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    Russian New York

    "The Russians are Coming! The Russians Are Here!" read a headline in The New York Times on September 7th, 1980, a reference to the wave of immigrants from the Soviet Union then settling on the shores of Brooklyn's Brighton Beach. Their arrival during the late 1970s and early 1980s revived a forgotten, rundown neighborhood on the shores of the Atlantic. Their arrival was the third and largest of the century—the first occurred after the Russian Revolution, and the second, after the Second World War. Those arriving as of the early 1970s were largely Jews, escaping religious persecution, under an agreement between Leonid Brezhnev and Jimmy Carter. Half of the 70,000 Russians that came to the United States, settled in New York City, establishing a Russian enclave in Brighton Beach.

    Brighton Beach in the 80s and well into the 90s, looked like a scene out of a movie. Women walked around in furs and babushkas, men played chess on the boardwalk, vendors sold pickled tomatoes and caviar on the sidewalks, and newsstands were weighed down with an array of Russian papers. Most residents were on welfare entitled to them as religious refugees, most were granted citizenship, but a dense cloud of Soviet tradition hung over the new immigrant community. Most Russians rarely left the enclave, very few spoke English, and few showed a desire to assimilate. As a result, the sparse information that reached the outside world was either a stereotype or had to do with the infamous mob.

    But as Brighton Beach reaches its quarter-century anniversary, much of the old world slowly extinguishes. After the fall of communism, Russians continued to leave the crumbling country, posing not only as Jews but also as economic refugees, adding a new flavor to the existing community. Today, 250,000 Russians live in New York City, over 40,000 of them in Brighton, Coney Island and Sheepshead Bay, and are slowly spilling into the environs. The stereotype lifestyle is slowly fading, though always lingering in the margins, but leaving room on center stage for a rising immigrant community whose presence is about to be felt in New York City after 25 years of relative silence.

    Back to Maria Kostaki's portfolio


    Recent Work: Russian New York:
  • RussianNewYork:Breaking In
  • Russian New York: Snapshots of Lives