‘They’re people too, you know’ In a village outside Moscow, a local woman’s murder prompted protests and the mass eviction of migrant workers. Meduza special correspondent Irina Kravtsova reports from Bozhaninovo.
A 67-year-old woman was raped and murdered in the village of Buzhaninovo (Moscow region) on September 12. The authorities arrested two migrants from Tajikistan as suspects. The following evening, village residents tried to storm a dormitory that was home to more than 150 migrant workers employed by a local window factory. The next day, the Governor of the Moscow region ordered the eviction of all the migrants living in the dormitory. Buses promptly moved the workers out of Buzhaninovo, whisking them off to an unknown location. Meduza special correspondent Irina Kravtsova traveled to Buzhaninovo, where she witnessed local authorities — now under intense media scrutiny — scrambling to save face and put the village in order.
At 6:00 p.m. on September 12, 67-year-old Natalya Yeremkina, a resident of Buzhaninovo who worked as a dishwasher at the local school, was returning home from her dacha. It was still light out, and she decided to cut through a grove of trees. That was where she was raped and murdered.
The following day, September 13, the local newspapers Kopeika and Alternativnaya Gazeta published reports from readers about the rape and murder of a woman in her sixties. These reports stated that the police had detained migrants on suspicion of committing the crime. The newspapers also posted images of the suspects without clarifying how they had obtained the photographs.
One report noted that operatives in search of the killers “checked an entire dorm.” The village only has one dormitory — and for the past five years, it has housed migrants who work for Ecookna, a local factory that produces plastic windows and window fittings. After these reports were published a spontaneous protest broke out in Buzhaninovo.
On the evening of September 13, about 200 local residents — led by Aleksandr Yeremkin, the son of the deceased — went to storm the dormitory. Yeremkin demanded that the superintendent let him into the building and allow him to deal with the residents himself, appealing to the fact that the superintendent was around the same age as his late mother.
Local women also came to the dormitory and asserted that they and even their children received unwanted attention — with sexual undertones — from the migrant workers. The village residents demanded the dormitory’s occupants be evicted, threatening to burn down the building and shoot all of its residents otherwise.
People stood outside of the dormitory late into the night, until Mikhail Tokarev, the head of the Sergiyevo-Posadsky District (where Buzhaninovo is located), promised them he would make sure the migrants were moved out of the building. Police guarded the dormitory building throughout the night on September 14, and the next day the Governor of the Moscow region Andrey Vorobyov ordered its closure.
“There are crimes that cause a special resonance with their cynicism and cruelty, because people really boil over,” Vorobyov wrote on his official Telegram channel. “The dormitory in Buzhaninovo, near where this unfortunate incident took place, will be closed today. If [local] residents are against it, it shouldn’t be there.”
Buses were sent to the dormitory, and all of its occupants — about 160 people in total (by other accounts 140) — were loaded onto them and transported out of the village. Where exactly they were taken was not specified, but locals were promised that their relocation would be permanent.
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On the night of the protest, Mikhail Tokarev assured the crowd that he would meet with them the next evening — once everyone had calmed down somewhat — to discuss all of their concerns at length. But local officials were not prepared for the attention that was now focused on the village.
According to locals, the administration feared that journalists from federal television stations might show up to the meeting, or even Governor Vorobyov. For this reason, they decided, in the words of one resident, “to do what hadn't been done for 70 years” and put the village in order (see videos below).
Alexander Aleksintsev, a resident of Buzhaninovo, told Meduza that the workers sent by local administrators used a tractor to mow down weeds between houses “that nobody had ever seriously cut before.” Locals had always trimmed the grass with scythes, or burned it.
They painted the crosswalks near the train station, pruned the dead branches on the aspens, and cleaned out a dumpster "that had been full for months" — they even replaced the awning over the dumpsters. “That’s the way we bloody do things here, before a bloody visit from the governor,” said one local resident, commenting on the rushed cleanup around the dumpsters.
In the center of the village, they replaced the missing bulbs from street lamps, a postal worker who declined to give her name told Meduza. As Meduza’s correspondent verified, the rest of the village (the majority of it) remained without functioning streetlights.
But Governor Vorobyov, whose potential visit was the reason for all the fuss, didn’t show up on September 14. District head Mikhail Tokarev arrived at the meeting with the townspeople— who were waiting for him in the gymnasium of a local school — accompanied by regional police deputy Nikolay Golyastov.
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It was very noisy in the school gymnasium. Tokarev made several unsuccessful attempts to make himself heard over the hubbub. Finally, the official came up with a plan: he announced that there would be a moment of silence for the victim.
When everyone went quiet for a few moments, Tokarev stated that two Tajikistani migrants had indeed been detained as suspects, but they had no connection to the dormitory that locals had demanded be emptied. The suspects had been living in a tent on the grounds of the “Priozerye” Cottage Condominium Association, where they were building a house. (On September 15, investigators reported that the two suspects had been jailed).
Tokarev quickly assured his audience that he understood their distaste for living near migrants “like no one else.”
“Let’s get [one thing] straight right away. Of course, if I were a resident of Buzhaninovo, I wouldn't be very happy if outside my window, in my yard, around my village you had these uh, well, individuals… guest workers roaming around,” Tokraev said, emphasizing the turn of phrase. “Of course I understand why you’re upset. Today a decision was made. We spoke with the owner [of the building where the migrants lived] and convinced him to act. He said, ‘I understand. I’ll take care of it’.”
Tokarev then proceeded to allay residents' fears about the migrant workers' possible return to the dormitory once the commotion had settled down: "No, we agreed with the owner that that building will no longer be used to house guest workers."
He continued to repeat these reassurances in the same soothing tone, “Even yesterday we heard you. You said that unfortunately, sometimes when you call the district police officer, he’s busy since he serves such a large area, and he doesn’t always come. […] So we asked the [building] owner, and he said, ‘I’d be happy to help’ and turn the premises into a police station. The police officers can fix it up, add all the necessary equipment and then even the commissioner can stop in. I just want to say that we’ve reached an agreement that guest workers will no longer live in that building.”
The district head didn’t say whether the dormitory building would house anything or anyone else, besides the new police station.
Before the meeting, locals told journalists that they had written numerous complaints about the migrant workers to local officials, but they “didn’t listen.” Tokarev stated during the meeting that, as far as he knew, village residents hadn’t sent in any complaints. But he was still prepared to discuss their grievances. Tokarev promised that the district police officer would visit the village in the coming weeks and that he would hear out their concerns (villagers said that they have never laid eyes on their current officer.)
The gathering in the gymnasium remained clamorous. Both Tokarev and the other speakers were hard to hear, so soon many of the attendees headed for the exit. Half an hour later the room was empty. On the street, women continued to talk about how migrant workers whistled when they walked by and stared at them. Men expressed their discontent with the migrants taking up residence in their “Orthodox village,” butchering sheep “in front of children,” “to celebrate that Ramadan of theirs.”
The townspeople swarmed Tokarev, a rare guest, and began asking other questions — ones that had long gone unanswered: “When will they put in streetlights? Only a few streets have them and even those aren’t fully lit. Everywhere else it’s pitch dark! When will they run a natural gas line to our village? It’s 2021! We live an hour and a half from the capital. On paper the village has access to the grid, but most houses aren’t actually connected! When will they fix the roads? When will they open a hospital in the village or send us doctors?”
There isn’t a hospital in Buzhaninovo, instead an “out-patient clinic” was set up in an apartment unit in a five-story residential building. There, a physician and nurse see patients from nine in the morning until noon, a local woman named Elena told Meduza. None of the townspeople Meduza’s correspondent spoke to could remember when they last had an opportunity to personally ask a government official their questions.
Alexander Aleksintsev recalled that Buzhaninovo once had an asphalt factory and a “famous” sovkhoz (a state-owned farm). In the 1990s, both enterprises “collapsed” and “everyone has forgotten” about the village since then, he said (other villagers standing nearby nodded in agreement). Residents have written letters to officials for years and filed appeals using Dobrodel, the regional government’s online service portal, to no avail. For this reason, locals were shocked at the speed with which the village was fixed up after the murder and the protest: many of the issues they’d wanted addressed were resolved in a matter of hours.
When the Ecookna factory was built in the early 2000s, Bozhaninovo’s residents rejoiced that they would finally be able to work close to home rather than in neighboring towns. Later, according to villagers, the factory began to withhold pay and stopped indexing wages, and gradually all the jobs were given to migrants.
Ecookna CEO Andrey Filonenko also attended the meeting with local residents on the evening of September 14. He implored the locals to try to put themselves in his employees’ shoes (to what degree the eviction of Ecookna’s foreign workers affected production at the factory remains unknown. The company employs a total of 987 people, 399 of whom are foreign nationals).
“They’re people too, you know. They’re scared now too, no less than you are. They are officially employed. We pay them just as much as the locals who work for us,” said Filonenko. But no one wanted to listen to him at this point. Instead, the village residents demanded that Filonenko repair local roads, which had been “crushed to bits by his trucks bringing shipments to the factory.”
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It's not clear where the migrants from the Buzhaninovo dormitory were taken; Meduza was unable to get in contact with them.
In conversation with Meduza, the chairman of the Islamic Human Rights Center of Russia, Ghazali Kukanshoyev, called the governor’s decision to evict all the dormitory’s residents “unthinkable.” In his opinion, Vorobyov must give the migrants back their jobs and return them to their previous place of residence, and, in order to ensure that there will be no further conflict between them and the townspeople, ensure that law enforcement are working in the village regularly.
“The governor left so many people without bread, they have families. How is this possible? Firing 160 people because of two lowlifes. Criminals should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, but why do innocents have to pay? They’re people! Why is this constantly forgotten in this country?” says Kukanshoyev, “The fact that [people] in the village got angry at everyone is normal. It would have been the same with us, there would have been conflict. A terrible tragedy occurred, and people were reacting to it. But that doesn’t mean that we need to move everyone of that nationality out of the village. The dormitory needs order. Where were the security guards? Where was the Security Service? The cameras? Who allowed this to happen? Probably the governor.”
The situation in Buzhaninovo wasn’t the subject of any discussions or decision-making at the federal level, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Wednesday, September 15. But the shortage of migrant labor “is being felt quite sharply in a variety of industries,” he added. “This is a subject of concern for senior government officials, who are working on this issue now,” Peskov assured.
Translation by Elizabeth Tolley