Student fear in Russia's 'capital of race hatred'

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The Independent Online

Eighteen-year-old Enrique Urtado, a Peruvian, was set upon last Sunday in the city of Voronezh by a group of 15 to 20 young men who beat him and his friends with metal poles and wooden stakes. Mr Urtado was stabbed twice and died on his way to hospital while two of his friends, also foreign students, were taken to hospital. The two survivors said at least three of the attackers were skinheads.

Researchers are warning that Voronezh has become one of the country's main skinhead recruiting grounds. Elements of the Russian media have called it "the Russian capital of race hatred", saying that Moscow and St Petersburg were vying for the title but that Voronezh has now won.

Mr Urtado and his friends are reported to have lain in pools of their own blood for at least an hour before they were given aid. His death has drawn strong condemnation from Russian politicians who say they are worried that a wave of skinhead violence against foreigners in general and students in Voronezh in particular is damaging the country's image.

Russia is estimated to be home to more than 50,000 skinheads, and anti-foreigner feeling is reported to be on the rise. Gabriel Kotchofa, president of the Foreign Students Association in Russia, said that Mr Urtado was the 13th foreign student to lose his life in a racially motivated attack in the past five years.

Human rights groups say that 44 people were murdered in racist attacks across Russia last year. Most of the serious attacks on students have taken place in Voronezh, a depressed city 300 miles south of Moscow that is famous for its aircraft factory, its high unemployment rate and the fact that it hosts some 1,200 foreign students.

Voronezh has long been a popular destination for Russian-language students from the UK on their year abroad, with the universities of Edinburgh, Manchester and Bath all offering students the chance to study there.

In Soviet times, the city, which has a population of about 900,000, enjoyed a reputation as a quiet provincial backwater, the capital of the surrounding Black Earth region. But today it is more associated with violence against foreigners. The authorities have admitted that there have been 45 attacks on foreigners this year alone.

Mr Urtado's murder has prompted the Russian Ministry of Education to send a special representative to evaluate whether the city should still be recommended as a place to study for foreign students.

His murder has also been strongly condemned by the Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, and a unit of detectives from Moscow has been dispatched to Voronezh to help with the investigation.

The account of the murder emerged yesterday as the trial of two Voronezh youths charged with brutally beating two Chinese students in June began.

In another high-profile case, a 24-year-old from Guinea-Bissau, Amaro Antonio Limo, who was last year stabbed to death in Voronezh by a skinhead gang. Three young men were convicted of his murder and sentenced to up to 17 years in prison.

It is rare, however, for the Russian police to admit that such attacks are carried out "on racial grounds" and in Mr Urtado's case the local authorities have played down suggestions that the attackers were skinheads, preferring to call the incident "hooliganism".

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