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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

As Siberia's Germans Leave, Russians Return

KAZANSKOYE, Western Siberia -- This Siberian village is at the center of a remarkable population swap that has resulted in an 80 percent turnover of the inhabitants in the last four years. "It began in 1988," Daniil Volter, the mayor, recalls in his courteous, slightly German-accented voice. "The first local Germans left for Germany, and Russians from Central Asia started moving in." In the past four years, 470 German families have left, and 434 Russian families have arrived from the former Soviet republics, mostly Kyrgyzstan, and, more recently, Kazakhstan. "Production has not been hurt," said Volter, whose grandfather was exiled to the area by the tsar in 1914 and spent a year to reach Kazanskoye by horse from Ukraine. "All the workers who left have been replaced. The output of milk has even increased." Kazanskoye is located in the Lyubino district, 100 kilometers from Omsk in Western Siberia. The district, with a 23 percent German population according to the last Soviet census, is now a favored destination for Russians in Central Asia who fear growing nationalism and ethnic violence. Throughout the Omsk region, 10,000 Germans left for their historical homeland last year. Volter is one of the few remaining Germans whose ancestors were exiled here during the two world wars and Stalin's purges. About 13,000 migrants from former Soviet republics have arrived in place of the Germans, according to the regional migration service. Anatoly Belyayev, the head of the migration service, is also one of its clients. Formerly a top official in Leninabad, Tajikistan, he said he was forced to leave his home of 30 years in 1992, when the new nation's pro-Islamic government told him his post was too high for a Russian. Belyayev went to his hometown of Omsk and offered the local government his services in dealing with the growing influx of refugees from former Soviet republics. "I've been forced to come back to Siberia," said Belyayev, who has fond memories of Tajikistan's sultry climate. "Nobody expected me here when I came two years ago. Now I'm trying to help my own kind." The migration service has purchased 10 houses in Kazanskoye from departing Germans. Some of the houses have already been given to migrant families for free, thus resolving their most pressing problem -- that of affordable housing. "We sold our house (in Kazakhstan) for 50,000 rubles," said Yekaterina Shenfeld, 56, who arrived at Kazanskoye last year. "Thank God we got this house here." Shenfeld's new home cost 7 million rubles (about $3,900). Many immigrants complain they had to sell their homes in Central Asia for below market value. "Kazakhs told us, 'Why should we buy your house, you'll leave, anyway, and we'll get it for free,'" said Rada Ledovskikh, 25, who arrived in the Omsk region five months ago. She now lives in a spacious apartment in an urban-type building, constructed in nearby Krasny Yar by the migration service especially for the newcomers. Such new construction is financed by the Federal Migration Service in Moscow, which allocated 2 billion rubles to the Omsk region for the purpose last year. "But we prefer to buy houses from the Germans," Belyayev said. "You can't build a new house now with what we pay them." Most immigrants have said they had been driven from their homes in Central Asia by demands that they learn the local language and by fear for their children. "Young Kazakhs beat up my youngest son several times," Shenfeld said. "We knew we had to leave before it was too late." But many newcomers also said they had fled economic difficulties in the newly-independent nations. "I could buy 20 kilos of meat with my monthly salary in Kazakhstan," said accountant Irina Velikaya, 25. "Here I can buy 50 kilos and I get social aid for my kids." Local officials willingly provide the aid. The collective farm that hired Velikaya and her husband, an electrician, even leased a truck to them for a token price so they could move their belongings from Kazakhstan. "The Germans and the young people are leaving the countryside," said Victor Nikolchenko, who is deputy head of the Lyubino district government. "The immigrants are a new source of development for the district. We have been short-handed lately." Though a big majority of immigrants are city people, many of them agree to take on jobs in the countryside that the migration service offers them. "There is no housing and no work in the city," said Belyayev of the migration service. "So we direct them to the countryside and so far we are successful. "They are good workers," he said. "Russians had to work better and drink less in Central Asia to look better in the eyes of the locals." But that is exactly the reason some locals are wary of the newcomers. "Locals think that the more of us who come, the more competition there is for jobs," said Maxim Bondarenko, the director of Novo-Lyubinskaya state farm. A former Kazakhstan resident, he said he got his job in 1990 after the former director, a German, had emigrated. "If you bring a new cow into a herd, other cows will attack her till they get used to her," Bondarenko added.