In the 1991 article "Negros in Russia" from the newspaper "Soviet Russia", journalist Slava Tynes of Tass narrates the history of the origin of Negroes in Russia. He writes that Negroes were unique both in the pre-revolution and the post-revolution period. In the 1950s there were a handful of Afro-Russian families. In the 1960s, due to the inauguration of the Peoples Friendship University, the number of Afro-Russian families increased significantly. African students married Russian girls who accompanied them to Africa. Some of them returned to Russia with children. In the 1980s Afro-Russian families numbered several hundred. Some Russian women gave birth to black children and refused to travel with their husbands to Africa, as they absolutely were not prepared. They did not know the language, the African culture, nor the customs of the African people. In the 1990s the number of Afro-Russian families increased to a few thousand. According to unofficial sources, in Russia and the CIS there were estimated to be about 6 thousand permanent residents and about 4 thousand temporary residents of Afro-Russian families. Children who are born in such families cannot count themselves hundred percent Russian. They have very strong African genes. Many of them travel with their parents to Africa, but they cannot become complete Africans, as they don't know the language, culture, and customs of the countries of their parents. Women who traveled with their husbands to Africa also didn't know anything about these countries where their husbands were born. For that reason when they encountered these norms in Africa they were not able to cope and returned home to Russia with their black children. Because of their skin color these children are not fully accepted in their mother’s homeland. They find themselves isolated. Moreover, before 1996 there were no African ethnic centers in Moscow.
In Moscow Region there are an estimated 4000 black Russian children. Many of them live below the poverty line. Their fathers abandoned them, left for Africa and do not offer them assistance. Their mothers, in most cases, do not have permanent jobs or work low paying jobs. The families live on the pensions of grandmothers and grandfathers who receive an equivalent of 20 US dollars a month. Mothers who live outside Moscow and are not Muscovites do not have registration because they were married to African students and therefore cannot enjoy free medical services. Since they lack the money for treatment they suffer from very high rates of illness. They also lack money for clothes and food. Out of despair many of the mothers give their black children to orphanages, which are now overcrowded. Black children in the orphanages live with normal Russian children, where they are far outnumbered by the white Russian children. As a result, black children experience discomfort and pain because of their black skin and their African fathers who abandoned them in a strange country. In 1997 on a voluntary basis the Afro-Russian activists of Metis attempted to establish a charity center for black Russian children. They started collecting information on black children living in Moscow, both in families and in children’s homes/orphanages and found that most of them were from poor families and raised by single mothers, due to the fact that their African fathers left Moscow. Black children who are Russian citizens unfortunately feel oppressed in Russian society. They are ashamed of the color of their skin and are at high risk in society.
Initially there were 30 children – Afro-Russians. The activists started working with this small number of children. They taught them foreign languages and took them on excursions. There was no place to hold classe, so they were taught in apartments, but when the number grew to 80 children, they decided to appeal to the committee of national education in Moscow, to Mrs. L.P. Kezina and to the mayor Mr. U.M. Lushkov, requesting help opening a center for Afro-Russian children. A letter from the mayor was passed to the committee of national education, chaired by Mr. G.D. Kuznetzov. In July 1998 an answer was received numbered 3622152 containing positive consideration of the mentioned request. At the same time activists addressed a number of African embassies (Angola, Nigeria, Cameroon etc.), who also responded favorably to facilitating and helping Afro-Russian children if the children’s centre was to be registered. For three months activist/organizers searched for a place in different Moscow school districts.
Unfortunately their search was unsuccessful. They then decided to turn to the Russian Peoples Friendship University with a request for a building to house the center. The university responded to their request and offered them a room with 30 square meters (a former warehouse), to use 2 hours per week. For two months the children cleaned the premise, which was later taken away from them. It was turned into a buffet and the children found themselves in the streets once more. The organizers of the center turned to the university once again, and this time the university offered them the theater hall where they were able to hold classes for the children. A calendar was made for the 1997-1998 academic year and an ethnic program, which was confirmed with the university. But unfortunately the university was not able to finance the center. It was therefore practically impossible to hold the classes for the different age groups in one place. Presently the center has registered over 100 children of different ages. There is a group with six years old, for whom there will be established a preparatory group.
Svetlana Nicolai Dmitrenko, Ph.D. (Linguistics) — member of the “Metis Fund.”