The Narrative of the Moscow Race Riots

October 15, 2013
Maksim Sheremet/Reuters

On Sunday 13 October, in the Moscow district of West Biryulyovo, massive street riots broke out – the largest nationalist action in the capital since the clashes on Manezh Square in 2010. Hundreds of people rampaged through the Biryuza shopping center and a local vegetable warehouse, throwing up barricades and fighting with riot police. The conflict developed along the lines of the traditional scenario – it was preceded by the murder of a Russian man which was alleged to have been committed by a “migrant.” A correspondent watched as activists of nationalist movements, soccer fans, and local residents gathered together and began to fight.

Yegor Shcherbakov, from his Vkontakte page

Yegor Shcherbakov, from his Vkontakte page

On the evening of 12 October in Biryulyovo, a spontaneous rally of local residents took place, and people went to the district police precinct building and demanded that they find the murder, tighten up migrant laws and close the vegetable warehouse nearby, where numerous migrants are employed. That night nationalists patrolled the district, several clashes took place with law-enforcers, however that was the end of it – a “people’s assembly” was announced for Sunday.

On the evening of 13 October, near a building on Vostryakovsky Passage, next to where Shcherbakov was killed, several hundred people gathered. On the whole they were young people in track suits with their faces covered. Some residents of the building came out to the protest in their house gowns and slippers.

One local woman explained that “all the problems come from the vegetable warehouse (one of the largest vegetable warehouses in Europe is located in West Biryulyovo).

“This warehouse is a hotbed of nastiness. In the evenings, they come out and demonstrate, and they all go into our [building] entrances. In our district, in each entrance, in all the basements, there are nothing but blacks. They are filthy bastards. And that bastard who committed the murder worked nearby as a merchant in a store at the Biryulyovo Market,” the woman said confidently. A man nearby shouted, “We have to fire all the chiefs of police and administration who are on the take. They all get money from the churki [pejorative term for Caucasians—Ed] living here!” The girl proposed to start patrolling the streets. “But nothing will come of it while the warehouse is in business,” a young man in a hoodie told her. “We should go at it.”

Strolling nearby was one of the organizers of the Russian Marches [nationalist parades—Ed.], Aleksandr Belov-Potkin. “Guys, the complaints are understandable. I want you to organize an initiative group. Get together those who are prepared to work.” His words were drowned out in the shouts of outrage – the head of the local board of West Biryulyovo, Viktor Legavin, approached those in the crowd. The people gathered began to chant, “Go away!”

[see a video at]

Legavin tried to explain. “Citizens, work has been undertaken…” “Undertaken… Perhaps you have to be killed so that it is more quickly undertaken?” some people in the back rows of the crowd shouted. “Are you ready to start a lynch mob here?” a man wearing a patch with the label of the soccer team Spartak asked board head.

“Brother,” Legavin began, placing his hand on the man’s shoulder. “I’m not your brother, you’re a bureaucrat, learn how to talk to people first. Why aren’t you doing anything? Why the [expletive] can’t you solve this problem,” said the Spartak fan.

Viktor Legavin proposed organizing an “initiative group” out of those who had gathered in order to go together to the local board and “identify paths of resolution there.”

“You [expletive]!” one of the soccer fans said. At that moment, some of the crowd, about 600 people, crying “Russians, forward!” moved toward the local Biryuza shopping center. “We’ll show what’s going on in our district with a concrete example,” said one of the nationalists. The crowd ran past children’s playground, someone threw an explosive packet over a fence, on the grounds of the district board building. Several minutes later, people ran to the shopping center, a two-story building trimmed in white and red siding.


The nationalists and local residents lined up at the parking lot in front of the shopping center and began to chant in organized fashion, “We’re Russians, We’re home!” Several people in track suits saw a man with a Caucasian appearance who was moving some boxes of clothing on a cart. They knocked him to the ground and began kicking him. The man was able to get away and hide in a building at the shopping center. The security guards immediately closed the door behind him. Another loader didn’t manage to run inside; a group of 20 people pushed him up against the doors and began beating him. Nevertheless, the guards managed to drag the loader inside the building.
By then more than a hundred people began to break inside the shopping center, kicking down and pushing in the doors. The security guards tried to reinforce them with iron rods but that didn’t help; the rioters broke down the doors, throwing against them a bicycle that had been parked nearby, several stones, and a pillar from the parking lot.

The guards ran inside Biryuza. “Where are you going, bitches! We’ll kill you!” the nationalists shouted, lunging inside. Three of them wrecked a lottery ticket kiosk near the entrance, and threw a smoke bomb into the window. The rest ran through stores, breaking windows and overturning counters and mannequins. “What are you doing, you monsters?!” one of the sales clerks cried out. “We are saving Russia, woman,” a rioter replied to her.

Most of the clerks managed to run out of the building through the back door even before the nationalists and the local residents broke in. The rioters lunged after the store clerks, but soon came back and threw several more smoke bombs at the building

A single policeman ran by. For the entire time from the start of the march from the building on Vostryakovsky Passage to the breaking into the Biryuza (which took about 40 minutes) five buses with OMON soldiers arrived on the scene. They didn’t take any actions and didn’t come out of their vehicles for about ten minutes. Finally, they all jumped out of the buses and headed in formation toward the shopping center.

Vasily Maksimov/AFP

Vasily Maksimov/AFP

Meanwhile, at the entrance of the Biryuza, about 1,000 people gathered. Many parents brought with them children of school age. A boy of about 12 pointed at the shopping center and said to his friend of about the same age, “Maksim, let’s go and beat up the khachi [pejorative term for Caucasians—Ed] now!”

When the OMON blocked the entrance to the store, several women shouted, “Do you want there to be more murders? What are you doing?” The OMON in full gear plunged into the crowd and dragged out several rioters and took them to the bus. The police went through the square in front of the Biryuza in a line, and pushed the crowd back to the road on Bulatnikovskaya Street. The crowed stopped traffic. A man with a Caucasian appearance was sitting in a shuttle bus; the crowd caught sight of him and one of the protesters took a knife out of his pocket and waved it at the bus passenger.

Meanwhile, the bus with the detained rioters was surrounded by the crowd. People chanted, “Let them go!” A school girl came running up to the police and cried, “You shitty OMON, you’re against Russians!” The OMON pushed people back from the bus with clubs. One of the policeman in the scuffle had his face broken, and he said loudly, “Guys, you will not solve things this way. Go home.” To which the crowd replied, “You’re for the churki! [Expletive] you! And [expletive] the government!”

The nationalists began to shower the policemen with bottles and sticks. In order to prevent the bus with the detainees from leaving, people trying to put up barricades – they dragged garbage bins out on the road and overturned them. The bus with the detainees quickly turned around and went to one of the police stations in Chertanovo.

Vegetable Warehouse

Realizing that they couldn’t manage to help those who were driven away to the police station, people went back to the Biryuza. Firemen with a hose now ran near the shopping center. A woman who passed by said to her daughter, “Learn English, and we will leave here. There is nothing to do in this country.”

Several minutes later, people began to talk back and forth in the crowd. “Well, we have to go to the warehouse,” “Are we going to the warehouse?” then someone more confidently shouted, “To the veg depot!” and the crowd rapidly headed toward the vegetable warehouse, which local residents consider the main place of employment for migrants.

[see a video at]

Several times, the police tried to stop their movement, but there weren’t enough officers; the OMON [riot police – Ed.] simply bended to the right and left. Along the way, the nationalists and local residents broke the mirrors on parked cars. Soon about 800 people approached the first gates of the warehouse. “Measures are going to be taken against you and you will be detained!” an OMON said into a megaphone. The crowd began chanting the now traditional slogan: “We’re Russians, we’re home!” but did not start breaking through the cordon and heading further down Podolsky Cadets’ Street. Due to the police cordon, cars were not being let off the grounds of the warehouse. One of the drivers asked the OMON to let him through. The police shouted to him, “What are you doing? Where are you going? They’re going to overturn your car!”

In the end, about 100 people managed to reach the entrance to the warehouse, the rest were pushed back by police. Along the way, this advance group broke through the gates of a tire shop. “Bitch, finally, finally, the Russians have awakened!” cried one of the rioters. “Whoever turns back is a [expletive]!” cried another. “Who has some bottles? We really need them!” Several people tried to climb over the fence, but couldn’t manage due to the barbed wire.

Maksim Sheremet/Reuters

Maksim Sheremet/Reuters

The rioters piled up against the steel gates of the warehouse and after several pushes, broke through them. As they ran inside, they immediately broke the windows in an empty guard’s booth and ran through the grounds of the warehouse. There were no guards or migrants inside. The police did not pursue the rioters, so they smashed everything around them without hindrance, breaking everything they could – they turned over a Coca-Cola machine and helped themselves to bottles; they looted the refrigerators. They opened the door of the storehouse and dragged crates of mandarins out and threw them all over the pavement. Some stuffed the fruits into their pockets.
A bus with policemen drove past the furious people who were breaking the windows in one of the buildings at the warehouse. It turned the corner. “Guys, we’ve shown our strength, it’s time to go!” a man cried who was heading the group of rioters. Without meeting any resistance, they exited out to the parking lot with hundreds of carts that had been ready for loading. Drivers immediately drew their blinds and turned off the lights. The rioters went past, At the exit of the warehouse, the police had created a living corridor. Those who had been in the warehouse were met with whistles and applause by those who had managed to cut off the police. Almost immediately, they began to be detained and led away to the buses. About 380 people in all were detained in Biryulyovo, according to the Interior Minister. Five law-enforcers were injured.

After the warehouse break-in, some of the rioters went back to Biryuza. Near the shopping center, several more clashes with police took place. By about 22:00, the nationalists and the local residents began to disperse home.