There are three ways Central Asian guest workers travel to Russia, the magnet that draws millions of Kyrgyz, Tajiks and Uzbeks each year. The most expensive is by plane. Train is less pricey. Bus is cheaper still, but it’s also the slowest and most prone to scams from beginning to end.
I got to see a little bit of Uzbekistan, but only from the air. Here's what's left of the Aral Sea.
I wanted to shoot a story about Uzbek weddings, lavish affairs that are the stuff of legend among the Uzbek migrant population in Moscow, where I live.
As a Russian citizen, I don’t need a visa to visit Uzbekistan. But I knew the country is deeply suspicious of journalists of any sort. So as not to look too professional, I selected only a few lenses for my trip. And, another precaution: I deleted some phone contacts, cleared the browsing history on my iPad, deleted the Facebook app.
Around midnight last Wednesday I took off from Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport and at 5.30 a.m. landed in Tashkent. My future fixer was at the airport to fetch me and take me to a barbeque at his home.
At passport control, I waited behind a crowd of Uzbek migrant laborers. But when it was my turn with the immigration officer, something was clearly wrong. He scanned my passport several times, then frowned and said, gesturing to a bench, “Bro, would you be so kind to wait a little bit over there?”
The crowd thinned and disappeared. After maybe half an hour, two polite men in the olive-green uniforms of border agents across the former Soviet Union asked me to follow them. As we walked, they asked if I’d ever been to Uzbekistan. Yes, I’d lived briefly in Tashkent as a first-grader, but I grew up in Russia. And I’d visited some friends there in 1998.
They looked disappointed. I asked what was happening and they said only that I was on a “blacklist” and that I was being sent home.
At the gate, the olive-green men approached an attendant for the return Moscow flight and said, “This guy is being deported back to Russia. Find him a free seat.” They handed her my passport.
The aluminum sheds were designed to be garden storage, a place to put something and forget about it. And for more than 20 years, these oblong barrel-like structures have housed a forgotten community of refugees.
Central Asian migrant workers in Russia are dealing with tough times. So it’s no surprise that those working out at a mixed martial arts gym in an industrial part of Moscow’s Donskoy District are getting tough – and most say they’re training for self-defense.
It’s Friday evening on Moscow’s Garden Ring road and Alexander Likhachyov is out to ruin a labor migrant’s night. With the help of two friends, Likhachyov – an athletic Russian in his mid-30s “from a family of taxi drivers and Muscovites” – says he is intent on “leveling the playing field” in a profession he contends that migrants are taking over.
Outside the Altufyevo metro station in northern Moscow a group of about 25 young people, mostly between the ages of 18 and 25, gather. They call themselves “Moscow Shield” and they’ve deputized themselves to help fight against illegal migration.
Every Sunday a group of Central Asian men gather to play volleyball in a school stadium located not far from the Kantemirovskaya metro station in Moscow. For participants, the weekly competition offers a welcome respite from the usual rigors faced by labor migrants in the Russian capital.