a play

Sergey Davydov

Translated by Alexander Vartanov

The play is based on real events that happened in Tajikistan and Russia during 1990-1993.   Punctuation reflects the rhythm; line break signifies slight pause.

(the age of characters as of the beginning in February 1990)

Olga - 29 years

Danil - 16 years

Yaroslava - 14 years



when the war was still unimaginable

we were yet to see the horizon

i literally mean that dividing line

we’ve been taught at geography classes.

we could not understand it

we hadn’t a slightest notion.  

and only in Russia there I’ve finally seen

this line

in the fields of snow.

we’ve had our mountains we’ve had the Pamirs

but in Russia

our world became halved.


on new year’s day

there was snow in the morning that melted by noon

mom made a snowflake’s dress for me

i threw over my light overcoat

i am running to school’s new year’s party

when i first came

to Russia

in the month of october

snowflakes were flying like flies 

outside there’s a lorry with all my belongings

crammed full with belongings from Dushanbe

there’s a lorry but no place to unload it

i’ve some money and lots of hope

but i have no home

no warm clothes

I have only, but what is the word, don’t remember,

some kind of a thickened coat and my low heels

and no public transport, i needed to walk through a couple of streets every time

just a couple of streets but it’s freezing

i have just very small mohair hat and a light coat

anyway, while walking to work, you need to take shelter several times

to get warm

on some communal staircase

you needed some strength to run the next several meters

of darkness.


when the war was still unimaginable

we never knew there could be so much snow

we’ve been told once at school by our teacher

that you could sleigh

and your door could be buried in snow so you couldn’t walk out    

we never knew that life could be so harsh

and cold

and food be so tasteless

and this is the essence of being a russian

might be

i'm just not russian

Russia explained it to me

you don’t speak our way Yaroslava

you speak like a chink with your accent

kishlak l’jagan dastarkhan go back to your Tajikistan

that’s what the Russia told me

we’ve had nothing and then you came

as if we didn’t have enough

there’s collapse unemployment and Chechnya 

and for long time i've had just a tiniest jacket  

woollen headscarf

and my feet were always cold

in the morning of march the first i remember i ran to my school

i ran to the classroom and screamed: it’s the first day of spring!

the spring!

it's springtime, when will the snow melt?

they replied: Yaroslava, in a month if god’s will be

and i said: no? really? i've been waiting for spring for so long.  

you don’t have a springtime in Dushanbe

it lasts for a week and then everything’s going to bloom

and only then I found out what it means - springtime.




dreamt of Russia

despite being born in Tajikistan

and all of my ancestors since twenties

after exiles and trials

not a single of them lived in Russia and knew next to nothing

but I always insisted:

Russia is our elder brother

Russia is my country

not my Motherland but my country  

what did we know about Russia, but we could imagine

that Russia means civilization

that Russia means opportunities

that Russia means – how to explain –

we’re at the borders of soviet republics  

we’re much closer to Afghanistan China Pakistan  

and somewhere

there’s Russia that’s beautiful, big, rich and strong

i dreamt about going to Russia




we lived like a commune

just like a commune

in our big courtyard

there were no “us” and “them” 

no tajiks no russians no tatars

dagestanis or laks or uzbeks

ukranians germans afghans

we lived almost there

eight minutes from city centre 

where everything has begun

it was my school that was occupied

by the separatists

victory square but we’ve called it “the ass’s ears”

and on that day exactly on that same day 

we succeeded to skive off the school

and went to the mall. 


it was on every channel then

and those loudspeaker things on the streets

people were listening, gathered in groups

and every one was waiting for the big shift

it was our festival

that bode no ill

everything was as always

i ran a briefing in the ministry for culture

there was a rally outside – Rastohez – means revival –

advocating democracy, secular lawful state

everyone hungered for it, me included

we dreamed about freedom

and who wasn’t, who didn’t believe

in freedom

in nineteen ninety-one?

a culture minister spoke at the rally 

about restoration of our identity   

justice and sovereignty  

about the new era

and something like that

i'm at the briefing

then we heard shouts

fire, rattling and tinkling

bullets ding-donged on the glass

i shouted: get down on the floor!

turn over the table, lock everything down  

i was just a girl back then

not yet even thirty

a young russian woman in charge of tajik men   

and i wasn’t afraid

i was never afraid of anything at all  

and on the streets

wild crazy armed streets 

black waves of people

men in national costumes

were shouting that they don’t obey the authority,

that they don’t obey anybody at all

they were shouting “slaughter and kill”

and to this day i have no idea  

i doubt if anyone has

why it all happened and who’s there to blame

who armed them

who needed

revival and freedom

to turn into “slaughter and kill”.

for the reasons undefined

in unclear circumstances

in a day

it started – the war.


my brother’s school was under siege

school number one city centre   

our school was immediately dismissed

we were so happy

running straight home from school

through by-paths cause there’s shooting  

such fun we had then  

tv-building was taken

tajiki presenter

said they’re here, they went on a rampage,

early on he was on their side

then killings started tv went off air

that day they transferred the tanks from the border to city

division two hundred and one from Afghanistan war days

they stopped all the cars

tv people were freed

the presenter went back on air

and i laughed at

this turncoat

barely alive from fear

he was trembling

i laughed cause it all seemed unreal



the city is empty

it’s martial law

everyone’s hiding at home it is scary

homes were stormed in, got robbed, people were killed

there are rumours about the unthinkable 

and that horrible hum at night

we’re chilled to the bone

no we haven’t a slightest idea

no we haven’t a slightest idea

it’s that horrible horrible hum that awakes you

by the morning the tanks were all over  

aircrafts flew from the border

heavy with starving soldiers


we were kids we were running and playing

there were three of us: tajik dagestani and i

we liked to watch how kishlakis were running away

ten armed vehicles against a house – of course, it’s interesting

we threw bombs in the bottles, sat on roofs, and we threw them, we set them on fire  

if there’s an enemy

sometimes somewhere we climb up a tree  

to spy on the faraway war  

by night kids were home, of course, but each day

my father and i were patrolling our street

as all the lads did

it happened somehow by itself

throughout the whole city

in the evening each man

without any arrangements or orders

was policing the neighbourhood

and the women were sitting at home they were armed

with some metal bars or just an axe 

the soldiers

were ravenous hungry like wolves 

and we brought them some food as a thank you for being protected

fetched them food, fetched hot water

cutlets lavash lagman the whole dastarkhan

they’ve been ever so grateful

they gave us their rifles to play with and tyres to burn   

and we haven’t returned to the school we were happy

they gave us some missions: hey boy can you check

if there might be an enemy somewhere? 

and we run and we checked to say no or say yes

yes, we’ve seen them they were wearing chapans and were dirty   

and as soon as they’ve seen something modern

they threw stones and threw clubs at it with no comprehension

they were running like animals shooting

afterwards in the aqueducts 

where in summer

we hid from the heat

we discovered a lot of dead bodies


we lived near the circus

but it never reopened

and instead of the animals and acrobats

there were a lot of insurgents

they brought there their dead and their wounded

and we

with old-fashioned opera glasses

went on the roof to see better

but then one of our friends told on us to my parents

the whole neighbourhood lived as one 

this friend called afterwards

and asked are you mad Yaroslava?

are you tired of living?

they won’t ask any questions they’ll kill you without a second thought    

and i said but of course, i’m so sorry

the next second we’re back on the roof

of course

it’s interesting

it’s other people’s lives


we’ve barricaded the ministry

my mom is visiting

i need to meet my mom

my mom she just came from Kazakhstan to the Komsomol Lake station, it’s outskirts

she lives in Kazakhstan since my dad was there in a forced labour camp

she went after him

she doesn’t know yet and she’s waiting for me

she doesn’t know yet about our pogroms

it wasn’t on tv yet

there are no buses, no cars

they put isor on me

which covers you all but the eyes, they can’t see if you’re russian

but they didn’t give me a car – there’s ministry’s number plate  

they’ll kill you and throw in the aqueduct 

but I did it

i met my mom

the same night

i sent her back home by plane


then we went back to school again

we’re in class eight am

we waited but there was no teacher

she didn’t came back


and while we were waiting we chatted like crazy

about the Kulob gang

in some stupid turf war

with the band from Kurganteppa

nobody told us back then

and who could honestly know for sure

that this was a civil war

which will last for five years


we've had a rule: not to go out with tajikis 

cause lousiest russian is better than any tajiki

and only for safety if there’s any danger  

you could say “i’m with Zyafar,

he will settle it”

one of my friends was dating some boy from Kulab gang

and when he came by her house  

without even saying hello

he got from the car and fired a round from his gun

and this was a sign that she needs to come down

of course they were dating only because of her fear

that it could’ve been worse

anyway he fired a round

so everyone knew

here’s your beloved


at the ministry i was assigned to oversee the airport

we worked till well after nine

and after dark on the streets

they checked everyone’s papers

we’re returning once late on the bus all together  

tajiki inspector

he was so fat and smelly i cried oh my god

i remember how he felt me up

me – a russian woman who works for the ministry

i'm not a woman i'm

Chief Controller of the Ministry for Culture and Education of the Republic of Tajikistan

he reeked of alcohol



and the power his ethnic group has

and now

he has the right

and it was immediately clear

not immediately it was clear all along

“go back your Russia”

we heard everywhere

and we russians understood that it was the quiet before the storm

before the real war

and we needed to run away

run away

run away



it was on everyone’s lips

that we need to run

that soon they will cut our throats

there’s no food and no transport

there’s no ussr and there will be no more

and no one would save us


my parents searched for a job

and in some time

my father’s friends from Kaluga

were persuaded to give us a room

no idea

how he did it    

but in some time dad

found a job in Russia

and we were packing our bags

we all sleep on the floor for a month

well, we sleep and we don’t

‘cause there’s shooting at night - every night we hear shots - lots of bullets

now it’s the morning we’re flying away  

we’re walking to the airport 

buses don’t exist anymore

and no one will give you a ride in the car

out of fear

that we – well – we’ll get busted

the car will be stolen and we will get beaten or worse

my friends they agreed to help us with suitcases, that kind of thing  

six am it is far and we walk past

my ballet school

where i was a pupil

in another life

so we walk past the school and exactly at that moment

there are tanks on the road  

we flattened against the wall and it’s like this

here are the tanks

and there is the school

and we’re standing right here

and that was so weird

that these rumbling tanks

cutting me from my childhood 

and from my school

where i spent a hundred years

i am leaving – and there is my childhood

and i can’t see my childhood because of the tanks

and i understand that my happy days are over

tanks just cut them away

i'm at the finish line

i'm sixteen.


rumours started the war will be over

and we’ll soon have our lives back and stuff

but of course there’s no freaking way

those who stayed were like animals

the poverty was unreal 

the flats were sold for nine hundred dollars tops

even the russians started to rob and steal

they robbed even the newsstands

some guy made arrangements - i knew him from my military service with russians –

and i was hired to work at the airport

they had this weird half-legal half-military system

and because i was working at republic’s air gates

traffic, immigrants, all of that shit 

my family was not treated badly

until they broke my father’s skull

with a rifle butt

somebody found him brought him home

he said he was seeing his friend off to Russia  

then some men

start to fire

he was hit by a rifle butt

and he doesn’t remember

and i reckon that wasn’t an accident

and soon after that we decided to run

but we had nowhere to go

so we stayed for a while

you can’t travel to Russia by land

uzbeks closed their borders

it is only by air

it is only by air

and if you want to go by plane

you need to share

your belongings

otherwise they won’t let you out

one woman we knew

exchanged everything she had for gold

she had a flight to Moscow

our girls held her back and unlawfully so

kept her waiting a long time on purpose her plane did take off

there were almost no flights at the time

they just wanted her gold

not all of it of course

i told her to file a report with the police  

for illegal detention

she did that and on the same night

she got robbed on her way home she was mutilated

and it’s my greatest shame to this day

and i want to forget to get rid of it all fly away

but to fly

you need money

traffic and all of that shit

traffic and all of that shit

and you need immigrants


russians are being fired from the ministry

i only just found a job in Russia  

we’re built differently in Central Asia

we’re not searching for truth or for justice, we don’t like lengthy quotes from a rulebook  

we’re bargaining  

first come, first served

i thought

anyway i’m in Russia, Tolyatti  

first thing i asked

“show me your whitest house”

and on the street

near the place of a friend of a friend of a friend

– they took me in their dirty one-bedroom flat

and asked crazy money for it

they were greedy and jealous

‘cause republics lived better than the centre

now they’re overrunning this country –

my lorry stood crammed full with belongings from Dushanbe

is already covered with first snow in october

there’s my furniture from Yugoslavia

dumpling maker, vcr from West Germany   

dresses, outfits and gilded pewter dessert bowls from Samarkand

i used to put there sweets from our Tajikistani factory Shirin

Shirin means sweetie 

and while we devoured our chocolate meat pomegranates

they were so ripe they burst in our arms and the juice was flowing

in Russia they could kill for a sausage  

or they’re willing to travel for sausage as far as Ukraine

they’re stupidly dull from their wining and being piss poor  

and their communal flats and their queues

but i understood it all later

right now I still believe

that Russia means possibilities

that Russians are wise and ambitious

that Russia needs qualified human recourses   

young and daring

and I felt so betrayed,

when I finally got

that reality is anything but  

and Russia doesn’t need its own people

and Russians are mainly living as cockroaches

that professionals are substantially worse  

and if we give bribes in Central Asia we get what we want

i love to bribe people i’m really good at it

but in Russia they will squeeze you dry    

and then do nothing

how was i disappointed

when literally in a month

i ran out of money

cause i needed to bribe even a smallest of insects

so i gave away my gilded pewter dessert bowls from Samarkand to the always drunk landlady

to have room for myself for at least one more week

i’ve been promised a company apartment

i sweated blood at work since morning till night

now i was a department head in a precinct of Tolyatti

i worked being completely clueless   

cause there’s nothing I know about Russia

and this animal fear that they would fire me and replace me

with somebody’s relative or a friend

i was afraid to come home and find

as i found many times before

landlady’s daughter with some guy that she fancies to fuck on my sofa

watching my vcr

in my clothes

later i slept at the office when

the landlady threw me out

i was put in a hostel

lorry crammed full with belongings from Dushanbe

is already covered with december snow

i am walking on ice in my spring boots

sometimes i sleep on ice and just lie there till i’m almost frozen

because i'm exhausted, so tired   

there’s a light in somebody’s apartment where’s mine?

there’s not even a company apartment

‘cause half of this country lives without an apartment or even employment

food stores are empty

it has all been a lie – all this Russia of yours  

i have nowhere to live no money no nothing

i am a homeless stateless alien in a cold country

although i am russian

i’m russian

i called up my friend and I asked her:

Lyuba, i beg you, please sell my apartment  

i gave you the rights i have nowhere to live i’ve no money   

i let her live there for a reason

i was fighting so long for that place

and i just got the keys

there was nothing inside except some pieces of stale bread

that were left by the builders

and I took this stale bread and i poured me a glass of tap water

i sat on the floor i was happy

i thought there’s no place on earth that’s more precious and beautiful

than my very own flat.

and she started аbout how it’s hard for the russians out there  

that you can’t even walk outside, and if you would do so  

they will stone you to death

and there’s no one to sell to all the russians are running away  

and she got on my nerves with this bullshit again and again

til the building was bombed my apartment along with it

and although what she told me was totally true

it was sad bud it’s truth

still i lost my apartment

comes april

hooray! they won’t fire me now they adore me

i made an impression on them

i have won this war and i have won this Russia

i am still alive and I am still bullet-proof

i am still saving up for apartment


you have come here in numbers you people

there was nothing to steal at your old place so you came to ours

to steal from us

a policeman told me

he was pointing his gun

whom are you trying to fright with your stupid bb gun you fucker

but legally i was an alien

and they could do whatever to me, incriminate me with anything

i’ve no citizenship i have no rights  

i ask him: why are you like that?

cause i'm an alien?

he answers: yes

you’re nobody round here you’ve no job and some money

it isn’t right

i say well excuse me mate

is it our fault that we had bigger salaries?  

that they sent us some goods that you were deprived of?

that our mothers and fathers were building the dams there and cities

crashing mighty Pamir

and were granted a holiday package

after one year of work you could buy there a car

but to you Mother Russia gave fuck

so is it the fault of my parents

that we lived in a way life’s intended?

you can’t choose your motherland.

the lads my classmates

like me after two years in russian army

now we’re citizens!

for several years they tried to prove to the state of Russia

that they are not tajiks

does it sound right to you?

you become Russian only at the time of conscription.

for citizenship

you need to write a letter to the president

and i'm not joking

you give petition to the embassy council

and then exactly at an appointed date

it’s in several years

you have a number

and shitload of obstacles

and on that date i was on guard 

couldn’t be there and waited another year

for them to accept me as one of their own  

me – Daniil Chernov

that’s basically it and there’s nothing to say

that’s all you need to know about how they treat people

do they need these people at all?

there were twenty-five millions of us

i can never recall an official statistic

ethnically russians tatars bashkirs whoever  

who were left out after the collapse

and it drives me completely mental

when they’re sending the troops to defend russian-speaking population   

Crimea, Donbass or whatever

just a rhetoric

we like to defend russians, you bet

then why have you left us that time in Tajikistan?

what is the logic

that we will survive by our own?

i just think that


betrayed us.



she got two sons

one was fifteen another about six

also there was her younger brother

when the war started

her brother was seriously beaten up 

they poke his eye out he was disabled

and when she left

she left for her husband

who worked in the north as a truck-driver

and she asked him, she said:

«Volodya, we’re coming to you, where’s your place?»

he answered: “you can’t come to me, Vera”

it turned out he got another family there

and she has nowhere to go at all

and then she asked me

and i didn’t have a place of my own

i tried to explain: Vera

you can’t come to me

i live in a hostel

i have nothing

i lost everything

my house is ruined, apartment destroyed

how could you come to me?

and then she decided to come to Moscow to friends of some friends

no idea

her brother stayed home

so she travelled with both of her sons

she came to Moscow and lost the elder one on the street.

he’s just disappeared

one look away and he’s gone

it was Russia she took him away

i still think it’s my fault

i feel it with all my heart

and if i could only find her somewhere

i think i would

fall on my knees.



i'm stepping out of the plane there’s snow everywhere

snow everywhere, it’s so cold and i have no idea 

where have I put it

my only warm headscarf

it‘s in there somewhere deep in a suitcase   

when i was leaving Dushanbe it was plus eighteen

and here it’s minus two

mud and grey skies

it was weighing heavy on me for a long time

this sky

everyone’s bitter and no one is smiling

although i’ve also stopped smiling so much

it’s normal it’s age

they called me a chink at first then they stopped

i finished school

nobody knew anything about our war, i never talked about it

and i started to think that it was in another life

where we dived in the aqueducts neighbours were friends 

where our granny’s in Shahrituz, summer camps - near Regar  

where we stole watermelons on the bazaar

where we befriended boys from Afghanistan

they were in our summer camp because of the ‘international friendship’

where they wrote my name in farsi

i haven’t a clue if they really wrote Yaroslava but it doesn’t matter

they understand a bit of russian, we – a bit of farsi  

where we went with our parents to gather cotton

in Russia it’s usually potatoes

where we worked happily and then ate good food  

pilaf figs apricots

where we lived modestly but each was a friend

where we went to the hills to the rivers to the poppy fields

and wherever you look its just poppies and ridges of mountains

where we lived all as one and never knew fear

where we played ran away and went missing

all the neighbours were looking for us

and when we were found – we’ve been cursed, not for real though    

and it’s all just a distant memory of a dream

everything became familiar, and i even recognized

that they do after all have some sun now and then

then i found here some friends, have a husband and children

i became just like them

i speak without an accent

and as everyone i don’t show if i'm happy or proud

i am often afraid and some things i still can’t understand

i have no one to rely on but myself

i don’t go to the police

although we have noisy neighbours

and let’s say that i try to blend in 

i believe that you cannot change things

and if you will change them

everything will be ruined and there will be war

if you don’t like it in here go abroad

that’s what people say

and me – i am just thankful for everything

let things stay as they are

or it’s going to get worse

in general it’s ok

i’ve blended in

i’m one of them now.


Soviet tower fell down

and the skies were full of dust

we were scattered like sparks through the wind

went off to our national quarters

and everyone

lives in their own country

some countries are grim harsh and cold

some countries gracefully plough through the waves

now we’re apart everyone invents their own creation story

on how there was a light in the darkness, electricity

on how they made cities and dams in the place of the mountains

how the first settlers came in  

how mom made a snowflake’s dress

how i went to the first new years party at school

those are different countries

they’re made up

my country spreads beyond horizon  

it covers the whole earth

and dissolves in the ocean

my country is the world’s biggest country

and in my country

there’s no us and them

in my country

there are no natives and guests,

russians, non-russians

in my country


an alien.