Beneath the glamour and excess, the fast cars and “VIP” clubs, Bishkek’s feeble image of new money quickly evaporates. For an increasing number in Kyrgyzstan’s capital, the economic crisis means homelessness. Some seek refuge underground in the dark and dangerous corridors of the city’s central hot water and power system, living amongst decaying animals, used needles and human filth. They face near certain violence, disease, and often death.
Many of those living underground are former convicts, lifelong substance abusers, labor migrants, and orphans. But they weren’t always such outcasts. “These people were normal. They had families, friends, homes and jobs but lack of employment, gambling, substance abuse, and other social problems have forced them onto the streets, some underground,” said Saule Meirmanova director of Bishkek’s Pervomayski district state-run homeless shelter.
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Dalton Bennett is a freelance journalist based in Bishkek.