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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Moscow Rejects Russian in Kabul

KABUL, Afghanistan -- In the dank stairwell of apartment block 2 in the suburban Kabul neighborhood of Blakhay Qasaba Kargari, you are transported a world away: This soulless concrete box could be in Moscow, or any other Russian city.

Eight flights up, a Russian woman named Galina Margoyeva, 35, yearns for just such a place -- anywhere in Russia.

She came more than 14 years ago from the Soviet Union, when its war to occupy Afghanistan was coming to its failed conclusion. She was trapped in Kabul, survived war and outlasted the Taliban, only to be told that Russia would not claim her and that she was a citizen of nowhere. Her children are treated as enemies. And her family's spartan two-room apartment has been like a prison where she hid Russian fairy tales and classics like "Anna Karenina" under the stove during the Taliban era.

Her ability to speak Russian is beginning to trickle away, with Dari seeping into her dreams, drowning out her mother tongue.

All this is the price of her love for an Afghan man.

An ethnic Russian born in neighboring Tajikistan, she married Haji Hussein in the mid-1980s, and the couple planned a life in the Soviet Union. But he had to return to Afghanistan after completing his studies, and when he could not go back to the Soviet Union, she joined him in Kabul in 1987. Tears flooded her eyes when the pilot announced that the plane had left Soviet airspace. The same day, Islamic guerrillas unleashed a fierce rocket attack on Kabul.

Still stranded in an alien land years later, Margoyeva is afraid to go far from her apartment. She knows a handful of people, has few friends and is spooked by rumors of violence against women who go out without burqas, the garment women wear to cover their faces and bodies.

Her life reflects the fears, antipathies and suspicions common in Afghanistan, a country she has never liked enough to call home.

Her world is the apartment block, and after years of being cooped up, she resents and even despises some of her neighbors. Some of them, she says, leave piles of rubbish at her door and taunt her four children as shuravi, as the Soviet occupiers were called.

Margoyeva met her husband, who is now 41, in Tajikistan, where he was training as a building engineer. Forced to return to Afghanistan when his studies ended, he was drafted by the pro-Soviet government into the military, and his term was extended for several years.

He fought the anti-Soviet mujahedin. He despises them and the Taliban equally.

The family's efforts to return to the Soviet Union were frustrated first by lack of money, then by the closure of the embassy after the Soviet army withdrew in 1989 and by the expiration of Margoyeva's Soviet passport.

"The most difficult day was the day when we saw the last Soviet plane leave, and with that our last hope died," said Margoyeva, who lives close to Kabul's main airport -- a prime target in the civil war that raged after the retreat of the Russians.

Whether it was fighting among mujahedin factions in the early 1990s or the Taliban pushing toward Kabul in the mid-1990s, the airport was always a strategic target.

"The mujahedin were like terrorists. They used to come here at night and kill people. Everyone was afraid of them," Margoyeva said, describing how a neighbor was dragged away in the early 1990s. Her family was afraid someone would denounce her as a Russian and an enemy. "If I'd known what it was going to be like, I would never have come. Who wants to live in a slaughterhouse? Every day you worry, every day bad news. No freedom.

"I've been in prison for 14 years. It goes on and on, even today."

Her husband recently set up a building firm and won a contract with a Western agency in Afghanistan. But when the Russian Embassy opened at the end of December, she hurried there in hopes of getting a passport that would allow them to leave. However, she was told that she had lost her citizenship and that she was stateless.

In a typically Russian bureaucratic twist, she was told to become an Afghan citizen before she could apply to be a Russian.

"I was amazed. I said, 'I don't want to be an Afghan citizen. I have been living with this horror for 14 years waiting for the Russian Embassy to reopen so that I can leave this place. Now that you're here, you're telling me I should become an Afghan?'"

She insisted on applying for Russian citizenship and was allowed to fill out a passport application, which has been sent to Moscow for a decision.

As an ethnic Russian born in Tajikistan, her case is in some ways similar to those of millions of Russians left in other republics outside of Russia when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.

Russian Embassy officials in Kabul say her problem was her family's desire to move to Russia. They said they had no problem issuing a passport to another Russian woman married to an Afghan who planned to stay in Kabul.

Unthinkable in most Afghan homes, Margoyeva meets male guests with her face uncovered. Her willingness to correct her husband and her failure to leap to her feet to make him tea when he walks in the door would seem to be proof here of a lack of love, not a sign of equality. Yet Margoyeva says her deep love of her husband is what has seen her through.

Like most Afghan women, she rarely ventured outside while the Taliban was in power. She put off going out in a burqa, which is called a chaderi in the Dari language, until a family wedding, when there was no choice. She got one from a neighbor.

"The first time I put it on, I found the whole thing degrading." she said. "It was like putting a sack on your head. It's as if a woman is not even a person."

The hated garment is now stuffed away in a cupboard, never to be worn again. Instead, she dons a head scarf to go out.