Russia begins to tackle violence against migrants

News & Observer, NC
July 20 2008

Russia begins to tackle violence against migrants

Tom Lasseter, Mcclatchy Newspapers
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MOSCOW – Artur Ryno had a knife and was looking to kill foreigners. He
slipped between two buildings near downtown Moscow and walked toward a
janitor standing alone in the night air in April 2007. By the time the
frenzy of hacks and thrusts was over, Khairullo Sadykov, a Tajik, lay
crumpled on the ground with dozens of stab wounds.
Three hours later, Ryno encountered Karin Abramyan, an Armenian
businessman, and pulled out his knife. Abramyan’s body was found with
stabs to the head, stomach and chest.

Human rights groups say Ryno, who was 17 when he was arrested, is one
of an untold number of thugs who have hunted migrant laborers and
immigrants in Russia. Darker-skinned migrants from former Soviet
republics in Central Asia and the Caucasus region are usually the

The murders have centered on the nation’s capital, where
ultranationalist groups are growing more vicious, many people say. The
groups post videos on the Internet showing random attacks: Packs of
young Russians ambush non-Slavic-looking men, kicking and punching
them until they fall to the ground cowering.

Subway stops and the areas near them often are chosen because they
offer a quick escape, said Vladilen Bokov, the head of the Moscow city
department on interethnic relations.

In some cases, the teenagers and men carrying out the beatings have
been affiliated with ultranationalist groups that sponsor "fitness
clubs" or youth meetings that often include members with swastika

It’s a culture that scorns chyorni, the Russian word for black, which
many Russians use in various forms to refer to all people with darker
skin. While there is no proof of a connection with the violence, the
groups virulently oppose the influx of migrants.

After his arrest, Ryno confessed to participating in 26 or 27 attacks
on non-Russians during an eight-month rampage in 2006 and 2007 that
left 20 people dead, according to his attorney, Yuri Yefimenkov.

For years, little action

After years of relatively little action, the Russian government is
taking the problem more seriously. Authorities are cooperating with
migrant-advocacy groups and prosecuting street gangs that hunt
foreigners, said Gavkhar Dzhurayeva, the head of the Migration and Law
Center, a Moscow-based migrant worker rights and legal aid

Leaders of two of the nation’s more notorious ultranationalist groups
predicted in interviews that the violence will worsen significantly in
coming years. They say it is driven by paranoia about a drop in
Russia’s Slavic population amid a rising tide of migrant labor and
immigrants. Millions of people have migrated to Russia; estimates
range from 5 million to 20 million.

Meanwhile, the Russian population has declined dramatically, by 2.8
million people from 2002 to 2006 alone, according to state statistics.

"I don’t fight any specific person, but I fight the possibility that
Russia could be a Muslim country in 20 years," said Dmitry Dyomushkin,
the head of the Slavic Union, one of the ultranationalist groups. "You
know, there are a lot of clashes now, and one big conflict might be
enough to spread the fighting across Russia."

Dyomushkin denies any connection with violence, but he said that Ryno,
an art student studying to paint religious icons, and others from his
group attended Slavic Union meetings.

Dyomushkin’s group and the Movement Against Illegal Immigration, known
by its Russian initials DPNI, sponsor or provide trainers to "fitness
clubs" that teach young Russians close-quarters combat skills and, in
some cases, basic lessons in handling explosives, ostensibly to ready
them for service in the military.

Neither group would allow McClatchy to visit the clubs.

Just teaching ‘skills’

"We try to teach them the basics of staying secure, but we cannot
guarantee that a small number of them won’t use the skills we teach
them to commit crimes," said Alexander Belov, the leader of the
DPNI. "It’s the same as accusing a knife manufacturer of something
when someone uses their knife to kill someone instead of cutting

The organizations are structured in a loose network in which the
Slavic Union and DPNI act as political and organizing arms. But they
don’t seem to issue direct orders to the smaller units of skinheads or
other radicals, said Dmitry Dubrovsky, a senior research fellow with
the Russian Museum of Ethnography in St. Petersburg, who works as an
expert witness for the city’s police and prosecutor’s departments.

"Nobody says to them, ‘Go to the streets and kill the blacks,’ "
Dubrovsky said. "It’s the ideology of ‘We should remove the blacks
from the streets,’ but the tool for removing them is up to the smaller