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Photographer Elyor Nematov Captures the Lives of Kyrgyzstan's Russia-Based Migrants Left Behind

The wife of a migrant worker. She hasn't seen her husband in two years. Aravan village, Osh oblast.

The wife of a migrant worker. She hasn't seen her husband in two years. Aravan village, Osh oblast.

All images in this post belong to Elyor Nematov and are used with permission. Some of them have also been featured on Meduza and the Guardian

Produced over the course of several months in 2014 and 2015 photographer Elyor Nematov's photo project ‘Father Comes Tomorrow’ explores the lives of migrant workers’ families. It is the second chapter of “I am Foreigner”, a photo-documentary project depicting various aspects of labour migration from Central Asia to Russia.

Nematov was born in the Silk Road city of Bukhara in neighbouring Uzbekistan, but now lives and works in Kyrgyzstan where the ‘Father Comes Tomorrow’ chapter is set.

Besides Tajikistan to the south, tiny Kyrgyzstan is the Central Asian country where the highest proportion of the population live and work in Russia. In these countries with a combined population of less than 14 million people, the money migrants send home is equal to half and a third of GDP respectively, making them the two most remittance-dependent nations on the planet.

Family dinner. Chek village, Batken oblast.

Family dinner. Chek village, Batken oblast.

“Father comes tomorrow” is a phrase millions of children in Central Asia hear when they ask the questions “Where is my father? When will he come back home?”

Those who stay behind to look after the children use this phrase over and over again. And no one knows when this “tomorrow” will actually be.

Nematov's photo story is about migrant workers’ families — mostly women and children — who mind the home and eek out a living while their loved ones try to save money in Russia. Many Central Asian children are growing up without their fathers in their lives, placing a huge burden of care on mothers, older sisters and grandparents in particular.

Due to excessive drought, a woman is digging small holes around apricot trees in order to accumulate rainwater. Apricots are the main, and sometimes the only, source of income for many families in Batken. Djangigen village, Batken oblast.

Due to excessive drought, a woman is digging small holes around apricot trees in order to accumulate rainwater. Apricots are the main, and sometimes only, source of income for many families in Batken. Djangigen village, Batken oblast.

Moreover, in the aftermath of the recent economic crash in Russia, prompting the massive depreciation of the ruble* against the dollar and other major foreign currencies, migrants are sending back less and less money, with some returning to their homes in desperation. In oblasts such as Osh and Batken, there are no jobs waiting for them when they arrive.

These places are the primary settings for Nematov's powerful images, which capture simultaneously the beauty and hardship of life outside Kyrgyzstan's capital city Bishkek, while emphasising its constant gnawing vulnerability.

* The fall of Russia's ruble has also had a strong impact on Kyrgyzstan's currency, the som. At the time these stories were collected the som was worth between 45 and 55 to the US dollar. Currently there are closer to 75 soms to the dollar. Pensions and wages referenced in the photo story may have since been adjusted.

Mahfirat, a 60-year-old woman, collects bricks for the restoration of a destroyed house. Osh city, Osh oblast.

Mahfirat, a 60-year-old woman, collects bricks for the restoration of a destroyed house. Osh city, Osh oblast.

An elderly woman shovels mud from a destroyed road near her house. Osh city, Osh oblast.

An elderly woman shovels mud from a destroyed road near her house. Osh city, Osh oblast.

A man about to embark upon a long journey takes a bite of homemade bread. Residents of the Ferghana Valley believe that leaving the uneaten portion behind will cause the traveler to eventually return home. Until then, the bread will be hung on the wall of the house. Chek village, Batken oblast.

A man about to embark upon a long journey takes a bite of homemade bread. Residents of the Ferghana Valley believe that leaving the uneaten portion behind will cause the traveler to eventually return home. Until then, the bread will be hung on the wall of the house. Chek village, Batken oblast.

A boy addresses his mother. Chek village, Batken oblast.

A boy addresses his mother. Chek village, Batken oblast.

Baysiya, 45 years old, raises her three grandchildren. Their parents work as a yard-keeper and tractor-driver somewhere in the Russian Federation. The youngest child is six months old, the oldest three years. Byasiya's sole income is selling butter, which she gets from her only cow. "Your parents work,” she tells her grandchildren whenever they lament about their vacant parents. “They will be back one day, when it is destined…” Djangijer village, Batken oblast.

Baysiya, 45-years-old, raises her three grandchildren. Their parents work as a yard-keeper and tractor-driver respectively somewhere in Russia. The youngest child is six months old, the oldest three years. Byasiya's sole income is selling butter, which she gets from her only cow. “Your parents work,” she tells her grandchildren whenever they lament about their vacant parents. “They will be back one day, when it is destined…” Djangijer village, Batken oblast.

Mazur, 55 years old,  takes care of his five grandchildren. Their parents are constantly working in Russia. Osh city, Osh oblast.

Mazur, 55-years-old, takes care of his five grandchildren. Their parents are constantly working in Russia. Osh city, Osh oblast.

Mahfirat, 60 years old, raises her three grandchildren. She receives a monthly state pension of 2,700 Kyrgyz soms [$40]. “'Look at the moon. Your parents are looking back at youfrom there,' I say to the children. And then every time the moon is full, they look up...” Osh city, Osh oblast.

Mahfirat, 60-years-old, raises her three grandchildren. She receives a monthly state pension of 2,700 Kyrgyz soms [$40]. “'Look at the moon. Your parents are looking back at you from there,’ I say to the children. And then every time the moon is full, they look up…” Osh city, Osh oblast.

Tologon, 63 years old, takes care of her two grandchildren, one six months old, the other two years old. “They often talk to their mother on the phone,” she says. “I say [to the children] that their mother will arrive in the summer. When summer comes, I say she will come in the winter, and she'll bring a lot of money...” Aravan rayon, Osh oblast.

Tologon, 63-years-old, takes care of her two grandchildren, one six months old, the other two years old. “They often talk to their mother on the phone,” she says. “I say [to the children] that their mother will arrive in the summer. When summer comes, I say she will come in the winter, and she'll bring a lot of money…” Aravan rayon, Osh oblast.

A 14-year-old girl takes care of her older sister's daughter. The older sister was divorced and went to Russia to find work. Karabag village, Batken oblast.

A 14-year-old girl takes care of her older sister's daughter. The older sister was divorced and went to Russia to find work. Karabag village, Batken oblast.

A six-year-old boy whose parents divorced after they both went to work in Russia. In fact, his father began a relationship with another woman and subsequently gave up on his mother. Chek village, Batken oblast.

A six-year-old boy whose parents divorced after they both went to work in Russia. In fact, his father began a relationship with another woman and subsequently gave up on his mother. Chek village, Batken oblast.

A three-year-old boy whose father was imprisoned in Russia for three to five years for the unintentional death of a colleague on a construction site. Aravan rayon, Osh oblast.

A three-year-old boy whose father was imprisoned in Russia for three to five years for the unintentional death of a colleague on a construction site. Aravan rayon, Osh oblast.

In Karabag village there are no men left, except for elderly men and children. Karabag village, Batken oblast.

In Karabag village there are no men left, except for elderly men and children. Karabag village, Batken oblast.

The children of migrant workers during a lunch break. Karabag village, Batken oblast.

The children of migrant workers during a lunch break. Karabag village, Batken oblast.

A family dinner of migrant workers. Djangijer village, Batken oblast.

A family dinner of migrant workers. Djangijer village, Batken oblast.

Laila, 70 years old, is raising her four grandchildren. Their parents have been working in Russia for more than three years. Laila receives a monthy state pension of 3400 Kyrgyz soms (KGS). “Whenever a plane flies over us in the sky, the children ask me, 'Maybe it's our parents coming back?' And I tell them, 'Your parents will come, be patient'...” Djangijer village, Batken oblast.

Laila, 70-years-old, is raising her four grandchildren. Their parents have been working in Russia for more than three years. Laila receives a monthly state pension of 3400 Kyrgyz soms (KGS). “Whenever a plane flies over us in the sky, the children ask me, ‘Maybe it's our parents coming back?’ And I tell them, ‘Your parents will come, be patient'…” Djangijer village, Batken oblast.

The son of a migrant worker. Karabag village, Batken oblast.

The son of a migrant worker. Karabag village, Batken oblast.

The chidren of migrant workers bath in an aryk (stream) near their house. Chek village, Batken oblast.

The children of migrant workers bath in an aryk (stream) near their house. Chek village, Batken oblast.

Tolokon, 53 years old, has not seen her husband for over seven years. According to Tolokon, he went to Russia for work but has never been able to send money back. She has raised their three children alone. The eldest daughter herself divorced and moved to Russia, leaving behind a six-month-old daughter for Tolokon to raise. “My granddaughter often says, 'Mom-Mom, Dad-Dad,' and her father, although he lives in a nearby village, doesn't visit his daughter, he is already married again...” Karabag village, Batken oblast.

Tolokon, 53-years-old, has not seen her husband for over seven years. According to Tolokon, he went to Russia for work but has never been able to send money back. She has raised their three children alone. The eldest daughter herself divorced and moved to Russia, leaving behind a six-month-old daughter for Tolokon to raise. “My granddaughter often says, ‘Mom-Mom, Dad-Dad,’ and her father, although he lives in a nearby village, doesn't visit his daughter, he is already married again…” Karabag village, Batken oblast.

Manzura, 55 years old, takes care of her five grandchildren. Their parents divorced because of the husband's alcoholism, and their mother went to work in Russia. Manzura receives a monthly pension of 3000 Kyrgyz soms (KGS). “I tell them that their mom will come when she gets a vacation. They stopped asking about their father...” Osh city, Osh oblast.

Manzura, 55-years-old, takes care of her five grandchildren. Their parents divorced because of the husband's alcoholism, and their mother went to work in Russia. Manzura receives a monthly pension of 3,000 Kyrgyz soms (KGS). “I tell them that their mom will come when she gets a vacation. They stopped asking about their father…” Osh city, Osh oblast.

A mother with an infant. It is very difficult to meet a working-age youth in a Kyrgyzstani village since most have left for Russia to find work. Chek village, Batken oblast.

A mother with an infant. It is very difficult to meet a working-age youth in a Kyrgyzstani village since most have left for Russia to find work. Chek village, Batken oblast.

Children of migrant workers collecting eggs. Left behind by their parents, children from an early age are often involved in household chores and low-level economic activity. Aravan rayon, Osh oblast.

Children of migrant workers collecting eggs. Left behind by their parents, children from an early age are often involved in household chores and low-level economic activity. Aravan rayon, Osh oblast.

Oyimnisa, 60 years old, raises her three grandchildren by herself. “The younger granddaughter doesn't remember her mother as she was only eight months old when she left them and went to Russia. So, she does not ask me about her mother.” Djangijer village, Batken oblast.

Oyimnisa, 60-years-old, raises her three grandchildren by herself. “The younger granddaughter doesn't remember her mother as she was only eight months old when she left them and went to Russia. So, she does not ask me about her mother.” Djangijer village, Batken oblast.

A 14-year-old girl takes care of her older sister's daughter. The older sister was divorced and went to Russia to find work. Karabag village, Batken oblast.

A 14-year-old girl takes care of her older sister's daughter. The older sister was divorced and went to Russia to find work. Karabag village, Batken oblast.

The children of a sanitation technician who lives in a small trailer somewhere in Moscow. His three children and wife wait in the family household for his return. Aravan rayon, Osh oblast.

The children of a sanitation technician who lives in a small trailer somewhere in Moscow. His three children and wife wait in the family household for his return. Aravan rayon, Osh oblast.

The family of a migrant worker who was imprisoned in Russia for three to five years for the unintentional death of a colleague on a construction site. The mother, Mastura, earns a living by helping her neighbors with household chores and washing dishes at weddings. The youngest daughter was only one week old when her father left for work. Aravan rayon, Osh oblast.

The family of a migrant worker who was imprisoned in Russia for three to five years for the unintentional death of a colleague on a construction site. The mother, Mastura, earns a living by helping her neighbours with household chores and washing dishes at weddings. The youngest daughter was only one week old when her father left for work. Aravan rayon, Osh oblast.

Laily, 70 years old, raises her four grandchildren. Their parents have been working in Russia for over three years. Laily receives a monthly state pension of 3000 Kyrgyz soms (KGS).

Laily, 70-years-old, raises her four grandchildren. Their parents have been working in Russia for over three years. Laily receives a monthly state pension of 3,000 Kyrgyz soms (KGS).

Children playing football in a yard. Students freshly graduated from the third to fifth class (ages eight to eleven years) are the most vulnerable to labor migration. Some children even begin planning their trip to Russia long before graduating. Isfana city, Batken oblast.

Children playing football in a yard. Students freshly graduated from the third to fifth class (ages eight to eleven years) are the most vulnerable to labor migration. Some children even begin planning their trip to Russia long before graduating. Isfana city, Batken oblast.

The children of a plumber who lives in a small trailer somewhere in Moscow. His three children and wife wait in the family household for his return. Aravan rayon, Osh oblast.

The children of a plumber who lives in a small trailer somewhere in Moscow. His three children and wife wait in the family household for his return. Aravan rayon, Osh oblast.

Women cooking Sumalyak, a traditional Springtime dish. Osh city, Osh oblast.

Women cooking Sumalyak, a traditional Springtime dish. Osh city, Osh oblast.

The family of a migrant worker who was imprisoned in Russia for three to five years for the unintentional death of a colleague on a construction site. The mother, Mastura, earns a living by helping her neighbors with household chores and washing dishes at weddings. The youngest daughter was only one week old when her father left for work. Aravan rayon, Osh oblast.

The family of a migrant worker who was imprisoned in Russia for three to five years for the unintentional death of a colleague on a construction site. The mother, Mastura, earns a living by helping her neighbors with household chores and washing dishes at weddings. The youngest daughter was only one week old when her father left for work. Aravan rayon, Osh oblast.

A one-year-old child left by her parents and raised by her grandmother. Her grandmother has made a crib by installing a lattice around a bed. Because she is unable to take care of her granddaughter regularly, the grandmother devised this contraption to make sure the child does not wander away when she is not present. Karabag village, Batken oblast.

A one-year-old child left by her parents and raised by her grandmother. Her grandmother has made a crib by installing a lattice around a bed. Because she is unable to take care of her granddaughter regularly, the grandmother devised this contraption to make sure the child does not wander away when she is not present. Karabag village, Batken oblast.

Savrinisa, 54 years old, raises her three grandchildren. Because of the recent economic crisis in Russia, her children are unable to repatriate money. The family's only source of income now is cultivating a small field of tobacco leaves. Djangijer village, Batken oblast. “I tell them that their parents will come soon and will bring them many sweets, chocolates. They call their children once a week. Their mother gave birth to another son there, so they will bring another child [when they next return]. Previously, their parents sent money regularly, but lately I we must survive on my pension. The only way to make extra money is this tobacco garden...”

Savrinisa, 54-years-old, raises her three grandchildren. Because of the recent economic crisis in Russia, her children are unable to repatriate money. The family's only source of income now is cultivating a small field of tobacco leaves. Djangijer village, Batken oblast. “I tell them that their parents will come soon and will bring them many sweets, chocolates. They call their children once a week. Their mother gave birth to another son there, so they will bring another child [when they next return]. Previously, their parents sent money regularly, but lately I we must survive on my pension. The only way to make extra money is this tobacco garden…”

The mother of a migrant worker who had effectively been enslaved in Kazakhstan for nine years peels onions. Aravan rayon, Osh oblast.

The mother of a migrant worker who had effectively been enslaved in Kazakhstan for nine years peels onions. Aravan rayon, Osh oblast.

Tolokon, 53 years old, bought a calf with money sent by her daughter in Russia. Only one week after the birth, the calf's mother died. Karabag village, Batken oblast.

Tolokon, 53-years-old, bought a calf with money sent by her daughter in Russia. Only one week after the birth, the calf's mother died. Karabag village, Batken oblast.

Klara, 26 years old. Her mother died from infarction just before returning home from Moscow. One month later, her father died from complications due to alcoholism. Klara has dwarfism. She dreams to become a master cosmetician and get married. Osh city, Osh oblast.

Klara, 26-years-old. Her mother died from a stroke just before returning home from Moscow. One month later, her father died from complications due to alcoholism. Klara has dwarfism. She dreams to become a master cosmetician and get married. Osh city, Osh oblast.

Savrinisa's daughter in law, 23 years old, repairs the house. All of the men in her family, including her husband, have gone to Russia to look for work. Djangijer village, Batken oblast.

Savrinisa's daughter in law, 23-years-old, repairs the house. All of the men in her family, including her husband, have gone to Russia to look for work. Djangijer village, Batken oblast.

Mastura, the wife of a migrant worker who was imprisoned in Russia for three to five years for the unintentional death of a colleague on a construction site, picks tomatoes for extra money. Aravan rayon, Osh oblast.

Mastura, the wife of a migrant worker who was imprisoned in Russia for three to five years for the unintentional death of a colleague on a construction site, picks tomatoes for extra money. Aravan rayon, Osh oblast.

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A choyhona, a traditional Uzbek teahouse, occupied by female Kyrgyz patrons. Normally, choyhonas are strictly male-only, but with so many men working in Russia, women have taken over the business. Aravan rayon, Osh oblast.

A choyhona, a traditional Uzbek teahouse, occupied by female Kyrgyz patrons. Normally, choyhonas are strictly male-only, but with so many men working in Russia, women have taken over the business. Aravan rayon, Osh oblast.

A woman walks through a small grove of trees cut down for winter firewood. Djangijer village, Batken oblast.

A woman walks through a small grove of trees cut down for winter firewood. Djangijer village, Batken oblast.

Mahfirat, 60 years old, renovates a house that suffered damage when its old foundations began to decay. All of Mahfirat's sons work in Russia, and her husband is ill and unable to perform hard labor. Osh city, Osh oblast.

Mahfirat, 60-years-old, renovates a house that suffered damage when its old foundations began to decay. All of Mahfirat's sons work in Russia, and her husband is ill and unable to perform hard labor. Osh city, Osh oblast.

 Sixty-year-old Ainysa and her grandson. All of her children work in Russia. Chek village, Batken oblast.

Sixty-year-old Ainysa and her grandson. All of her children work in Russia. Chek village, Batken oblast.

Akmal, 30 years old, constructs a new house while raising his four children, as well as two children from a neighbor. Normally, it is the women who are left behind, but Akmal's wife is the one who has trekked off to Russia. She works as a waitress in one of the countless cafés of Moscow. Batken city, Batken oblast.

Akmal, 30-years-old, constructs a new house while raising his four children, as well as two children from a neighbor. Normally, it is the women who are left behind, but Akmal's wife is the one who has trekked off to Russia. She works as a waitress in one of the countless cafés of Moscow. Batken city, Batken oblast.

Batyr, 32 years old, constructs a new house while raising his two daughters. Normally, it is the women who are left behind, but Akmal's wife is the one who has trekked off to Russia. She works as a waitress in one of the countless cafés of Moscow. Batken city, Batken oblast.

Batyr, 32-years-old, constructs a new house while raising his two daughters. Normally, it is the women who are left behind, but Akmal's wife is the one who has trekked off to Russia. She works as a waitress in one of the countless cafés of Moscow. Batken city, Batken oblast.

Anarbek, 27 years old, was effectively enslaved in Kazakhstan for nine years. He left Aravan at the age of 17. In Kazakhstan, he was forced to live in a tiny enclosed space and performed hard manual labor without any compensation. He was even sold several times to different individuals. His parents searched fruitlessly for him, and eventually feared that he was dead. Fortunately, Anarbek was eventually able to escape, literally running away from the last place of his indentured servitude. Aravan rayon, Osh oblast.

Anarbek, 27-years-old, was effectively enslaved in Kazakhstan for nine years. He left Aravan at the age of 17. In Kazakhstan, he was forced to live in a tiny enclosed space and performed hard manual labor without any compensation. He was even sold several times to different individuals. His parents searched fruitlessly for him, and eventually feared that he was dead. Fortunately, Anarbek was eventually able to escape, literally running away from the last place of his indentured servitude. Aravan rayon, Osh oblast.

Anarbek's mother, 50 years old. The woman who facilitated the arrangement that initially brought Anarbek to Kazakhstan lived – and still lives – in Aravan. Throughout the nine years of his oddyssey, Anarbek's mother tried unsuccessfully to get answers from this women, who sometimes reacted violently. Aravan rayon, Osh oblast.

Anarbek's mother, 50-years-old. The woman who facilitated the arrangement that initially brought Anarbek to Kazakhstan lived – and still lives – in Aravan. Throughout the nine years of his oddyssey, Anarbek's mother tried unsuccessfully to get answers from this woman, who sometimes reacted violently. Aravan rayon, Osh oblast.

Anarbek's mother, 50 years old. Aravan rayon, Osh oblast.

Anarbek's mother, 50-years-old. Aravan rayon, Osh oblast.

Anarbek, 27 years old. With the help of a sympathetic driver from one of the sites in which he was forced to work, Anarbek was able to escape to the Kazakhstani-Kyrgyzstani border. However, since he no longer possessed his passport, the Kazakhstani border guards refused to let him leave the country. In desperation, he crossed the border illegally by swimming across the Chu (Chuy) River. It was winter. Aravan rayon, Osh oblast.

Anarbek, 27-years-old. With the help of a sympathetic driver from one of the sites in which he was forced to work, Anarbek was able to escape to the Kazakhstani-Kyrgyzstani border. However, since he no longer possessed his passport, the Kazakhstani border guards refused to let him leave the country. In desperation, he crossed the border illegally by swimming across the Chu (Chuy) River. It was winter. Aravan rayon, Osh oblast.

Asylbek, approximately 30 years old, holds a portrait of his brother who disappeared without a trace in early 2013, after thirteen years working in Russia. Their mother died in March 2013, and the family has no way of informing him. Batken city, Batken oblast.

Asylbek, approximately 30-years-old, holds a portrait of his brother who disappeared without a trace in early 2013, after thirteen years working in Russia. Their mother died in March 2013, and the family has no way of informing him. Batken city, Batken oblast.

A pregnant widow of a migrant worker, approximately 30 years old. Chek village, Batken oblast.

A pregnant widow of a migrant worker, approximately 30-years-old. Chek village, Batken oblast.

Begimay, 16 years old, takes care of her older sister's three children. Her older sister, brothers, and father all work in Russia. Djangijer village, Batken oblast.

Begimay, 16-years-old, takes care of her older sister's three children. Her older sister, brothers, and father all work in Russia. Djangijer village, Batken oblast.

The children of a sanitation technician who lives in a small trailer somewhere in Moscow. His three children and wife wait in the family household for his return. Aravan rayon, Osh oblast.

The children of a sanitation technician who lives in a small trailer somewhere in Moscow. His three children and wife wait in the family household for his return. Aravan rayon, Osh oblast.

Begimay, 16 years old, and her mother Baysiya, 45 years old, take cares of the her older sister's three children. Her older sister, brothers, and father all work in Russia. Djangijer village, Batken oblast.

Begimay, 16-years-old, and her mother Baysiya, 45-years-old, take cares of the her older sister's three children. Her older sister, brothers, and father all work in Russia. Djangijer village, Batken oblast.

Aliya, 45 years old. Two of her sons and her husband work in Russia. She has been building their house using the money they have sent to her. Aliya has directly managed the construction process. Karabag village, Batken oblast.

Aliya, 45-years-old. Two of her sons and her husband work in Russia. She has been building their house using the money they have sent to her. Aliya has directly managed the construction process. Karabag village, Batken oblast.

Tologon, 63 years old, takes care of her two grandchildren, one six months old, the other twob years old. “They often talk to their mother on the phone,” she says. “I say [to the children] that their mother will arrive in the summer. When summer comes, I say she will come in the winter, and she'll bring a lot of money...” Aravan rayon, Osh oblast.

Tologon, 63-years-old, takes care of her two grandchildren, one six months old, the other two-years-old. “They often talk to their mother on the phone,” she says. “I say [to the children] that their mother will arrive in the summer. When summer comes, I say she will come in the winter, and she'll bring a lot of money…” Aravan rayon, Osh oblast.

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