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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Migrants Flee Neighborhood After Sex Killing

MTA billboard on Ulitsa Kubinka with graffiti reading "Practice today and tomorrow and you will be able to fight back!"
Almost daily, street cleaners paint over racist graffiti on apartment buildings on Ulitsa Kubinka, where a teenage girl was raped and strangled last month purportedly by an Uzbek immigrant.

The horrifying attack in western Moscow has galvanized ultranationalists, and most of the graffiti is directed at the many migrant workers from former Soviet republics hired by the city to keep the streets tidy.

"Every night, new racist slogans appear on the walls of buildings," said Olga Labuticheva, a building maintenance official in Moscow's Mozhaisky district, where 15-year-old Anna Beshnova was murdered on Oct. 1. "We paint over them, but people are afraid for their lives."

Beshnova's murder has sparked angry demonstrations on Ulitsa Kubinka by anti-immigration groups, and a Turkmen national was knifed to death in the area earlier this month. Fearing for their lives, many migrant workers in the district have quit their city maintenance jobs.

Labuticheva said 10 of her workers from former Soviet republics in Central Asia have resigned. Another maintenance official in the district, Tatyana Gushchina, said she has lost 20 migrants working as street cleaners.

"These aren't just Uzbek nationals," Gushchina said in reference to the nationality of Beshnova's suspected killer. "They are also from Moldova and even from Ukraine. They say skinheads do not distinguish between them."

Beshnova's murder is the latest of several crimes — purportedly committed by dark-skinned migrants or natives of the North Caucasus — that have caused simmering racial tensions across the country to boil over in recent years.

The most prominent of these was an August 2006 fight at an Azeri-run restaurant in the Karelian town of Kondopoga that left two local Russians dead. The fight ignited riots in Kondopoga, where tensions between ethnic Russians and traders from the Caucasus had simmered for years.

On Oct. 1, Beshnova was returning home from her boyfriend's apartment at about midnight on Ulitsa Kubinka, near the Kuntsevskaya metro station, when she was attacked by a man described by witnesses as "non-Slavic" and wearing a jacket commonly worn by city maintenance workers. The assailant raped her, strangled her and left her body in the bushes near an apartment building, investigators say.

Several local residents have told the media that they watched the rape and did nothing because they believed that it was consensual sex. The assailant slept next to Beshnova's body for several hours before fleeing, according to media reports.

Vladimir Filonov / MT
Tatyana Yapiyeva, right, a Chuvash, sweeping leaves on Ulitsa Kubinka.
Two weeks later, some 200 activists from the ultranationalist Movement Against Illegal Immigration, or DPNI, and several other nationalist groups staged an unsanctioned protest at the crime scene, demanding that authorities "cleanse" Moscow of migrant workers.

DPNI was the leading organizer in the 2006 Kondopoga protests that metastasized into full-scale riots.

Police arrested Farkhod Tursunov, 31, a city maintenance worker from Uzbekistan, on Oct. 23 and have charged him with raping and murdering Beshnova, said Viktoria Tsyplenkova, a spokeswoman for the Moscow branch of the Investigative Committee.

On Nov. 4, the national People's Unity Day holiday, a Turkmen national was stabbed to death and another dark-skinned man assaulted in the area. It was unclear if the attacks were linked to the nationalist outrage over Beshnova's murder, Tsyplenkova said.

Police have stepped up patrols in the Mozhaisky district to head off any ethnic unrest, said Anatoly Laushkin, head of the Moscow city police's western district precinct.

Laushkin said he had given television interviews in order to persuade citizens not to give in to racial animosity. "I told them that criminality is international," Laushkin said. "Both victims and attackers can be of any nationality."

The nationalist backlash following Beshnova's murder has coincided with a recent upswing in anti-immigration sentiment, including from unexpected political corners.

Earlier this month, the pro-Kremlin youth group Young Guard picketed the Federal Migration Service offices, calling for Russia's borders to be closed to migrant laborers to provide more jobs for Russians during the global financial crisis.

Young Guard is the youth wing of the United Russia party, which has a constitutional majority in the State Duma and is chaired by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

The government has made no secret that it is in need of foreign labor. Anatoly Kuznetsov, deputy head of the Federal Migration Service, told a news conference earlier this month that migrant workers from other former Soviet republics are responsible for 6 percent to 8 percent of Russia's gross domestic product.

Furthermore, forecasts estimate that the country's workforce will fall by 8 million over the next seven years and by up to 19 million by 2025, Russian demographers said in a UN-sponsored report released earlier this year. From 2010 to 2014, the workforce will decrease by 1.3 million per year, the report said.

Moscow maintenance officials say there are simply not enough local workers willing to do the menial work for meager salaries.

Gushchina, who manages a team of 65 street cleaners in the Mozhaisky district, said not one of her employees was from Moscow. "There are only Moldovans, Ukrainians and Asians," she said. "It's hard to imagine Muscovites working the whole day for 5,000 to 15,000 rubles" per month.

Gushchina, who has worked in city maintenance for 20 years, said it is difficult to find local workers as diligent as the migrant laborers.

"Muscovites who worked as street cleaners in the Soviet era showed up only in the morning, while the migrant laborers work a full day," Gushchina said, pointing to the neat piles of leaves on a lawn freshly raked by her team.

Gushchina's male employees declined to be interviewed, citing fears for their safety.

Following the Oct. 12 ultranationalist protest on Ulitsa Kubinka, Gushchina said she made her employees stay home from work for two days for their own protection.

"After two days without maintenance workers, it took us about one week to clean up the streets," she said.