In the Cold

by Ksenia Diodorova


“We are taught like this. Doesn’t matter where you were born. Whatever place or color. Doesn’t matter black or white. Everywhere and always all is the same—people have to respect each other” –Juma


AFTER TAJIKISTAN'S civil war in the mid-nineties-and the economic collapse that followed the USSR’s disintegration—many Tajik people found themselves in a state of flux. Electricity, coal, and gas supplies had been cut, thus forcing many factories—the primary source of employment—to shutter. With no more jobs, the relatively high cost of living in Tajikistan forced people to look elsewhere for employment. For many, economic emigration to Russia was the obvious answer.

Bartang Valley is one of Tajikistan's most isolated regions. In winter, snowfall cuts off the valley from the rest of the world. Roads are often blocked, electricity supplies are sporadic, and only one village has mobile phone reception. Tajikistan. Bardara kishlak.

Today Russian cities large and small play host to Tajik immigrants living under extremely hard conditions. It is a commonly held misbelief that immigration strangles our cities, our schools, our subway cars. Actually, people really know very little about the life and the world migrants come from. That was one of the key points in my project—to let Russians learn something about the culture and nature of these people in order to get a bit closer to them. The popular myth is that immigration is a flood, and we are drowning in it. But the real crisis of immigration is not limited to the countries where migrants settle. The true scale of immigration can only be understood by appreciating its source.

In The Cold is a story about migrant laborers in Russia, and the parallel lives of friends and family members they’ve left behind in Tajikistan.

The goal of this project is to shift the perception of Tajik migrants in Russia by exposing unseen aspects of their experience in the urban melting pot. I hope the project can also help develop new initiatives in social and financial structures that work to support migrants. One of the main aims of my partner, the Aga Khan Foundation, is to develop economic, educational, and environmental programs for Ismaili Muslim communities in the Gorno-Badakhshan region of Tajikistan. Our collaboration was designed to support migrants from the area establishing their rights in Russia by fostering multiculturalism, social integration, and Russian tolerance towards immigration.


In January 2014 I traveled to Tajikistan to photograph life in the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region—homeland for many of the Tajik migrants living in Russia. Returning to Moscow, I sought out the emigrant children and close relatives of my subjects. About twenty-four families separated by the migration process took part in the multimedia photo project.

This story is about Tajik migrant workers living at home and abroad. About the kishlaks where they were born. About their culture and traditions. I wanted to convey a sense of the duality of immigrant experience: The fundamental longing for home and family, blood and soil, and the variances of coldness and warmth that define those in search of a better future.

Faridun works at a carwash outside Moscow. In January, his wife gave birth to a baby girl. The next time he sees her, she will be two years old. Russia. Moscow.

Dzhuma's brother Alikhon went to Russia seventeen years ago and hasn't returned since. His wife Tamina came back to the village several times to give birth. Alikhon says he sends all his money home and can’t afford two tickets to Tajikistan. The couple's youngest daughter is six years old. She calls her father "uncle" and her mother "auntie."
Tajikistan. Ravmed kishlak.

Alima left for Moscow to be with her husband. Alima graduated from the philology department at home Khorog—in Moscow she works as a cashier at KFC. I asked if she wants to find students and give Farsi lessons. She says that she doesn't want anything here and she doesn't care where she works. "I came here only because of my husband, I missed him a lot. And I really want to have a baby. As soon as I get pregnant, I will go back home at once. I want to go home very much."
Russia. Moscow.

Roshorv kishlak is situated at an elevation of 3100 meters. The closest river is 12 km by foot. People walk about 18-35 km to collect wood. Inhabitants of the village have constructed a homemade hydroelectric power station that produces 8 kilowatts for 1200 people.
Tajikistan. Roshorv kishlak.

Mirfaroz has lived in Russia for seven years and works on a construction site. It’s been over four months since his work team has been paid. Mirfaroz told me that once he is paid, he will immediately use the money to marry his fiancée.
Russia. Moscow.

Jasmina is six years old. She lives with her grandmother. Her parents have been in Moscow for a long time. Jasmina hasn't seen them for three years. Sarfia, Jasmina's mother, works in a café.
Tajikistan. Hichez kishlak.

Safar was living in the same apartment with these guys. He was deported just a few days earlier, and went back to Ravmed, his home village in Tajikistan. Now he’s prohibited from crossing the Russian border for five years. His name, Safar, means "the traveler" in the Pamir language, and his village name, Ravmed, means "reaching hope".
Russia. Moscow.

Ato is afraid of the dark. There are two light bulbs in his home, one of which is powered by a small solar panel and is left on all night. Some houses in Roshorv have solar panels, as part of an EU initiative. Otherwise, power supply to the village is very poor and outages happen several times a day.
Tajikistan. Roshorv kishlak.

Villagers are sending-off another car of Moscow-bound emigrants headed to the Dushanbe airport.
Tajikistan. Hichez kishlak.

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