling speculation that parts of the network were designed by Lavrentiy Beria, Stalin’s feared and brutal security chief. Names of prisoners are scratched into walls, showing, says Tabagari, “the true face of the Soviet Union”.

A tunnel under the Georgian Technical University, with moving seat system designed to transport engineers.

Tabagari, who has been taking photographs since receiving his first camera as a gift when he was 10 years old, says his experience is a reminder of the incredible might of a now-fallen empire. “As soon as you get into these places, you feel the history, realise exactly how many resources were invested in the Cold War preparations and what scale it was,” he says.“I hope the images add value to our understanding and overall knowledge about the USSR and the Cold War.

A bottle of Stalin vodka, empty, on a long-abandoned canteen table.

More of Davit Tabagari’s photos are on Instagram.

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