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Big Money Promises Don't Materialize For Tajik Migrants 'Lured' To Mariupol From Russia

The migrants sent footage to RFE/RL that shows a group of men -- purportedly Tajik workers in Mariupol -- demanding their salaries from employers. (video grab)
The migrants sent footage to RFE/RL that shows a group of men -- purportedly Tajik workers in Mariupol -- demanding their salaries from employers. (video grab)

Dozens of Tajik migrants have been working in the Russian-occupied city of Mariupol in southeastern Ukraine after being lured with the promise of high wages and other benefits that didn't materialize, some of the workers say.

Several workers who spoke to RFE/RL on December 5 claimed they were recruited in Russia by various construction firms as well as Russian and Tajik middlemen to repair buildings damaged during Moscow's war against Ukraine.

"They told us we would make about $1,900 a month and that our wages would be paid every two weeks. But I received about $700 for two weeks of work," said a Tajik migrant, who gave only his first name, Sunnatulloh.

"They had also promised that we'd be provided with good accommodation, and food three times a day. The place we stay is awful and the food is bad, too. The salary is always delayed, and it's lower than what was promised," Sunnatulloh, 20, added.

He said he is trying to get out of Mariupol, a month after he arrived in the coastal city that fell to Russian forces in May after a brutal three-month siege.

Iso, another Tajik citizen, has been working in the southeastern Ukrainian city for five months. He told RFE/RL that he has never received his wage on time.

The migrants sent footage to RFE/RL on December 4 that shows a group of men -- purportedly Tajik workers in Mariupol -- demanding their salaries from employers.

A still of footage sent to RFE/RL on December 4
A still of footage sent to RFE/RL on December 4

Some of the alleged middlemen who Tajik workers said sent them from Russia to Mariupol were contacted by RFE/RL but did not reply.

The first groups of migrant workers, including Tajiks, arrived in Mariupol in the early summer as the Russian-installed authorities began reconstructing the devastated city. Much of Mariupol, including many residential areas and public buildings, were left in ruins by Russian bombardment during the siege.

Most of the workers were hired in Russia, a country that hosts millions of migrants from Central Asia and other former Soviet countries.

The workers claim some companies promised them their wages in Mariupol would be up to four times higher than what they were making in Russia.

Some of those promises were met initially, according to several workers who spoke to RFE/RL in early October.

Qurbon Sharifov was hired by a private Russian construction firm, Restavratsiya, and arrived in Mariupol in August.

Nearly two months later Sharifov, 30, said his first monthly salary was about $2,350 -- twice as much as he earned in Russia.

"We repair damaged buildings here, replace the windows and doors, and lay new roofs," Sharifov said. "We get food three times a day, and our accommodation is provided by the employers."

But Sharifov said he wasn't sure how much his next salary was going to be as there were no guarantees. He added that although he doesn't feel insecure in Mariupol, his family in Tajikistan is worried about him working in Ukraine.

It's not clear how many Tajik citizens are in Mariupol. But Sharifov said Restavratsia alone has sent 110 workers to Mariupol and that most of them were from Tajikistan. Some of the workers estimate there are about 120 Tajik laborers in Mariupol.

Tajikistan's embassy in Moscow said it has warned Tajik citizens against traveling to high-risk areas and conflict zones.

Tajik migrants' rights advocate Karimjon Yorov expressed concern the Tajik workers have violated international laws by coming to Mariupol.

"They have no right to be in Mariupol without being sanctioned by Ukrainian authorities, because this is Ukrainian territory," he said.

"If they get arrested there [by Ukrainian authorities], they would be held liable according to Ukrainian and international laws," Yorov warned.

Many Tajik migrants in Russia say they get offers from construction firms and individuals to work for good pay in Mariupol. But many decline the offer, saying they don't want to risk their lives.

In the video sent from Mariupol, Tajik workers warned potential recruits to be aware of empty promises.

"It's all lies," one worker said. "Don't come here."

Written by Farangis Najibullah with reporting by RFE/RL Tajik Service correspondents Mumin Ahmadi and Zarangez Navruzshoh
  • 16x9 Image

    Mumin Ahmadi

    Mumin Ahmadi has been a correspondent for RFE/RL's Tajik Service since 2008. He graduated from Kulob State University and has worked with Anvori Donish, Millat, Khatlon-Press, and the Center for Journalistic Research of Tajikistan. He was also the editor in chief of Pajwok.

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    Zarangez Navruzshoh

    Zarangez Navruzshoh is a correspondent for RFE/RL's Tajik Service.