Russian Refugee Family in Mid-Missouri
The Svanadze family came to Columbia last summer, after escaping from what they call a life of harassment and abuse in Russia. The Svanadzes are Meskhetian-Turks, people without a homeland, who wander across the former Soviet Union. Until recently they lived in Krasnodar region, where persecution is increasing against non-Russian-looking people.
"They called me black, and were teasing me because I looked different," Salvar Svanadze said. "This happened both in the school and in the streets."
Ilham Svanadze said, "Cossacks insulted and beat Meskhetian-Turks only because of our looks. Many of my friends were beaten so badly that they ended up in hospitals."
Ilimsha Svanadze says local police wouldn't protect them. In fact, he says, they joined forces with the Cossacks. The regional governor told the Turks to leave or be evicted.
"I used to be a citizen of the Soviet Union. Now the Soviet Union is gone and Cossacks tell us to leave their land, but we have nowhere to go," Ilimsha Svanadze said.
The troubles date back to World War II when Kabira Svanadze says dictator Joseph Stalin uprooted them from their native Georgia. Since then, they've moved from one region to another, looking for a place to call home. The winding journey brought them to the U.S.
"We've been approached by Elda Kuzievsky and the Roman Catholic refugee and immigration services about a possibility of our church sponsoring a family. We said, 'Yeah, we would," said Rev. John Baker of First Baptist Church.
Church members made sure the Meskhetian-Turks feel at home in Columbia by giving the Svanadzes a furnished appartment, food and money.
With the help of their new friends, the refugees are trying to forget the horrors of their past and adapt to their new environment. They are learning English and hope to get jobs soon.
They're working hard to become Americans, hoping their odyssey to find a home has finally ended.
To help the Svandazes, call Columbia's First Baptist Church at 573-442-1149.