Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty) – The Russian capital is home to a large Afghan community centered around the Soviet-era Sevastopol Hotel. Some 8,000 Afghans live in and around the complex, which has been transformed into a shopping and business center dominated by Afghan bazaars, butcher shops, and restaurants.
About 150,000 Afghans live in Russia, and around a third reside in Moscow. Most fled Afghanistan in the wake of the Soviet withdrawal that ended in 1989 and the brutal civil war of the 1990s. Russia hosts the third-largest overseas Afghan community, after Pakistan and Iran.
An entrance to the Sevastopol complex. Many locals still refer to it as a hotel, although it was transformed into a business center in the late 1990s by the local Afghan community. Three buildings host nearly 1,000 shops.
Mohammad is among hundreds of Afghan shopkeepers at the Sevastopol Hotel. He was a soldier in the Afghan military in the 1980s and came to Moscow in the early 1990s. “I already spoke some Russian when I was still in Afghanistan, and I had met Russians, so it wasn’t that difficult to integrate here,” he says. “It also helps that there are so many of us Afghans here in Moscow.” He still dreams of returning to Afghanistan. “Maybe when I’m an old man,” he says.
A grocery shop where Mohammad and his wife sell dried fruit and other Afghan food.
Wahidullah was born in Moscow to Afghan parents who immigrated in the late 1980s. The 25-year-old has never been to Afghanistan, but he hopes to visit the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, where his parents are from. “I’m far from my ancestral homeland, but at the same time I’m close because of the large Afghan community here.”
Abdul Karim Tukhi is the manager of Block 3 of the Sevastopol Hotel. The father of three moved to Moscow in 1991, months before the collapse of the communist Afghan government. Tukhi, who studied in Moscow in the 1980s, was a commander in the Afghan army. “It wasn’t safe to stay, especially for me, because I was part of the [communist] government. So we had to leave. I came to Russia at a time when many Afghans from the military and government were moving here.”
The Center for the Afghan Diaspora.
Ghulam Jalal is the head of the Center for the Afghan Diaspora, an organization that finds work for Afghans in Russia and preserves their culture and languages. Jalal, a former commander in the Afghan army, left Kabul and arrived in Moscow in 1992 at the onset of the civil war. “I had to leave. The government had collapsed and there was anarchy in the country. I went to Afghanistan recently, but it’s not the country I remember. The old Afghanistan has been destroyed. It only exists in my mind.”
A poster for a concert at the Sevastopol Hotel.
Karpal Singh fled Kabul in 1990, just months after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. A member of the Sikh religious minority, he was a well-off merchant in the Afghan capital. “Sikhs and Hindus had a good life back then,” he says. “But everything changed in the 1980s when the mujahedin and [their] extremist Islam ideology swept through Afghanistan.” Singh says there are around 2,000 Afghan Sikhs and Hindus in Moscow.
Abdullah, who comes from Tajikistan, runs this traditional bakery with two Afghan bakers. “Our language, food, and culture are the same, so it’s nice to work here with my Afghan employees,” says the 62-year-old. “Many Afghans and Central Asians come here to buy bread.” A native of Dushanbe, Abdullah has worked here for 10 years.
Afghan bakery in Moscow.
The remnants of an issue of Nawid, a weekly newspaper published by the Afghan community at a printing house in the Sevastopol complex.
The buildings of the Sevastopol complex.