Since the 1960’s, Russia has taken recruits from countries in Africa including Angola, Congo and Mozambique to train them to fly helicopters. Now, despite ties with western nations and the war Syrian war, Saudi Arabians and South Africans are joining them. As the vast majority of Russians are Slavs, they stand out from the general population as dramatically as they do the landscape. Transplanted to icy plains from the merciless heat of their homelands, most arrive without speaking a word of a taxing language and have to endure rigorous physical and mental challenges. For a few, the opportunities appear more attractive than at home, but many are not volunteers and the Russian environment is renowned as tough, isolated and at times hostile. 1. Max, 26 Republic of Congo 2. Jose, 24 Angola 3. Faizal, 19 Saudi Arabia 4. Kekana, 22 South Africa 5. Silvester, 26 Angola
Russia is legendarily cold in winter when most of its all of its vast plains across 11 time zones are covered with snow. Forming an incongruous presence in this chilly landscape come visitors more accustomed to the unrelenting and merciless heat of Africa and the Middle East. These visitors are young people of colour from countries such as The Republic of Congo, Angola and South Africa. They are military recruits sent to Russia by their governments for flight training on the helicopters their governments have bought. As the overwhelming majority of Russians are Slavs, they stand out from the general population as dramatically as they do the landscape. As early as the 1960s The USSR started to train soldiers from Africa during the Angolan Wars as part of a policy of 'internationalism' (now described as ‘Soft Power’.) Later, as African countries gained their independence from colonial powers, the USSR, as well as the USA, France and the UK sought to supply weaponry for economic and strategic reasons. While Russian influence in Africa waned in the 1990s, recently the export of arms from Russia has increased rapidly (from $3.7bn. in 2001 to $13.2bn. in 2013) and both Africa and the Middle East have both been substantial recipients of this extended diplomatic influence. Russian weapons are cheap and popular, but naturally, they come with the requirement of personnel training. Today South Africa, once the target of Soviet munitions during both Angolan Wars, sends their soldiers for helicopter training there. Even in Saudi Arabia where ordnance has traditionally been acquired from the USA and UK, Russia has increased the sales of arms. Saudis are now being trained on Russian helicopters as well, despite Russia knowing they supply many of Assad’s enemies in the Syrian civil war. This training takes time. Most of these men arrive without speaking a word of a taxing language and are expected to endure have to endure rigorous physical and mental challenges. Most return home in six years speaking excellent Russian and a host of vital skills under their belt. For a few of these recruits, especially those from poorer African states where opportunities are sparse, the prospects of betterment are attractive. However, many are not volunteers and Russia is renowned as an environment that is often tough, isolated and at times hostile. 1. Max, 26 Republic of Congo ‘It was a good option to come to Russia… but now I just want to go back. It’s just too cold’. 2. Jose, 24 Angola ‘It was -35 C the day I arrived..’ 3. Faizal, 19 Saudi Arabia ’…I just eat ‘plov’ (rice and meat) here as it’s the only thing that looks like what we eat at home’. 4. Kekana, 22 South Africa ‘Its true our countries have not always got on… But now? My Angolan friends are brothers for life!’ 5. Silvester, 26 Angola ‘When I arrived on the train I didn’t even have proper shoes, my feet froze just coming over the tracks…’
Justin is a freelance photographer based in Kennington London. His interests in photography are wide and varied, but his current specializations are portraits, architecture, interiors, still life, landscapes. His personal work is often at the crossroads of Art and Documentary photography - an examination of the details that explain the whole. He won the Lucie Foundation Emerging Photographer Scholarship 2013, First Prize in Still Life at the International Color Awards 2013. He also won awards in both 2010 and 2011 at the International Photography Awards for his architectural work and was shortlisted for the WPGA in 2010. He has been selected for the Singapore International Photo Festival 2014 and was exhibited at the Copenhagen and Organ Vida Photo Festivals in 2013. He remains faithful to large format film both 5x4 and 8x10 whenever possible.