For decades Moscow was a capital city devoid of vibrancy, self-expression and individualistic opportunities. Not any more. Russia’s warp-speed economic transformation has turned Moscow into the most expensive city worldwide.
In the shadow of the boom, Moscow’s nights are dominated by the disenfranchised: a growing number of homeless, non-existent in Soviet Russia, now struggling for diminishing aid. Today, homelessness is considered a commonplace problem in Moscow. Every night, some of Moscow’s most unfortunate souls line up for help by charity organizations or healthcare volunteers who administer simple medical care or hot beverages and clothing to those unable to fend for them selves. Few private helpers – with aid collected from friends and family – attend to the battered souls near the main stations where the homeless convene for the nights. However, with provisional aid in decline, in recent winters hundreds of homeless have frozen to death on the city’s streets.
Ironically the country that for seventy years needed to establish the highest measures of security to avoid illegal emigration now needs to protect itself from illegal immigration. So-called ‘gastarbeiters’ (foreign workers), many of them from the southern former Soviet republics, are pouring into Russia for a slice of its petrodollar economy. Police regularly sweep the streets and construction sites for those without proper documentation. Illegal immigrants, existing under almost inhuman conditions in overcrowded apartments, live in constant fear of federal police raids that are conducted late at night or early in the morning.
Notorious in the 1990s for violent crime, Moscow has seen its homicide rate decline in recent years. The deterioration of family ties, however, requires the police to perform a new grim duty: alarmed by neighbors complaining of a horrible stench bring police detectives to apartments with decomposing bodies of elderly, apparently dead without anybody taking timely notice.
In today’s economic climate, it is hard to predict whether Moscow’s economy will ever gain the strength to trickle down to those who have not yet been invited to take part in the boom.