1.2 million migrant workers out of a population of 8-million people fund the economic and political stability of Tajikistan since the collapse of the Soviet Union, but what happens to this small landlocked country when sanctions against Russia force labour migrants to return to home with empty hands?

I logged onto my Skype, called my uncle, who was online in Moscow waiting for us, and then invited his wife and children. Then, I sat back and witnessed tears in the eyes of my uncle’s wife, a frozen cry in my uncle’s throat, and deep sadness in the eyes of his 10-year-old son. When my uncle’s eldest son, who was also in Moscow, appeared next to his dad in Skype, his youthful smile so far away brought sadness to my home in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan. Feelings of longing were expressed in quivering voices, my uncle’s wife’s cry loud.

1.2 million Tajiks, as young as 15-16 and as old as 60-65, from a population of 8-million in the landlocked mountainous Persian-speaking country, have lost themselves amidst the dissolution of the Soviet Union and civil war, and now find bread for their wives, children, parents, and siblings in faraway, cold, and dangerous big Russia. Money the labour migrants send to Tajikistan from their most often grueling, dirty, and dangerous jobs throughout Russia – from Caucasus to Siberia, are vital for the Tajik economy, now contributing almost half of the country’s GDP.

I am from one of the rare families, which, until recently, did not have any immediate members working as a labour migrant. But widespread unemployment continues to force more and more families to be separated from their beloved men for months and even years, sending them for labour migration abroad, mostly to Russia. The last time men of this nation left families for such a long time was during World War II to fight Nazi Germany. Now, people feel like they are sending their sons, husbands, and fathers to a war again – a war to fight hunger and poverty, which also takes lives. Some die from sicknesses, some killed by Russian nationalists, and some lose life in police stations. Some simply disappear. Disappearance of men in Russia is among the reasons Tajik women also board planes and trains to Russia to become breadwinners.

From my own family members, I have two uncles, both well educated men in their fifties, working seasonally in Moscow. One of them, who returned to Dushanbe two months ago, was a police officer in the Soviet Tajikistan and left his job when civil war broke out. The second one holds a degree in economics from a top university in Tajikistan and worked as a low-level official at a governmental agency before quitting his job after not receiving his small salary for long time.

In total, four of my cousins have experienced labour migration to Moscow. E., 24, went to Russia speaking no Russian at all after he graduated from a university. He was caught by migration forces at a store where he was working, deported for not having working permit, got all his salary from his nice Armenian boss and now is in Dushanbe. His brother, E., 26, a bright graduate from the Polytechnic University, works as a driver in Moscow. F., 21, went to Moscow this summer after returning from the service in army. He stayed there only couple months, and as he speaks no Russian, never was in a big city before and would not be able to make ends there alone, returned together with my uncle. F., 22, recently returned to Dushanbe after working odd jobs, such as pizza delivery, internet tech, and apartment repair for a year in Moscow. He got married and continues his studies.

Like most of Tajik migrants, none of them were or are able to make more than 800-1,000 USD a month in Russia. Still, the current sanctions are causing Tajik migrants to make less and less money in Russia. Those who still have a job receive their salaries in Russian rubles, have to pay their rent in fixed price in USD, and mostly have to buy dollars to send home. Monthly incomes now decreased in average in 30% because of the ruble fall since the beginning of sanctions. Migrants share apartments, do their best to save as much as possible on food and transport, and usually never entertain, sending all saved money back home.

In addition, Central Asian migrants struggle more to find a job as their potential employers now have another option - better educated, culturally intertwined, Russian speaking Ukrainian refugees. The sanctions against Russia hit former Soviet republics with a large number of labour migrants in Russia, as hard as they hit the targeted country. Tajikistan is already witnessing the fall of its local currency, the Somoni, and the rise in food prices. One USD was 5.20 TJS two months ago and now you hardly can find an exchange rate of 5.55-5.60 TJS. A 50 kg bag of flour rose from 155 TJS to 175 TJS. A 5 liters bottle of oil was 40 TJS and now costs 45 TJS. Not since its independence has Tajikistan ever witnessed the fall of prices for food after they went up. The upcoming New Year holiday, as all holidays in Tajikistan, will show even higher inflation as demands for celebratory foods increase.

Sons of Tajikistan are among most vulnerable and racially hated in Russia. A recent survey among Moscovians showed that Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Kyrgyzs do not enjoy a positive attitude of 77, 6% respondents. Although, these three nations do dirtiest and heaviest jobs in Russia, they are more blamed for lack of jobs among the locals and high crime rates. As the economic situation in Russia worsens, more labour migrants from Central Asia will face an increase in xenophobia, unemployment, and will have to return to their countries with empty hands.