Second Home

Why Gagauz people move from Moldova to Russia striving to preserve their national identity
Переключение языка
No matter where life takes people, they will always stay connected to the place, where they were born and grew up. Whatever happens, they will always remember their small Motherland, especially if it is as small and unique as the Gagauz Autonomy.
The Gagauz are a Turkic people of Balkan descent practicing Christianity. At present they mostly live in Bessarabia, which spreads over the south of Moldova and the Odessa region in Ukraine. Total population of the modern Gagauz people is about 250 thousand.
The Autonomous Territorial Unit of Gagauz Yeri (ATU) is located in Moldova. The ATE of Gagauzia is inhabited by 127 835 Gagauz, which makes up 86.7% of the regional population. According to the recent population census, the total number of Gagauz in Moldova is 147 500, which is 4.4% of the republic population.
Having left Gagauzia for different reasons, many Gagauz people found a new home in Russia, but they have not forgotten about their roots.
Our first protagonist Grigory Tashchi is Gagauz by origin. He was born and raised in Gagauzia in the south of the Republic of Moldova. For the first time he came to Russia in May of 1988 with his friends. Adventurous and romantic spirit of the youth inspired them for traveling. At that time Grigory Tashchi had no idea that this trip would fundamentally change his life.
Grigory Tashchi comes from a large family. His parents raised seven children
"When I first came to Russia to Lipki village, I immediately felt at home, but it was not because in the Soviet time we all considered ourselves citizens of one country. I just decided that I wanted to live here and stayed", tells Grigory about his arrival to Lipki village in the Smolensk region.
In 80-s and 90-s Kazaklia was a flourishing village with over 8 000 people and high performance Iskra collective farm, where every citizen had a well-paid job. Despite all that, Grigory took the decision to move to a remote Russian village and his parents did not resist.
Kazaklia village, Chadyr-Lungsk region, the ATU of Gagauzia
"In those years I visited my parents in Moldova every two months. However, every time I wanted to go back to Russia more and more. The main reason is that Lipki village is surrounded with rich woods. I assimilated quite fast here. I started to go out into the woods to pick mushrooms and to fish. After going through the required paperwork, I took up hunting", tells Grigory Nikolayevich.
Lipki is a village on the bank of the Khmara river in the Pochinkovsk district in the Smolensk region, Russia. It is a part of Dankovsk settlement. The population of Lipki is about 200 people.
After talking to Grigory you understand that with his devotion to nature he could not but fall in love with Lipki village in the Smolensk region, where his destiny took him. The village is in the middle of the forest and deep breathing can cause dizziness to someone unaccustomed to fresh air. The Khmar river flowing along the village is crystal clear. No metaphors or epithets are enough to describe the beauty of this place.
The Khmara river in Lipki village
"The land where I come from is very different. It is the Budzhak steppe with totally different nature. Picking mushrooms, fishing and hunting have become my hobbies. I have not regretted once about my decision to stay in Lipki", says Grigory.
The Budzhak steppe
In distant 1988 Grigory Tashchin was offered a job in "The Right Way" collective farm. First he was an assistant to combine driver and later in 1991 he started to operate the combine harvester himself.
"There were just a few Gagauz people in the collective farm back then. In the Soviet time people were not distinguished by their nationality. We were respected for our hard work and performance. The salary of a combine driver was 350-500 rubles a month. I could certainly work as a combine driver in Kazaklia as well receiving a good salary according to Soviet standards. My family has always had all the necessary things. Over the years my father worked as a cashier-accountant and then headed the village tax service. I did not leave Gagauza for economic reasons like young people today. I just made my choice in favor of Russian rural area", tells Grigory.
The Tashchi spouses
Lidia, Grigory's spouse, also comes from Kazaklia. She studied in the Shantalov College on Agriculture located 20 km away from Lipki. In the 90-s there were 25 Gagauz students there. Upon graduation, Lidia was also distributed to "The Right Way" collective farm, which made Grigory very happy. Back at home in Gagauzia he did everything to win her. In 1992 they traveled to their home village of Kazaklia, where Grigory asked for Lidia's hand in marriage according to the Gagauz traditions.
The house of Grigory and Lidia Tashchi
Today Grigory and Lidia live in the house provided to them by the collective farm in 1992. The adjacent land plot of 3 000 sq.m. always gives a rich crop. Together with his friend Pyotr Danch, another Gagauz from Kazaklia, they cultivate the total area of 280 hectares. "It is hard to cultivate land, but this is where my heart is", says Grigory.

Growing perennial grass crops allows Grigory to be a successful farmer.
In 2015 the citizens of four adjacent villages – Dankovo, Khitsovka, Zimnitsi and Lipki – gave him confidence and elected him a deputy of Dankovsk settlement. Now he also works in this position, although the range of duties occurs to be very broad including cutting wild grass from the road brim in summer and cleaning the roads from snow in winter.
"I used to do it before as well, but now I'm responsible for it as a deputy. Well-established work with the Dankovsk settlement administration helps a lot. With joint efforts we restored the village spring-well and built a bus stop in the village", tells Grigory Tashchi.
Grigory's last name Tashchi can be translated from the Gagauz language as "stone worker", which is not related to his current activity at all. However, his character and spirit are as hard as stone. For a Russian-speaking person the name Tashchi literally means "Drag!". Thus, Grigory Nikolaevich is dragging everything on his shoulders: personal household and farm as well as problems and needs of the village. For the time being Grigory copes with everything quite well!
The main street in Lipki
The village population is about 200 people. Forty six of them are Gagauz coming mainly from Kazaklia. Three more Gagauz families bought houses in the village, but currently live in Moscow.
If you walk around the Russian village, it is easy to tell what houses belong to Gagauz people. In the yards and land plots they have trees and bushes not very typical of this region.
"From Gagauzia we took a vine, a few saplings of walnut and fruit trees that are not typical in this part of Russia. We are very happy that they have taken root and now fruit well. Looking at these trees and bushes we remember our small motherland", tells Grigory's wife Lidia.
According to the population census of 2002, there were 12 210 Gagauz in Russia and 3 754 of them lived in the Central Federal district.
The inflow of Gagauz people to Russia increased in early 2000-s, when Moldova went through the hard time of countrywide economic crisis that lasted for years. Tired of living in two countries, more and more Gagauz people decided in favor of permanent relocation to Russia. The Kuyuzhuklu family from Kazaklia have been living in Lipki for more than 10 years. In the beginning of 2000-s they had plenty of reasons to move, but most importantly they got tired of waiting for a better future.
Nikolai and Svetlana Kuyuzhuklu
"My wife and I have been migrant workers since 1995. For many years we would live wherever we could find work. It could be right in the construction site. The earnings went for renovation of the family house in Kazaklia. During the years of wandering, nothing has changed for the better in our village as well as in Moldova in general. At least for ordinary workers.

We understood that it was a long lasting crisis in Moldova and it is not worth waiting for significant improvements. We had a son, Peter, and we wanted to have more children wishing to provide them with a better future", tells Nikolai Kuyuzhuklu.
1990-s, armed protest between the supporters of the self-proclaimed Trans-Dniester Republic and the internal troops of the Republic of Moldova
"Our son Peter was 9 months old, when I left him with grandmother to join my husband on another trip. We hardly saw our child growing up.

It was very hard for me. I felt guilty that I kept leaving my child for a few months at a time. Although his basic needs were satisfied, he lacked the most important thing – his parents were not by his side", recalls Nikolai's wife Svetlana.
Only in 2003 Nikolai and Svetlana took their son to Russia. They decided to move to Lipki, because they had some relatives there.
"Our daughter Nadezhda was born already here. At first my children and I lived at my sister's place, while my husband kept working at a construction site in Moscow. On the savings we bought a house in Lipki and immediately applied for citizenship. In a year and a half we received our passports. Back then there was no simplified procedure of getting a citizenship. We had to denounce our Moldavian citizenship and terminated our registration there. We did without any doubts", tells Svetlana.
Svetlana and Nikolai understood that Russian citizenship would allow them to work legally and stay together as a family.
"During the ten years that we have lived here in Russia nothing has changed in Moldova. There is still not enough jobs. In Russia the number of migrant workers from Moldova has not decreased, but now they have Russian passports", says Nikolai.
Nadezhda and Peter Kuyuzhuklu
Peter, the son of Nikolai and Svetlana, studies in the fourth year of the Roslavl Railroad College. He plans to become a locomotive driver and get university education. Peter has no doubt as to the future of his professional choice. However, his plans for further education will be interrupted by military service soon.
By the way, if in Gagauzia every other young man is trying to avoid military service,
Russian Gagauz do not dodge.
During the last three years already three Gagauz guys from Lipki did their military service. Peter and his friend Ivan are in their draft age now trying to guess what troops they are going to serve in. "I hope I will be drafted to railroad troops, because it will help me to apply theoretical knowledge received at college", says Peter.

Nikolai and Svetlana think that their children have good future prospects in Russia, which made them move here in the first place.
According to the last population census of 2010, the population of the Gagauz in Russia is 13 690 people. Most of them prefer to live in cities (9 732) and only 3 958 Gagauz live in rural area.
Anna Uzun
The Uzun family is another Gagauz family that relocated from Kazaklia to Lipki village in Russian rural area. Anatoly and Anna understood that due to the lack of decently paid jobs, Anatoly would have to constantly travel to Russia as a work migrant.
"We did not want to live far away from each other for months. However, we saw no future for us in Gagauza as well. The collective farm in Kazaklia was divided into small farmsteads and all high performance enterprises, that used to provide stable jobs during the Soviet time, stopped their operations.

There was almost no work and even if you found a job, they would pay salary once in several months. We decided to move to Russia. Tolya had already been in Lipki many times. His relatives – Maria and Nikolai Kavalzhi – lived here. They were the first Gagauz people, who moved to Lipki in 1983. We knew that we would not be alone", tells Anna Uzun.
Anna and Anatoly have two children: son Dima, 12 y.o., and daughter Kristina, 7 y.o. With the help of the maternity capital allowance and mortgage loan, they have bought an apartment in Smolensk. However, they are not going to move from the countryside to the city.
Dima and Kristina Uzun
"My husband has been working as a crane operator on a rotational method for five years in Moscow. We rent out the apartment in Smolensk for the time being. We have no wish to move there at all. We want to be closer to nature, have our own household and garden. We never stay idle here. When the kids grow up, may be they will move to the city. As for us, we will definitely stay here," says Anna.
Dima and Kristina are growing up in a picturesque Russian village with Gagauz flavor. In the Uzun family house homespun carpets from Kazaklia immediately catch the eye creating a cozy atmosphere. In the family everyone mostly speaks in the Gagauz language.
Gagauz flavor
"We try our best so that our children speek the Gagauz language. It is important for us. Dima speaks it fluently, Kristina understands everything, but speaks it very little. We think that they should know their roots and traditions. For example, children go carol singing on New Year's Eve. Entering a Russian household, they sing carols in Russian, in a Gagauz house – in the Gagauz language", tells Anna.
However, most of all you can feel the Gagauz spirit in the kitchen. In every Gagauz house in Lipki they will treat you to some dishes from the local cuisine: "gyozlemya", "katlama" and "kyyrma", "suanny", "saarma", Gagauz pickles "turshu".
Gagauz cuisine
Russian Gagauz have not lost their national identity and unique character. They carefully preserve cultural values and traditions of the Gagauz. They speak pure Gagauz. Nobody has told them to do so. They felt a need to do it themselves. Over the years of living in one village, old-time inhabitants of Lipki also learned Gagauz customs and traditions.
The Gagaus of Lipki village celebrate Khederlez national holiday
"If a Gagauz slaughters a lamb and treats to national dishes and wine, he is celebrating another national holiday. If a Gagauz walks around unshaved, it means that he has lost a relative and he won't shake hands with anyone for several weeks",
tells Nikolai Romanenko.
The Romanenko and the Ivanov families have been friends for more than 20 years. Liudmila Romanenko admits that it is more interesting to have friends of a different nationality. "You always learn something new", she says.

All holidays the Gagauz and the Russians celebrate together following and combining traditions of both peoples. If the heart wants to dance, Gagauz and Russians are equally good at "kadunzhu" and "kiratsa avasy" as well as at "kalinka" and "Russian dance".
Locals say that it is good not only to play, but also to do serious things with the Gagauz people.

Maria Korsakova lives in the neighborhood with three Gagauz families. Maria Dmitrievna is retired and if she needs help, she turns to her neighbors.
"I cannot help them anymore, but they always help me. Once a gas tank was caught on fire. I was very scared and did not know what to do. I started to call for help. Grisha came and shut down the gas. He saved me. They will always help and come to the rescue. If needed, they get together and help both us, the Russians, and each other", tells Maria Korsakova.
Ruslan Myrza is another Gagauz from the Komrat region, Budzhak station. In 1989 when he turned 21, he decided to move to his mother's homeland in the Smolensk region in Russia. Ruslan Myrza worked with the internal affairs authorities, but he did not find himself in it and decided to quit law enforcement.

Several years ago Ruslan decided to create a recreation area in Sloboda village. Here by the lake he constructed two houses and a Russian sauna. People from all adjacent villages come here for recreation.
"I felt inside that I have to be closer to land and nature. In 2009 I established a small business and headed Lipki agricultural production cooperative. I'm trying to raise interest to rural areas and make people value and preserve nature", tells Ruslan Myrza.
Recently Ruslan has brought camels from Kalmykia to the Smolensk region.
"It's just for pleasure. I like these animals a lot. Family recreation has become even more interesting in Sloboda village. People gladly come here not just to take some rest, breathe fresh air and enjoy wonderful nature, but also to take a look at the camels. I understand the responsibility I have undertaken. That is why I created all the necessary conditions for the camels to feel good in different climate", says Ruslan Myrza.
The recreation area of Ruslan Ivanovich is very popular among Russians and Gagauz to some extent due to the Kalmyk camels.
Upon moving to Russia, tempered by hardships and financial tribulations, Gagauz people reach success in any chosen field working with dedication and passion.

As for Smolenshchina, it only wins from the large amount of migrants from Gagauzia, because they take up the work overlooked by locals: restoring agriculture and farming like Grigory Tashchi and Pyotr Danch or establishing recreation areas like Ruslan Myrza.

During 25 years of independence, Moldova has not become independent in any way. Social and economic situation has not significantly improved since 1990-s. According to the data from the Department of economic development of the ATU of Gagauz Yeri, medium wages in 2016 was 3 700 leus (about 11 500 rubles), which is by 29% less than average wages in the country. Thus, the number of labor workers from Moldova and families that have decided to permanently relocate to Russia has been dramatically increasing.

Around 700 000 citizens of the Republic of Moldova temporarily work in Russia. It should be noted, that the amount of monetary transfers by labor workers from Russia to Moldova amounted to 50 million USD in the first quarter of 2016, according to the data from the Central Banks of Russia and Moldova.
Such dismal state of affairs forces citizens of the ATU of Gagauzia to leave their homeland in search of better life. If about ten years ago Gagauz people went to Russia just to earn money, now they relocate there with their whole families for permanent residency. The migrants often choose large cities. However, the majority prefers rural areas. Only in the countryside they can lead the lifestyle inherent to the people from the Gagauz autonomy. Homeland is where you feel free and confident in your future!
Text: Valentina Kerman
Photo: Valentina Kerman, from personal archives of the Gagauz people,
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