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Russia Still Attracts Armenian Workers Despite Western Sanctions


RUSSIA - Workers work atop of one of the skyscrapers of Capital Towers residential complex under construction in Moscow, May 18, 2020.

Arkadi has worked in Russia on a seasonal basis for the last 15 years and is planning to go there again this spring. He earned in 2022 as much as he had in previous years despite the crippling Western sanctions imposed on Moscow after its invasion of Ukraine.

“In the Russian city where we work, we haven’t yet felt any changes brought about by the warm,” says the 36-year-old construction worker living in a village in Armenia’s northwestern Shirak province. “But the war [in Ukraine] has gone on for a while. So we may feel a change this year.”

Arkadi is one of tens of thousands of Armenians, most of them residents of villages and small towns, who travel to Russia each year to work in construction in other labor-intensive sectors to support families at home. Their seasonal migration typically starts in early spring and ends in November or December.

The flow of migrant workers is particularly strong from poverty-stricken regions such as Shirak. Money brought by them has for decades been a major source of revenue in Armenia’s rural areas.

Armenia - Men in the village of Basen, January 21, 2023.
Armenia - Men in the village of Basen, January 21, 2023.

In Basen, a Shiak village home to about 1,400 residents, just about every family has a member working in Russia for most of the year. Unlike Arkadi, some of those workers say the war in Ukraine made it more difficult for them find a job.

“Things have become much harder,” Ashot Virabian, a 60-year-old truck driver, told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service.

“There are fewer jobs right now,” said Volodya Kharatian, another villager and longtime migrant worker. “The [Russian] private sector is doing little. They are scared of the war.”

Nevertheless, both Basen men are planning to head to Russia again. They said they still have trouble finding decent jobs in Armenia despite double-digit economic growth registered there last year thanks to soaring trade with and remittances from Russia.

“And we get little income from our land,” argued Virabian. “How should I pay off my loans?”

“We can’t live here without [working] abroad,” he said.

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