Accessibility links

Breaking News

Kyrgyz Migrant Women Brutally Assaulted In 'Patriotic' Videos

A screen grab from a video showing "Ajna," a Kyrgyz woman being beaten by male compatriots, purportedly for associating with non-Kyrgyz men.
A screen grab from a video showing "Ajna," a Kyrgyz woman being beaten by male compatriots, purportedly for associating with non-Kyrgyz men.
The attacks follow the same scenario.

A naked woman lies sobbing as a group of Kyrgyz-speaking men brutally cross-examine her. They punch and kick her, pull her hair, and curse at her.

Sometimes, the aggressors shave their victim's eyebrows or threaten her with a knife.

At least five online videos documenting vicious assaults against what appear to be Kyrgyz women in Russia have emerged since March, sowing fear among Kyrgyz migrants and sparking an outcry in the small Central Asian nation.

The authors of the clips describe themselves as "Kyrgyz patriots" bent on punishing female migrants for allegedly dating non-Kyrgyz men.

RFE/RL was able to track down one of the victims, 20-year-old Ajna (not her real name), who traveled to the Russian capital last year to work as a cleaner.

According to Ajna, the assault began in the Moscow metro when her boyfriend, a presumed member of the "patriots," saw her send a message from her mobile phone to a non-Kyrgyz male friend.

"He lashed me with a belt, calling me all sorts of terrible things," she says. "He filmed the scene with his phone. Then he called his friends and asked them to come over. They started beating and humiliating me, right there in the metro. They asked me where I lived and took me there."

'I Thought I Was Going To Die'

The worst was yet to come. Once in the flat, Ajna recalls, her landlord and his friends, also Kyrgyz migrants, joined in the violence. The video shows them strangling and beating her as she cowers on the ground.

"They kicked me, they insulted me, they threatened me with a knife," she says. "I was so scared that I confessed things I had not done. In such moments you forget everything. I thought I was going to die."

She says the assault ended with one of her assailants raping her.

Ajna has since returned to Kyrgyzstan. She has not told her family about her ordeal for fear of being stigmatized.

Last week, however, she resolved to file a police complaint that she hopes will help put an end to the attacks.

Thanks to her testimony, Kyrgyz police have already identified seven members of the gang and have asked Russian authorities to launch a criminal case.

Ajna's disclosure has encouraged another victim to come forward. A young Kyrgyz woman named Sapargul sent a letter this week to Russian police, the Kyrgyz Embassy in Moscow, and RFE/RL, recounting her own ordeal at the hands of the "patriots."

She says the attack took place in September after she and a female friend were approached by a group of non-Kyrgyz men in a Moscow cafe. The scene was witnessed by her attackers, who, accusing the two women of flirting, pulled them into a car and drove them to a remote location.

In footage posted online, a terrified Sapargul stands naked in a dark street as a group of men beats and insults her.

She told RFE/RL that the men threatened to electrocute her and her friend.

"They tied cables around our legs, plugged them to the car's batteries and demanded that we repeat what they told us," she say. "They said it would serve as a lesson to the other Kyrgyz girls. They beat us the whole time and jabbed us with something sharp. They threatened to kill us if we didn't say what they told us to into the camera."

Vulnerable To Abuse

An estimated 600,000 Kyrgyz citizens currently work in Russia, some 40 percent of them women.

Like Sapargul, many have left their family behind to search for work and are highly vulnerable to abuse and sexual exploitation.

Rights groups say this type of punitive assault is not uncommon in Russia, although the country has rarely seen such a ruthless campaign of violence against women.

"The rhetoric that some women date the wrong men or pay attention to men from other ethnic groups is characteristic of 'patriotic-minded' people," says Natalya Yudina, an expert the Sova organization, which monitors hate crimes in Russia "Similar incidents were reported in Tatarstan. Russian skinheads have also beaten up women for seeing black men."

The grisly videos have made the rounds among Russia's Kyrgyz immigrants, a number of whom actually side with the "patriots."

While frowning on their methods, they say women suspected of dishonoring the Kyrgyz people deserve a harsh reprimand.

"I support these guys," said Abdrazak, a middle-aged Kyrgyz man living in Moscow with his family. "But it was not necessary to beat the girls, they could simply have rounded them up and thrown them out of the country so that they would never come back.

"They could have called police officers and told them that these girls lead an immoral lifestyle. That would have been reason enough to have them deported to Kyrgyzstan."

But most Kyrgyz are appalled.

"They call themselves patriots of the Kyrgyz people, but just look at what they do," said Kyrgyzstan's Ambassador to Russia Bolot Zhunusov. "They brutally abuse Kyrgyz girls, beating them up, forcing them to undress and posting the videos on the Internet. This is neither patriotic nor heroic."

'I've Long Been Dead Inside'

News of the attacks has spread quickly across Kyrgyzstan, where concern is growing over the safety of Kyrgyz women in Russia.

A youth organization in Bishkek has begun collecting funds to help the victims. The country's ombudsman has pledged an investigation, and the Kyrgyz parliament has sent a delegation to Russia to look into the cases.

This solidarity has brought some solace to Sapargul and Ajna.

Sapargul, in particular, remains alone in Moscow and lives in fear of another attack.

She believes her parents and her two children back in Kyrgyzstan know of the online video. Out of shame, she has not contacted them since the assault.

She is now pinning all her hopes on the investigation. Like Ajna, she fears she won't be able to rebuild her life until justice is served and her tormentors are behind bars:

"I'm afraid of going into the street, of talking to people," she said. "I've been told they want to kill me and are looking for me. I've long been dead inside, I'm like a shadow. All I can think of is -- what kind of future awaits me now?"

Written by Claire Bigg, based on reporting by RFE/RL Kyrgyz Service correspondent Eleonora Beishenbek Kyzy

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

If you are in Russia or the Russia-controlled parts of Ukraine and hold a Russian passport or are a stateless person residing permanently in Russia or the Russia-controlled parts of Ukraine, please note that you could face fines or imprisonment for sharing, liking, commenting on, or saving our content, or for contacting us.

To find out more, click here.