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Interview: Russia As A 'Chance For Survival' For Tajik Migrants

Ksenia Diodorova: "I find people's attitudes toward labor migrants deeply troubling."
Ksenia Diodorova: "I find people's attitudes toward labor migrants deeply troubling."

Ksenia Diodorova, a Russian graphic designer, says she is troubled by the deep-seated hostility toward migrant workers in her country. Her photo essay "In The Cold," shot in both Russia and Tajikistan's Gorno-Badakhshan province, aims to dispel some of the misconceptions held about migrants from Tajikistan. She spoke with Andrei Shary of RFE/RL's Russian Service about her project.

RFE/RL: How was the idea for "In The Cold" born? What brought you to the Pamir mountains?

Ksenia Diodorova: My initial idea was to shoot a series of portraits of migrant workers, women, to show female migrant workers not as cashiers but as beautiful women. I was looking for a way to shine a light on labor migration from a different perspective because I find people's attitudes toward labor migrants deeply troubling.

I had also long wanted to work on the theme of isolation, when a village high up in the mountains is cut off from the world in winter and people there live with a completely different conception of time, one that is totally foreign to city dwellers. Then I met with an anthropologist from Pamir who got me interested in that region. So these three ideas merged into this project, "In The Cold," which is about the parents of migrants workers who live in the mountains.

I spent a month in Tajikistan traveling from village to village in the Bartang valley. I visited five or six villages and lived several days at a time with different families.

RFE/RL: Would you describe this region as a lost world?

Diodorova: In a sense yes, it is a lost world. But I wouldn't say that life there is oppressive. From a Western point of view of progress, of course people there lag behind. At first, my project was titled "Lost In The Cold," but I eventually dropped the word "lost." The people there aren't lost, they just live differently.

RFE/RL: Did you really suffer from the cold in Tajikistan, or is it a metaphor?

Diodorova: It's a metaphor. I tell a double story, the first part of which is shot in Pamir and the second in Russia. Those in Pamir live in climatic coldness, while their relatives in Russia live in social coldness."

RFE/RL: Which kind of coldness is harsher, in your opinion -- climatic or social?

Diodorova: All the protagonists in this project possess such inner strength that they don't seem to mind. These are people who never complain – neither there [in Tajikistan], nor in Russia.


RFE/RL: Are there any family stories or circumstances that particularly struck you in the villages you visited?

Diodorova: A common situation that really touched me is the fact that because of migration, children are growing up without their parents. The children of labor migrants don't see their fathers and mothers for several years at a time.

RFE/RL: How do the people you spoke to relate to Russia and Russians? Do they resent Russia for the way migrants are treated there? Do they admire it? Or is it simply an inherent part of life for Tajiks?

Diodorova: I think they see Russia as part of life. It's obvious that the majority of migrant workers are socially isolated. I think they see Russia as a chance for survival. They know that it is tough there and that the attitude toward them is ambiguous.

RFE/RL: Your project aims at dispelling some of the stereotypes targeting Tajiks and migrants workers in general. Could you list some of the stereotypes that you would like to challenge?

Diodorova: Tajikistan has an ancient culture and very rich traditions. Through the viewpoint of ordinary people, I would like to show that their philosophy holds great worth, that things are not as simple as they may seem to those who think that women there are barred from leaving their homes, that they all wear veils, that Tajiks live in filth, don't wash their hands, and sleep on the floor. This is what I'd like to tackle.

I don't think I'm in a position to do anything about all the other stereotypes -- along the lines of "migrant workers steal our jobs" or "why can't they stay in their own country." These issues belong to the governmental and political spheres, and these are absent from my project. This is a project from ordinary people for ordinary people."

Diodorova is currently raising money to publish a book based on "In The Cold." For more information, interested contributors can go to her page here:

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