The next large influx of Russians came during World War II, when more than 100,000 of them were evacuated to the Tajik capital and when many wounded Red Army men were hospitalized there. For both, the city was a paradise at that time, Shermatov says, because it was one of the few cities of the USSR where bread was freely sold.
He adds that when he was growing up there were “hundreds” of war invalids, many of them ethnic Russians, on the streets of Dushanbe.
All these groups of Russians played a key role in the development of the Tajaik capital, he says, but they have been largely forgotten. Tajiks today remember national heroes from distant centuries, but they forget those who played a major role in protecting them from Turkic domination and promoting modernization.
One measure of just how large a role they did play, he cotninnued, is to be found in the central city cemetery. There are more than 1.5 million Orthodox graves, a number “larger than the number of residents of the city today.” Many Tajiks can’t believe that there were once that many Russians in their city.
Shermatov says that he has mixed feelings about the changes in the city. The new construction is fine, he continues, but the destruction of many of the Soviet-era monuments and buildings is disturbing, as is the fact that some many Russians are leaving and so few Tajiks know about the Russian role or even speak Russian.