I am a freelance photographer and visual artist based in Saint-Petersburg, Russia working with National Geographic Russia, VICE UK/USA, De Volkskrant, Takie Dela, Meduza, Novaya Gazeta, others. My photographic practice primarily focuses on the...
As a photographer, I spend a great deal of time walking the streets, and, often, I notice things that remain hidden from the majority of people. Having photographed in various cities, including Moscow, I witnessed situations when locals clashed with migrants, publicly demonstrating their hatred, every now and then, deliberately and without any reason, provoking fights. I had no time to figure out what was going on in these situations, but I became deeply interested in their nature. After a while, I decided to find people from different countries who had suffered from racial hatred and violence. The geography of my survey was limited to Moscow and the Moscow region. The capital is like the brand mark of the country, so I thought that the results of my research there would be the most telling. With help from employees of Russia’s biggest non-governmental organization dealing with discrimination against migrants – the Civic Assistance Сommittee – I managed to find nine people who were ready to meet with me and tell me their stories. They are all victims of crimes, but at the same time, they are all heroes, because they coped with their tragedies and, after all that happened to them, dared to share their feelings with me and with the audience.
I remember how I went to Podolsk to see one of the characters of my story, Jakhangir. He met me outside his building, his hands shaking; he was obviously tense and strained, and his stress only increased after he began his narrative. We were sitting in a dark kitchen, Jakhangir was talking slowly, his voice quavering. I could understand why: it is extremely painful to recall such traumatic memories. When I saw the wound that remained on Jakhangir’s head from the attack, I felt sick. I spent about two hours with him; I listened to his story and took his portrait. After that, I went outside, still feeling fear, uneasiness and anxiety. At that very moment,
I decided that all the portraits of the victims would be shaded with an alarming red color. I wanted the viewers to go through the same feelings. Everything turned red. Since that visit, I have seen many more wounds: one man was disemboweled, another one was shot in his eye. I witnessed so many cruelties and sufferings, but I could not believe that the color of skin could cause these atrocities. According to the statistics of SOVA information and analysis center, since 2012, more than 2000 crimes caused by racial hatred took place in Russia. Only the recorded cases are considered. There are many more unregistered attacks; the numbers may reach 15 to 20 thousand. It is because migrants often refuse to call the police, they do not trust the law-enforcement authorities, as they are afraid of an inadequate response or inspection of their documents. Sounds scary, doesn’t it? Both the numbers and the facts that go along with them.
In 2015, the Russian government initiated prosecution of representatives of Nazi groups, which caused a decline in the number of crimes motivated by racism. Today most of the crimes against the newly arrived are committed by ordinary people, not by members of nationalistic gangs. During interrogations, they openly demonstrate their aggressive attitudes. According to the statistics of the Civic Assistance Committee, most of the crimes in the Moscow region are committed between 7 and 11 pm.
In carrying out the project, I found it very important to visit a number of the most problematic locations within the period. The locations were chosen in accordance with the map at hatecrimes.ru. The website is a project of the Civic Assistance Committee, whose organizers mark the registered attacks associated with racial hatred on the Moscow region map.
I clearly understand that many Russians support migrants. For example, according to the statistics gathered by the Levada Center analytical organization, 28% of Russian citizens vote against any limitations in the numbers of nationalities living on the territory of our country. However, all of them, probably, stay home at the hour of danger when the newly arrived go home from work, walking through empty side streets where they can potentially be attacked.
The color of violence is red, like the color of our blood.