In The Shadow Of The Boom

Like an angel of the night, volunteer Tatyana Sveshnikova, 35 and a teacher by training, working in cooperation with the Russian Orthodox Church, attends to a battered homeless man near Kursk Station with aid collected from personal friends and family. Photo by Gerd Ludwig

Like an angel of the night, volunteer Tatyana Sveshnikova, 35 and a teacher by training, working in cooperation with the Russian Orthodox Church, attends to a battered homeless man near Kursk Station with aid collected from personal friends and family. Photo by Gerd Ludwig

For decades Moscow was a city devoid of vibrancy and individualistic opportunities — as well as excessive poverty. Not any more. Russia’s warp-speed economic transformation has turned Moscow into the most expensive city in the world, leaving a considerable portion of its population without a slice of the pie. In the shadow of the boom, Moscow’s nights are dominated by the disenfranchised: a growing number of homeless, non-existent in Soviet Russia, now struggle for diminishing aid. Every night, near the main stations, some of Moscow’s most unfortunate souls line up for aid by healthcare volunteers.
Ironically, the country that for seventy years exercised strict security measures to avoid illegal immigration now needs to protect itself from illegal immigration. So-called ‘gastarbeiters’ (foreign workers) from the southern former Soviet republics are pouring into Russia for a slice of its petrodollar economy. Police regularly sweep streets and construction sites for those without proper documentation. Illegal immigrants, subsisting in overcrowded apartments, live in constant fear of harassment. Notorious in the 1990’s for violent crime, Moscow has seen its homicide rate decline in recent years. The deterioration of family ties, however, requires the police to perform a new grim duty: alarmed by neighbors complaining of a horrible stench, detectives find apartments with decomposing bodies of the elderly, apparently dead without anybody taking timely notice. It is hard to predict whether Moscow’s economy will ever gain the strength to trickle down to those who have not yet been invited to take part in the boom.

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