News / Europe

Immigrants Reflect on Soviet Collapse

Peter Fedynsky

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union 20 years ago, millions of people have emigrated from the newly created nations that once were constituent republics of the communist empire.  Our correspondent spoke to several of them who have settled in New York.

Marketing consultant Irina Shmeleva uses social media to follow events in her native Russia.  As a Soviet actress, she says, she lived a privileged and comfortable life, but the lack of freedom forced everyone to act.

“The Soviet individual had to be a true soldier, pretending everything is fine, because everything should be beautiful," said Shmeleva. "But if you wanted to discover what is going on inside you, what is your destiny, what you want to do, what you think about this, that or the other - that was impossible.”

Shmeleva says recent demonstrations in Russia show young people may finally realize hopes for freedom that were raised by the Soviet collapse, but dashed by what she characterizes as a return to authoritarian rule under Vladimir Putin.

“I speak here with people of my generation and ask everyone, ‘What do you think?’  They say, ‘Nothing will come of the demonstrations.’  But the young don’t know that nothing will happen and they try to make it happen," she said.

In Ukraine, the nation’s rich farmlands and industrial base briefly raised expectations that the country’s standard of living would skyrocket.  What skyrocketed instead was the price of energy that Soviet economic planners had subsidized.

Vasyl Lopukh is a researcher at New York’s Shevchenko Scientific Society who taught economic theory in the western Ukrainian city of Ternopil.  He says Ukrainians did not initially realize that their inherited Soviet industries were not viable.

“Approximately 60 or 65 percent of Ukraine’s labor force worked for the military-industrial complex directly or indirectly," he said.

With little or no demand for the weapons, uniforms and food produced for the Soviet army, he says many Ukrainians became unemployed.  And the status of Ukraine and other post-Soviet nations as some of the world’s most corrupt countries now hinders Ukrainian membership in the European Union.  Lopukh says the country’s political and industrial leaders have lacked vision.

“They cared about their corporate interests and profits, and not about creating an economically independent Ukrainian nation," he said.

Unlike Lopukh, Isakjon Zokirov says he would be imprisoned if he returned to his native country, Uzbekistan.  Strongman Islam Karimov has ruled the Central Asian country since it declared independence in 1991.   A human rights activist, Zakirov fled his homeland in 2004 and now works as a delivery man in Brighton Beach, New York’s Russian-speaking neighborhood.

“The standard of living in Uzbekistan has dropped significantly," he said. "The economy has worsened.  There have been no democratic transformations there.”

Numerous international organizations confirm Zokirov’s assessment.  He says he likes living in America.

“The country is safer for me personally," he said. "It’s democratic and I support democracy. You can find a job here, learn, and you can do everything.  In a word, I like America.”

Once part of a single empire ruled by Moscow, post-Soviet immigrants again have a common nation, the United States.

You May Like

Disappointing Report on China's Economy Shakes Markets

In London and New York shares lost 3 percent, while Paris and Germany dropped around 2.4 percent More

DRC Tries Mega-Farms to Feed Population

Park at Boukanga Lonzo currently has 5,000 hectares under cultivation, crops stretching as far as eye can see, and is start of ambitious large-scale agriculture plan More

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Areas are spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, source of livelihood for fishermen and herders who have called the marshes home for generations More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs