To most St. Petersburg residents, it’s a familiar scene: A group of children commandeer a courtyard for a game of pick-up soccer on a Saturday afternoon, rain notwithstanding. But these kids aren’t used to relaxing so openly in Russia’s second city. They are the children of Central Asian labor migrants, who often fall between the cracks of Russian society.
When Munkhtsetseg Enkhbat, a Mongolian language instructor at the National University of Mongolia, wanted to expand her knowledge in the related field of Manchurian linguistics, she decided to go abroad. But instead of heading to China, she enrolled in a doctoral program in Russia.
When 37-year-old Georgii Kolotov was growing up in Bishkek during the last decade of the Soviet era, he was largely unaware of a Jewish community. There were more than 10,000 Jews living in Bishkek at the time, but for young Kolotov and most other Jews, there was little sense of a distinctly Jewish identity.
In mid-2010, when 20-year-old Sultan Temirzhan uulu left Kyrgyzstan to attend university in St. Petersburg, he was unprepared for the big city noise and the White Nights of summer. He was also unprepared for the discrimination.
During the summer, Rakhmat Kobilov rises at 4 am, eats breakfast, and drives 45 miles to the farm where he cultivates cucumbers, watermelon, and a fragrant variety of cantaloupe indigenous to Uzbekistan’s Fergana Valley.