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

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

Secret Service Chief Under Fire for White House Security Breach

Julia Pierson faces tough questions from lawmakers after recent intrusion at White House, says: 'It is clear that our security plan was not executed properly' More

Frustrated, Liberian Students Want Ebola Fight Role

Thousands have volunteered to go to counties, rural villages to talk to people in their language about deadly virus 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.
Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihadi
X
Mahi Ramakrishnan
September 30, 2014 2:16 PM
Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid