Documentary Photographer Nadezhda Ermakova is the Edge of Humanity Magazine contributor of this documentary photography.  From the project ‘Strangers in Tambov’.  To see Nadezhda’s body of work, click on any image.


Alima Kambi
From Bakota, Gambia
Civil Engineering major
I spend all my time studying, and that means a lot to me. Sadly, I’ll have to take a leave of absence next year due to financial issues, but I will do anything possible to complete my education.


Landry William Yao
From Yaounde, Cameroon
Medicine major
I am very proud of my cup. We got it for winning a university football competition. I can’t live without sport. Also I’m an amazing cook, my friends call me “Le Cordon Bleu”. (That’s what the French call a virtuoso culinary, after a prestigious culinary school.)


Lotfi Zuari
From Tunisia
Medicine major
I’ve only been here for a year, but I can say with confidence that the local population is very closed and hostile to Arabs. We’ve had different situations. For the most part, we’re on our own here. Playing ball on the local stadium is my favorite activity.


Strangers in Tambov

How do foreigners from African continent live and study in the Russian province.

About two thousand foreign students enter Tambov universities annually. Most of them are from African countries. A Russian diploma in African countries is considered to be very prestigious and gives a great advantage when applying for a job. But while trying to assimilate and establish contacts with the locals, most of them meet with a strong resistance.

The history of friendship between Russia and African countries makes up a great many years and sends us back to the moment when the Soviet Union (at that time) tried to support many countries of the black continent that had freed themselves from colonial dependence at the turn of the 1950s and 1960s. The establishment in 1960 of the Peoples’ Friendship University [1], the first university to train qualified specialists from Africa, Asia and Latin America was one of the fruits of this friendship. Later, other universities began to offer foreigners various training options. Firstly, these were mostly metropolitan institutions, but some time later provincial universities also began to catch up with them. The most popular courses at all times are technical and medical ones.

About thirty years ago some organizations started popularizing Russian education in African and Arab countries. And thus, gradually more and more foreign students started coming into small towns.


Christiane Fleure
From Abidjan, Ivory Coast
International Relations major
Overall, I like studying here. If I ignore some of the little things, like some of the habits of the locals, it’s a cozy little town where everything is affordable. I’m missing African food though.


Rocky Mataruusse
From Libreville, Gabon
International Relations major
Sports is as important for me as education is. Rugby, boxing are my true passions. I do rugby professionally. I used to play for the national team in my home country. I’m a strong player and I need to train hard to improve my skills. It’s difficult in Russia to get into the team that suits my skill level because of the color of my skin.


Owolowo Akorede
From Nigeria
Management major
This painting is one of the few things I bought here in Tambov. I liked how realistic the depiction of the woman is. She is very beautiful. Many of our guys want to be friend and hang out with the local girls, but they aren’t very friendly. That upsets me.


I was born and grew up in a small provincial town called Tambov. It is located 500 km from Moscow. When the first foreign students began to appear in our city, I noticed this right away. It was about 20 years ago, then I was in school. At first there were very few of them, and they attracted many attention. They were mostly from African countries. After school, I left for another city and returned only after fifteen years. The city has become unrecognizable. They manage to intertwine with colored thread into a monochrome pattern of the local population, but integrating into the population of a small provincial town isn’t easy. The local population is very suspicious, and sometimes hostile to African students. Walking with one of my dark-skinned friends through the streets of the city, I constantly encounter an inadequate reaction: jokes, pokes with fingers. Friends say that they often experience open aggression, which may even turn into a fight. All their attempts assimilate and establish contacts with the locals, not to mention to establish more serious relations, meet with the resistance and, with rare exceptions, fail. They are very much worried about this and say they imagined the Russians to be more open-minded. I haven’t been living in Tambov for a long time, but this question touched me on the raw and I wanted to get to know them better, to find out how they differ from the indigenous population of an ordinary provincial Russian city and do they differ at all? Why did they choose Tambov? What do they like? How do they live? And what do they plan to do next? – It was these issues that occupied me when I decided to enter their environment and get to know them. For over a year every weekend I came from Moscow to Tambov, made new acquaintances: on the street, in the store — anywhere. I was taken to a hostel, and there I was already observing their inner student life. The fact that they live apart immediately catches the eye. I managed to attend big parties, where African students from all over the city gathered, and more intimate events, like a birthday, for example, or just small parties. And nowhere have I ever met any of the locals.

About two thousand foreign students enter Tambov universities every year, now a large flow comes not only from African countries, but also from China and India. They also keep apart and, in principle, try not to contact the locals.

[1] Since 1961, the Peoples’ Friendship University is named after Patrice Lumouba – a symbol of the national liberation movement in Africa, who later became the Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Since 1992, it’s the Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia.


Abina Zoua Bertrand
From Yaounde, Cameroon
Management major
I pay for my education myself and can only count on myself – my parents passed away a few years ago, that’s why I work as a loader part time. It’s extremely difficult but I don’t have a lot of choice, since there’s not many job opportunities for people of color. I need to get a degree so I hustle.


Banzie Joel
Nelspruit, South Africa
Medicine major
I didn’t expect having to share a room with three guys and having to sleep on bunk beds, but I’ve gotten used to that. There’s almost no personal space, but that can be fun sometimes.


Catalea l’Or Ngiia
From Libreville, Gabon
Business Informatics major
I find blending in the local society difficult. I feel like a stranger. Girls in the university laugh when they see me. We’re in a strange situation here; we were promised great education and clean dorms. What we got is cockroaches in the rooms and lectures in Russian. We don’t fully understand the language and that’s a big issue that we ended up paying a lot of money for.


All images and text © Nadezhda Ermakova



See also:


By Nadezhda Ermakova