America / ARTICLES

The Boston Globe: “Line forms for Mother Russia”

When it comes to waiting in lines, Russians – or, rather, citizens of the former Soviet Union – are pros.

They have a long-established system: Anyone who has a document certifying that he or she was injured during a war goes to the head of almost any line. They are followed by uninjured veterans. Then everyone else.

People arrive with sandwiches and snacks, knowing that they might be there for a while.

Earlier this month, Russian Bostonians got a chance to practice their waiting skills when they crowded into a large room equipped with comfortable couches, as well as a small pool with orange fish and green plants, at Zabota, an adult day-care facility that caters to Russian-speaking seniors in Allston.

They were there to meet with two representatives from the Russian Federation Consulate in New York City, who were in town April 10 to help local compatriots renew their Russian passports and sign up for pensions – saving them the trouble of traveling to New York.

Boston does not have a Russian consulate, despite its large population of immigrants, and this was the first field trip here for officials from the country’s New York outpost.

Hundreds of Greater Boston residents, either citizens of the Russian Federation or citizens of the former Soviet Union applying for Russian Federation passports, showed up for the largely unadvertised visit. Some were there until 11 p.m. after arriving 12 hours earlier, and dozens were sent home after they had waited for hours – even though their names were on the appointment list.

Still, people said, they were glad for the consular staff’s visit.

“It’s a huge humanitarian gesture,” said Elenora Salitan, whose Russian passport had expired and who was one of the last people in line. The visit “unquestionably made things easier for us.”

Vice Consul Andrey Savushkin said he was not too surprised by the large turnout in Boston, based on the business conducted by area residents in his office back in New York.

Still, he was visibly exhausted by the end of the day, and jokingly asked his co-worker if he was “still alive” after returning to his computer from a short break.

The need for Russian consular services is great because unlike American passports, which are good for 10 years, Russian passports expire every five years and must be renewed in person.

According to bostonru.com, an informational website for the region’s Russian community, their numbers in Massachusetts have “grown tremendously” over the last 10 years and is now estimated at 100,000 people.

Savushkin said Greater Boston may have overtaken Philadelphia as the home to the second-largest Russian population in the United States, after New York.

The consular representatives processed 124 applications for passports, and promised to return May 15 to help all those who had their names on the list for April 10 but never reached the front of the line.

Zabota invited the consular representatives to Boston after numerous requests from its elderly clients, who find it difficult to travel to New York because of their sometimes frail health and halting English.

Lyuda Blindman, a Zabota staff member who helped organize the event, said phone calls were coming in until the last minute from people who wanted to put their name on the list to meet with the representatives.

“More people came than we expected,” she said in Russian.

Zabota clients were assisted first, then the doors opened to the public. As is the custom, injured war veterans were allowed to go first. But after them, it was first come, first served – leaving some veterans complaining that this was simply not how things should be done.

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