On the 24th of May, the workers of the anti-discrimination center “Memorial” learned of the beating of a migrant worker at the 68th police station of St Petersburg. On the next day I met with the aggrieved person.
The Moscow district of Saint Petersburg, Vzlyetnaya Street is a dusty and gloomy space. It’s rows of garages, workshops, waste lands and residential neighborhoods. An industrial area full of concrete fences, warehouses, tall weed is divided by a railway and covered by an interchange. I and Shukhrat, the brother of the victim, are crossing this unpleasant area, and his sad story about the hard life of migrant workers fits well to the landscape around. Shukhrat, a big tall man, is explaining how difficult it is to find well-paid job at his home, that he and his two brothers have worked in Russia for a long time already. It had been different, but now it seems to be fine: the boss treats them as humans, does not cheat, and they are satisfied. When he speaks about Umid, his brother beaten five days ago, his voice starts trembling. The tempo of his speech quickens as he tries to suppress the feeling of helplessness. Excuses, statements, rhetorical questions are circling trying to find support: “We knew nothing about this work permit, we were checked so many times, and always they let us go. We never had any problems. It is issued through a firm; everything should be by the law, right? Why were we arrested? Well, I understand even if we were arrested why did they beat us? He is a human being as you are. Why do you beat him, right? But when they beat like this, I am not sure if they are humans, beasts, or something else. And they have no right to do this, am I right?” Shukhrat is trying to convince himself that he is right, regardless of the unjust cruel reality.
To get to “Magistarl-41” we go through dangling wooden gates, pass small cars, a dog, piles of rusty metal, and then enter a huge warehouse. Here, inside of a soiled work box used as a home by the brothers, I am offered a seat. Just on the opposite side of the entrance Umid is lying on a blue folding coach. He is tall, thin, wearing striped vest and quilted jacket. His face wracked with pain is childish. Overcoming the tearing coughs he tries to speak, spitting out the words in haste. I listen to him with a great attention, surrounded by walls with bright landscape calendars and naked beauties creating an absurd contrast with his anxious speech:
“I thought yesterday that if I work, if I walk, everything would pass. But today I feel even worse; I can’t get up. It is painful even to move. I have an ache in my chest. Every day I have been coughing up blood and even blue bubbles, you know…”
This happened on the 19th of May. Umid and Shukhrat worked at Magistral-41 in St Petersburg for a year already. They lived at the same place. Their boss paid the district police officers punctually and the brothers had no problems with documents, and moreover they had a work permit. But Umid did not remember which company issued the permit:
“You know how difficult it is to get a registration. We just pay someone, and a company organizes everything. There are many companies like that. They do everything, and usually it is ok. I carry my registration with me, I was checked and then let go. Everything was fine”.
Everything was fine until 19th of May, when a police officer checked Umid’s documents and saw that they were forgeries. Umid spent about two hours at the police station on Pilotov street and then was transported to the 68th police station.
“The police officer took my passport and documents away. I spent a lot of time there. I even slept a bit because I was tired after the work. Then he called the detectives and gave me to them. They took me to the 68th police station. I sat down on the bench to wait. In the cell there was another Uzbek. His name was Bekzod. I started talking to him and asked how he was doing, where he was from. We talked in Uzbek. There were lots of policemen around and among them a young lieutenant. I know all ranks pretty well. He shouted at me: “Why do you speak in Uzbek?” I replied: “He is Uzbek, I am Uzbek. I talk to him in Uzbek. You are Russian, so I talk to you in Russian. But he is Uzbek…”
It was around 9 p.m. when all the policemen (about 8) altogether left for their rooms after they heard the lieutenant’s shouting, implicitly agreeing with what was going to happen. A sergeant major searched Umid, took away his keys and documents, and ordered him to enter a guardroom where the lieutenant was already waiting for him.
“I entered, closed the door, turned around. And he starts beating me! He spat on me, beat me and said: “You are not going to speak in Uzbek; I will make an example out ofyou!” He attacked me and started beating me on my head with both of his fists… He was just like a beast… Beating and spiting…When I fell down he beat kicked me and punched me…You know I cannot describe it, if there was a video record you could see it… I was like a punching bag. I did not do anything, did not resist. He kicked me and punched me. Lifted me up and beat again…He beat me for about two hours. He took short rests, had a smoke, spat and beat me again… “You are Uzbek! I hate you!” he said…You know, what I do not like the most is that he spat on me, spitting all the time. Even after when I was in the cell he came to me and spat on me…
Umid is panting, he starts coughing…
Umid spent the whole night at the police station locked up without any medical aid. On the 20th of May he was transported to the Federal Migration Service department in the Moscow district, where he was fined 3000 rubles for migration law violation. Umid did not get medical attention neither at the police station nor at the court. Shukhrat took him home. Umid grew pale, could not walk, panted, coughed with blood and lung alveoli, but he would rather stay in bed at home…
On the 21st of May, Umid’s colleagues at work brought him to the emergency station where he was sent to the 26th city hospital in an ambulance. Shukhrat told me about that:
“At the hospital they did tests, examined and took X-ray, and told him that the treatment would cost 2,5 thousand rubles. I had money so I could pay. Then they asked Umid what happened and we told the doctors honestly that he was beaten at a police station. The doctors wrote this down. After the X-ray he was told that he was a healthy man, nothing was injured, and everything was just fine. We were sent home. But he had lots of bruises, and could hardly move. But the doctors said it was ok, that it would pass over. And we realized that if they treat us like that, then nobody cares about us. So what could I do? I gave paracetamol to him for shivering.
A respected person at home. An invalid of the Interior Ministry, and after being wounded he spent five years at a war hospital. But he brought himself to not be a burden for his family and three kids. And in spite of disability, he left for St Petersburg to work.
Umid had no medical aid for six days, and was alone with his thoughts. During our conversation he could not move a hand. He paid for each word by pain and spasms. Offence and shame filled him: offence for his condition and shame for himself: he is not able to work, has to return to Uzbekistan, and to go to the war hospital again. He is helpless again. Again this once healthy man will stay at the hospital while his brothers feed their families and help his. In addition to offence and shame he is puzzled. Why was he humiliated, why was he beaten? Why does not he deserve equal humane treatment?
Umid cannot speak but he needs to tell his story. Too many things happened, so much he needs to say, to tell an unknown person, to these walls, to mocking and cruel reality.
“In our home the most important thing is to respect a person, older or younger, and especially a guest. Even if you are poor, you have to offer guests at least a good word. We have such an expression. I also thought like that. When I came here, I looked around and everything was good. When I stepped out from the train I said: “Bismillyah” (which means “with God’s blessing” in Uzbek). I stepped into Petersburg with goodwill. I thought finally I could build my own house. The kids are growing up, some of them already go to school. The youngest one is 3 years old… How could I help them with my pension? Here I work as a welder, but I want to learn everything. You know I could be asked if I know how to do this or that…I cannot be without work! I’ll say: “I know, it’s not difficult”, right? I can learn how to do it: how to weld, to conduct electricity, to construct cardboard. Maybe somebody does not like us to work here. I look around and ask: “Maybe they do not like that we work here?” “No”, they say, “you earn your living. Work!” So I work. Sometimes I walk down the streets and stare at the people around – only the clothes are different, but the people are all good the same! What is the difference? Why am I worse than them? There are no bad people if you talk to everyone. Everyone deserves some respect…
After a while Umid said what he had been thinking about for last few days:
“You know, I think this lieutenant should not go to prison. It’s just not his place. The police changed him, made him brutal. I think, let him suffer as me. Let him seek a job to feed his kids…”
Umid fails silent. Maybe he feels better, but I know that even when he recovers, when there are no traces of the policeman’s fists he will still have the wounds inflicted by words and spits of a racist. But more important is that he hopes for a better future. He will have hope for the rest of his life, because hope is his name. Umid means hope in Uzbek.
On the 27th of May, Umid paid the fine and flew to Uzbekistan for treatment at the war hospital of Tashkent. He could already move and felt much better.
On the 27th of June, the ADC “Memorial” got a reply from the Moscow district prosecutor’s office saying: “Based on the recording from the 26th city hospital about Umid Negmatov with the diagnosis “closed craniocerebral injury, brain concussion, soft tissue, chest and bruises on both arms”, a report about the prosecutor’s inspection has been sent to the investigation department”.