To most St. Petersburg residents, it’s a familiar scene: A group of children commandeer a courtyard for a game of pick-up soccer on a Saturday afternoon, rain notwithstanding. But these kids aren’t used to relaxing so openly in Russia’s second city. They are the children of Central Asian labor migrants, who often fall between the cracks of Russian society.
This match is a small part of an ambitious grassroots project, called Children of Petersburg, that aims to teach the children basic Russian, help them enroll in school, and introduce them to cultural life in St. Petersburg.
“Soccer is psychologically helpful for the kids,” said Ekaterina Glikman, a volunteer Russian teacher who organized the match. “Their parents are often afraid to let them go out alone because of xenophobia. Someone could beat them up or rob them. But here they can play and see it’s not so scary.”
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Matthew Kupfer is a freelance writer specializing in Central Asia.