A Tide of Hatred Swells in Russia

Times Staff Writer

It was his birthday, and as usual, Yunus Sultanov’s 8-year-old daughter, Khursheda, was full of fun. Why didn’t they go get her young cousin, she said, and have a proper party?

So they picked up 8-year-old Akobir, and were making their way back home when a group of youths rushed up behind them. Sultanov, a native of Tajikistan, was pounded senseless. Akobir was hit several times, but managed to crawl under a car.

He was the one who heard Khursheda screaming as the men began stabbing her.

“She was crying and shouting, ‘Daddy, please help me,’ ” Akobir recalled Tuesday, his thin face still bruised and scratched. The girl lived only as long as it took her father to carry her upstairs and present her, bleeding from 11 stab wounds, to his wife.


A few days after the Feb. 9 attack, a revolutionary war memorial -- in a city that underwent a legendary siege during World War II at the hands of the German Nazis -- was defaced with swastikas. And on Saturday, dozens of Jewish graves were spray-painted with the symbol.

“It seems things are getting out of control, and for us, it’s getting very scary,” Pewzner Menachem-Mendel, the chief rabbi of St. Petersburg, said in an interview.

Ethnic violence is nothing new to Russia, but human rights officials say there are signs that the nation is in for a troubling new wave of hate crimes -- particularly against Central Asians and darker-skinned people from the Caucasus region -- in the wake of the Feb. 6 explosion on a Moscow subway that was attributed to Chechen militants.

Chechens have been hauled in to police stations, questioned and fingerprinted by the dozens, and residents of the former Soviet republics surrounding Chechnya say they are routinely stopped and harassed for bribes by police on the street. Many Chechens have been suddenly evicted from their apartments by landlords who don’t want trouble with the authorities.

“Chechens in Moscow every day are reminded by the police, by officials, by bureaucrats, by ordinary people, that they are enemies,” said Salambek Maigov, a Chechen businessman who once represented the government of former Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov in Moscow.

“Chechens can’t get work in Moscow. They can’t get a room at hotels, they can’t rent apartments in private houses anymore.... It is becoming clearer and clearer that Russia needs Chechnya, but it doesn’t need us, Chechens.”


“After the explosion in the Metro, I don’t let my children go anywhere on public transportation. I forbid them to even approach a Metro station or a bus stop,” said Roza Buruyeva, a 45-year-old Chechen who lives in Moscow.

“My daughter no longer cries when they ask her [at school] about the explosion on the Metro. But I can see how deeply hurt she is, how she is suffering inside,” she added. “What can we do? Where can we go? No one wants us.”

Natives of ex-Soviet republics such as Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Dagestan and Georgia, many of whom resemble Chechens, suffer the same treatment.

The rising tide of national anger also affects Jews, said Grubarg Mordehai, board chairman of St. Petersburg’s Jewish community.

“People don’t always see cause and effect. All they see is some innocent people take the train to work and they get killed. And the fact is that there are quite a few Jewish names among the wealthy oligarchs, and a babushka [old woman] who doesn’t have enough money to buy medicine is bewildered when she hears one of them is spending tens of millions of dollars to buy something outside the country. She naturally believes all the money is controlled by Jews.”

In an interview in Moscow last week -- before news filtered out about the attack on Sultanov and his family -- Fatima Sharpova, director of a legal education group in Dushanbe, the Tajik capital, predicted that the subway attack would lead to violence against Tajiks in Russia.


“You have to understand that we already get a lot of Tajikistan workers back from Russia as corpses. Nobody ever knows the exact details of any particular killing. All we know is the relatives are called to the airport and have to pay money to get the bodies,” she said.

The St. Petersburg governor, Valentina Matviyenko, said Sultanov’s attackers were “underage scum” and ordered the police to find and arrest them. Police have said they believe that a skinhead gang probably was behind the attacks.

“It is doubly distressing that this happened in St. Petersburg, a city where different religions and creeds have coexisted for years,” the governor said. “We should stop this evil together.”

When Sultanov went to the police station a few days ago, he was confronted rudely by a lieutenant colonel.

“He said, ‘You black asses, you’ve come here to cause problems, we’ve got enough problems of our own without you,’ ” said Nizar Mirzoda, a leader in the community of about 6,500 Tajik immigrants in St. Petersburg, who related the story as Sultanov looked on and nodded.

About 900,000 of Tajikistan’s 6.8 million residents travel every year to work in Russia, mostly in menial jobs in construction or at vegetable markets.


“I am very sorry for the girl. But if her parents had stayed in their hometown in their country, she would be alive now,” said a Moscow police officer who refused to be identified. “We don’t ask them to come to Moscow or St. Petersburg. We don’t need them here. There is a war with terrorism going on here, and these people from Chechnya, Tajikistan and other places are always going to be among the suspects.”

Sultanov, 35, who works at a market hauling heavy boxes, said he came to St. Petersburg to live with his sister, Khalima Sutanova, because there was no work in Tajikistan.

His wife accompanied Khursheda’s coffin home over the weekend, taking their 18-month-old daughter, and is afraid to come back to Russia. But Sultanov has no choice. He would like to leave, he said, but can’t afford to.

“They’re telling us they’re doing all they can to solve the crime. But I don’t think they will. There are no witnesses, no one saw anything,” said his sister. “When I’m sitting alone with my brother, I ask him questions, and he tells me if he had seen who those people are, he would probably hunt them down and rip their throats out with his teeth.”

She cast a glance at her brother, as if to quickly apologize for saying too much, but it was Akobir who piped up. He saw the youths who did it, he said, and calmly described their leather jackets, knit caps and frightening threats.

His small voice barely wavered as he sat next to Sultanov -- a boy trying to look as calm and brave as his uncle, unaware that the older man’s quiet stare did not come from courage.



Times staff writer Sergei L. Loiko contributed to this report.