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Refugees Magazine Issue 107 (Refugee voices from exile) - Once a citizen, now a stranger

Refugees Magazine, 1 March 1997

Olimpiada Ignatenko finds herself unwelcome when she returns to her homeland in Russia.

By Olimpiada Ignatenko, Chairperson of "Zov"

My ancestors and I were all born in Russia but later in life, by one of those strokes of fate, I found myself living in Kazakstan. While we had all lived in a single, unified country called the Soviet Union, this did not matter and I did not feel isolated from my true homeland, Russia.

But then the Union disintegrated in 1991 and suddenly we ethnic Russians became strangers almost overnight in the former Soviet Republics.

Nationalism swept Kazakstan in the wake of the empire's collapse. So when the government in Moscow issued a special decree offering Russian returnees land and loans to start a new life my family decided to return to its roots.

I came back in 1993 as part of a 37-strong pioneer group and we settled in a village called Lomovoye in the Lipetsk region. We named our migrant organization "Zov" or "Call," since we thought it was our homeland which had called for our return.

The members of our group were all former urban residents but we were willing to change our lifestyles and work together in a single, compact settlement similar to many in Russia these days.

The local administration decided otherwise, however, and against our wishes it scattered our band of migrants to different locations in the same region. Since then our relations have been far from friendly and even the local population, which initially welcomed our arrival, has turned negative.

We began by leasing land from the government, but two years later they tried to take it back claiming that construction work was progressing too slowly. We were not to blame because the amount of state loans we received only covered the cost of the buildings foundations. In addition, we had to produce nails, cultivate land and grow wheat just to survive.

Last summer there was a very good crop even though our agricultural machinery had been vandalized by strangers at the start of the planting season. The UNHCR office in Moscow came to our rescue with emergency funds and it also gave us a loan on preferential terms to open a sewing workshop.

Huge taxes still prevent us from saving money to build housing, so all this time our small migrant community has been living in shipping containers.

My husband used to be a scientific researcher but now he works as a bricklayer. My daughter is a doctor but now works as a seamstress. I used to teach in a technical school and now I am in charge of the "Zov" organization.

When we returned to Russia my family and other pioneers were lucky enough to get refugee status. Now, when other migrants returning from other Commonwealth of Independent States countries want to join our organization, the local administration refuses to register them. The authorities believe there are more than enough migrants already living in Lomovoye.

People are so poor in Russia today that they have stopped caring about others, let alone refugees. But no matter what, we believe this dark period of Russian history will be over soon. Each day we work very hard and we are sure the settlement we dream of will be built sooner or later. And recently the "Zov" community increased by one new member, my granddaughter Anna. I hope that when she grows up she will not feel sorry that she was born in Russia.

Source: Refugees Magazine Issue 107 (1997)




UNHCR country pages

Displacement in Georgia

Tens of thousands of civilians are living in precarious conditions, having been driven from their homes by the crisis in the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia.

On the morning of August 12, the first UNHCR-chartered plane carrying emergency aid arrived in the Georgian capital Tbilisi, the first UN assistance to arrive in the country since fighting broke out the previous week. The airlift brought in 34 tonnes of tents, jerry cans, blankets and kitchen sets from UNHCR's central emergency stockpile in Dubai. Items were then loaded onto trucks at the Tbilisi airport for transport and distribution.

A second UNHCR flight landed in Tbilisi on August 14, with a third one expected to arrive the following day. In addition, two UNHCR aid flights are scheduled to leave for Vladikavkaz in the Russian Federation the following week with mattresses, water tanks and other supplies for displaced South Ossetians.

Working with local partners, UNHCR is now providing assistance to the most vulnerable and needy. These include many young children and family members separated from one another. The situation is evolving rapidly and the refugee agency is monitoring the needs of the newly displaced population, which numbered some 115,000 on August 14.

Posted on 15 August 2008

Displacement in Georgia

Ingushetia: Internally Displaced Chechens

When fighting broke out between government troops and rebel forces in Chechnya in 1999, over 200,000 people fled the republic, most of them to the neighbouring republic of Ingushetia. Today, tens of thousands of Chechens remain displaced in Ingushetia, unwilling to go home because of continuing security concerns.

As of early December 2003, some 62,000 displaced Chechens were living in temporary settlements or in private accommodation. Those living in settlements face constant threats of eviction, often by owners who wish to use their buildings again.

Another 7,900 displaced Chechens live in tents in three remaining camps – Satsita, Sputnik, and Bart.

The authorities have repeatedly called for the closure of tent camps and the return of the displaced people to Chechnya. Three camps have been closed in the past year – Iman camp at Aki Yurt, "Bella" or B camp, and "Alina" or A camp. Chechens from the latter two camps who did not wish to go home were allowed to move to Satsita camp or other existing temporary settlements in Ingushetia.

Ingushetia: Internally Displaced Chechens

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Vincent Cochetel interview

On the occasion of World Humanitarian Day 2010, a senior UNHCR staff member reflects on his experience being kidnapped near Chechnya in 1998.
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UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres spent four days in Georgia and the Russian Federation to assess UNHCR's humanitarian operations and to speak with those affected by the recent fighting in the breakaway region of South Ossetia.