On October 30, 2012, a group of civil society activists in Moscow freed twelve slaves from the Produkty grocery store, owned by a Kazakhstani couple, Zhansulu Istanbekova and her husband, Saken Muzdybayev. Nearly all of those released were women from the city of Shymkent in Kazakhstan, which is also Istanbekova’s hometown. Istanbekova had at various times invited them to Moscow to work in her store. Once there, they had been robbed of their passports and forced to work without pay for twenty hours a day. They were fed a slop made from rotten vegetables, and they were beaten and raped. Some of the freed women had arrived at the store recently, but others had worked as slaves there for as long as ten years. Many of them had given birth while in captivity. Istanbekova had disposed of these children at her discretion. She shipped some of them to Kazakhstan, later declaring them dead, while others had served her family from an early age.
This is the introduction to “Slaves of Moscow,” a graphic reportage by artist Victoria Lomasko now published in English translation in a new issue of Words without Borders on migrant labor. Read the rest of this hair-raising story here.