There are an estimated 794,000 people living in conditions of modern slavery in Russia (GSI 2018). Forced labour remains the predominant form of human trafficking in the country. Labour trafficking has been reported in the construction, manufacturing, logging, textile, and maritime industries, as well as in sawmills, agriculture, sheep farms, grocery and retail shops, restaurants, waste sorting, street sweeping, domestic service, and forced begging. Many migrant workers experience exploitative labour conditions characteristic of trafficking cases, such as withholding of identity documents, non-payment for services rendered, physical abuse, lack of safety measures, or extremely poor living conditions.
Maxim*, a 20-year-old man from Kazakhstan was bought as a child and trafficked to Russia. He met a man who promised to help him build a career fighting, but when he arrived in Sverdlovsk he was forced into an illegal fighting ring.
I lived in Kazakhstan, in Petropavlovsk. My family (my mother, father, two sisters and a brother) was poor, and had money for food and little else. I wanted to earn more. My father did not work, he was usually drunk. It was my mother who provided for the family, she worked at two places. During the day - at market, in the evening - as a cleaner. I got into sports, from childhood I did hand-to-hand fighting and individual combat sports. I trained myself and people noticed that I performed well. There were fights on the streets and I tried to earn money, but received little. At these fights there were small stakes. A man of 35 came up to me, and learnt that my family was poor. He met with my parents and told them that there could be a better way to earn money through this sport. He promised to help and to assist my studies. And he proposed a deal where I went with him. We came to Sverdlovsk. He gave money to my parents and promised to cure my father of alcoholism if I went with him - they had no objections. I became his son or a close relative.
No, there were no documents registered. It was just agreed, and we parted. Everything was at his expense. But I was in debt to him. He promised that I would earn money, go to university, receive higher education and manage to find a well-paid job. When we came to Sverdlovsk, at the beginning everything was all right, I trained by myself a little, then he proposed that I would fight at a ring late at night.
No, [it was not an official contest] I learnt later. Just some rich men arrived, who had much money and entertained themselves by making stakes on fighters.
There was just an ordinary ring there; we had thin gloves and that was all.
I had to lose one game and win another. It depended upon the stakes.
Yes [I was told how the fight would go].
It had been organized before my arrival.
They kept changing. If a person was injured - he was out. They just left. I do not know what happened to them later.
There was a tiny room, very damp, without any facilities. There was food, which in general wasn’t bad. He gave me money to buy some essentials
It was a very small sum. He had promised much more, but did not fulfil his promise.
I have tried to make hints, but each time he escaped the discussion and got away with it. He would say, “The time will come and you will go to some institution, then I will help you.” But these were mere promises - I received nothing. In the end he just said: “You have to fight because I paid your family” It turned out that it was me that was in debt to him. And I had to work off my debt - for the money given to my parents, for the trip here, for my food, for my living expenses - all this had been adding up. I could not leave, I didn’t have enough money for a ticket. He had my documents. I was “tied” to him because of that.
Of course, there were traumas, fractures. And not very skilled medical aid.
I was not a sportsman, more a slave. When stakes were made on a fighter, he had to win. Sometimes it turned out that his rival appeared to be stronger. It meant a great loss of money which the fighter had to pay back, to work off and win the fights that followed.
Yes, that’s what it comes down to. I wanted something much better, but it turned out much worse.
I decided to abandon everything, collected my affairs, and after fighting, when everybody had left, I went to my room, where I lived.
Yes [my movement was restricted]. He drove me home, I had some time before the next fights, and realized that I could try my luck. But I did not go home, I came to Omsk. Firstly, there was no sense to go home, as my family lived in poverty. Secondly, he knew my address and could come after me.
Because in Omsk the same fights go on, only they are legal.
I came to Omsk in order to earn real money without any intermediaries. I would like to settle a contract, where everything is legally registered. I want to earn money to take my family away from where they are. And to prevent this man from finding them and blackmailing them.
There was no point [contacting law enforcement]. Everything works by bribes there. The cops them selves were coming to see the fights. If I had contacted them, they would call this man and tell him that I had come to them.
People have already tried to do it, and they have been returned back.
Narrative credit to International Labour Organization
Original narrative found in report ‘Forced Labour in the Russian Federation Today: Irregular Migration and Trafficking in Human Beings’