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

HRW: Egypt's Trial of Morsi ‘Badly Flawed’

Human Rights Watch says former Egypt leader's detention without charge for more than three weeks after his removal from office violated Egyptian law; government rejects criticism More

Lancet Report Calls for Major Investment in Surgery

In its report published by The Lancet, panel of experts says people are dying from conditions easily treated in the operating room such as hernia, appendicitis, obstructed labor, and serious fractures More

Music Industry Under Sway of Digital Revolution

Millions of people in every corner of the Earth now can enjoy a vast variety and quantity of music in a way that has never before been possible 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.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
X
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs