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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Migrants Live as Serfs South of Moscow

When agronomist Anna Samusenko left Kazakhstan for Russia two years ago she felt relief. Now she would live with her own people, speak her own language and put her skills to good use reviving Russian agriculture.

But her dreams have come to nothing. Although she found work on a collective farm south of Moscow, she is treated little better than a serf.

Samusenko, 52, and her family live in an abandoned office on the run-down Leninskoye Znamya (Lenin Banner) collective farm in Sharapovo. She guards the barns and takes care of the calves, which means carrying 1.7 tons of fodder every day, for wages that work out to 83 kopeks, or about 2 cents, per hour.

Without Russian citizenship or local registration — the farm says it's too expensive to get her a propiska — she has no rights, no way to complain to the authorities and nowhere to go.

There are dozens of families in Samusenko's situation in Sharapovo alone and 700 elsewhere in the Chekhov district, said Lilia Makarova, who heads the regional migrants organization Svet. It was founded last fall and unites 1,300 families from the Chekhov, Istrinsk and Podolsk districts and the towns of Lyubertsy and Klin, all in the Moscow region. Five to 10 new members join each week, she said.

The migrants, many of them ethnic Russians, come to the Moscow region from Moldova, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Some were invited by farm directors who placed newspaper advertisements promising registration, housing and jobs, Makarova said. Others, like Samusenko, just left everything and fled, hoping for support in their fatherland.

But most were deceived, Makarova said. Those who invited them housed them in nonresidential buildings like banyas, abandoned schools, laundries, or office buildings.

Few get registered. They are afraid to leave the farms, cannot get free medical help, cannot vote and as outsiders they are subject to regular abuse and humiliation.

Samusenko said her son and son-in-law both have been targeted by the police.

A local policeman arrested her son-in-law, Sasha Sherer, 25, in April after someone stole several floor gratings from the cow barn to sell for scrap metal, a popular crime these days in Russia.

"They did not want to investigate. They just wanted to beat a confession out of him," Samusenko said Friday. "They made him stand with his legs wide apart and pressed down on his shoulders and kicked him between the legs."

Several days later, the police arrested her 28-year-old son, Andrei, and took him to a forest near the village. His mother said she heard from neighbors that the two policemen turned him upside down and tied one leg to a birch tree.

"They beat him with rubber batons for about an hour and then, having tied his hands with a rope, attached it to the back of their car. When they drove in first and second gear, he ran behind. But then he fell and they dragged him behind the car and he lost consciousness," Samusenko said while crying.

When he was released five days later, his arms were covered with huge scars, his mother said.

"And what do you think they officially accused him of when all they wanted was to make him say that he stole those grates?" Samusenko said. "That he pissed on a tank monument in the town of Chekhov!"

Makarova said, "This is sadism, and don't tell me about Chechnya — we have it here, just an hour's drive from Moscow."

The Migratsia, or Migration, information agency estimates there are 8 million ethnic Russian migrants in Russia. Only 800,000 people received the status of a "forced migrant" from Russian migration authorities before coming to Russia, which gives them the right to apply for local registration. Most did not manage to get the proper papers or did not even know how to get them.

"We have 12,000 official forced migrants from former Soviet republics in the Moscow region," Viktor Lopyryov, head of the Moscow regional branch of the Nationalities and Migration Ministry, said in a telephone interview Friday.

He said the others, like Samusenko's family, he has no way of helping.

"I know the problem you are talking about, but these people are not registered in our files," Lopyryov said. "They came here voluntarily and we are not supposed to be in charge of them. There are only a handful of official migrants in the Chekhov region."

Many of the migrants have a higher education and professional skills, but they work at the lowest-paid jobs or receive miserable pensions because they lack documents.

Tatyana Bubnova, a child-care provider from Fergana, Uzbekistan, works 10 hours a day milking and washing cows in the village of Belyayevo, also in the Chekhov district. She is paid 200 rubles in the winter and 1,500 rubles in the summer, and it is all the money that she and her unemployed Moldovan husband and their two small children have to live on.

Computer technician Tatyana Yelina milks cows for 380 rubles a month in Sharapovo. She does not have local registration, so neither does her son Sergei, 17, which means he cannot get a passport and thus cannot serve in the army or study.

"He is doomed to slavery here, just like his mother," Makarova said.

"Our district does not need professionals. It only needs slaves. We proposed employment programs, investment projects, to the district administration — we found investors ourselves. But they don't want to deal with us," she said.

Svetlana Gavrutikova, her husband and her son live with extended family in a village banya in Merleyevo. The banya had been nearly destroyed by fire, and when they arrived from Karaganda in Kazakhstan in 1997 it was no more than walls filled with rubble and rubbish.

Before they arrived, the nine family members had been warned by the director of the Dubnensky farm that registration would cost them $1,000 each, but they hoped he would relent.

Instead, after the family had restored the banya, the director made several attempts to throw them out, Gavrutikova said.

"He came here and hysterically shouted at us that we are only cattle, that he will put us on our knees, that he would send local bandits to beat us if we stayed," she said. The farm director was sacked a few months ago.

Makarova is the only hope the Chekhov district migrants have.

Recently, she saved Andrei Samusenko from further abuse in Sharapovo. She persuaded a farm director in the neighboring Podolsk region to employ him, and the director got him registered and gave him some cash to settle down.

Makarova is establishing links with the State Duma, which she believes must deal with the problem of migrants and with other officials.

"We wrote to Boris Gromov, the governor of the Moscow region administration, asking him to meet us," Makarova said. "We got an invitation for September.

"We provided information about abuse of migrants to the State Duma. I hope things will get better for us."