“How can you love life without justice, without law? My family died without any justice, my husband was taken somewhere without any justice, there is no democracy, only violence. No, I do not love my country.”
Martien was born in a small village in North Kivu 26 years ago. Her father was a college teacher, and her mother was unemployed as she was nursing Martien and her five brothers and sisters. The girl grew up, graduated from school and traveled to Kinshasa to study. This saved her: in 2007, her entire family died at the hands of the Rwandan military.
Martien met her future husband after graduating university during her internship at the Samaritan charity center. He was a decorator who designed wall newspapers and painted pictures. They got married almost immediately, on his birthday – May 19.
“We had a very simple life. We were not rich: my husband earned fifty dollars, out of which we spent twenty on food and set aside another twenty dollars for the future, and then we paid ten dollars for renting a house on the outskirts. It was a very poor house, but we had a tiny bit of land and grew vegetables there. We were saving up. We were happy: we dreamed of a family, of future children, I imagined how I would go to work, how I would send the children to a good school.” Martien is a nurse by education, and she wanted to find a job in her field, but that was almost impossible. This is why she was doing an internship, which allowed her to do something useful and learn, albeit without pay. At some point her husband changed his line of work: he and his friends began working as a group of freelance operators, sometimes for the TV channels of the country. They filmed everything: weddings, holidays, political events.
“There is no work at all in Kinshasa, almost none. This is why the youth form groups to survive,” says Martien. “It was like that back then too: 2015, at the end of January, Kabila’s attempt to change the Constitution.”
The people of DR Congo dislike the president, and for good reason: Joseph Kabila, one of the oldest African dictators, has been in power for more than 15 years, three presidential terms. Nothing good has happened in the country during this time: the conflicts in the east continue while government troops terrorize the opposition and ordinary citizens who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, there is poverty and unemployment in the country. “I believe he has to leave,” says Martien. “He has brought us a lot of suffering, we do not have good schools, there is nothing at all in the countryside, there is no food, the people are starving, the food is very expensive, and the poor cannot buy anything. It is impossible to find milk even for young children. Meanwhile my country is very rich, there is gold, there are diamonds.”
The Democratic Republic of the Congo is part of the refugee cycle in Africa: the country itself received millions of displaced people from other countries, and millions of Congolese left the country in search of asylum elsewhere.
Everyone was hoping that Kabila would leave his post in the election of 2015, but the president first postponed the election and then announced his intention to change the Constitution so as to remain in power. Once it became clear that the president did not intend to leave, clashes broke out in the capital and purges among the opposition and former government supporters began.
At the end of January, demonstrations began. Martien’s husband was there. “He was working for a national TV channel. When the people began to demand for the electoral law not to be extended and for elections to be arranged, the president simply sent soldiers to kill people. And it was a real slaughter,” Martien recalls. Street riots were accompanied by power outages, Internet shutdowns, and communication blackouts. There were so many victims that they did not even get buried: some dead bodies were simply dumped on the outskirts of the city.
Her husband was identified in March – most likely the TV gave out his contact information for fear of retaliation. “Police came to me because I was staying with my husband. They were looking for copies of that footage but did not find anything. They abducted him and raped me. I was told not to look for my husband anymore. I still do not know who the father of my daughter is – my husband or one of the policemen.”
Martien began to hide: fearful that it would happen again, she moved to live with her friend, who was working in a restaurant at the time. She told Martien about a man who helps – a white man who often dined at that restaurant. His name was Valentin, and he turned out to be Russian.
Martien was not planning to go to Europe: the farthest she was ready to travel was Brazzaville. But Valentin offered her to go to Europe. He took all the money she had after selling her property – a thousand dollars, and a few weeks later Martien got her passport. A Russian visa was inside.
“It was very scary. It was my first time at the airport. I’ve only heard about the USSR at school, I did not know what Russia was or where Moscow was located. The first time I heard the name of that city was at the airport. It was very scary to fly.”
Valentin assured Martien that Moscow is just a transit and that his friends will immediately send her to France. This is what the woman was counting on when at the end of 2015 she ended up in Moscow in November with a small suitcase. “I arrived by Turkish airlines and saw a monsieur who had my name written on a piece of paper. When I saw it, I told him it was me, Martien. The “monsieur” led Martien to a car and took her to his house. He showed her the shower and the fridge, and then he took her passport and promised to obtain the French visa after two weeks. However, that did not happen, and Martien had to give birth in Russia.
“Almost immediately he wanted to force me to have sex with him. I refused because I was pregnant. I told him, “No, I can’t.” But he kept forcing me.” Martien spent over two months in the apartment of that man, but in the end she managed to escape: he was drunk and forgot to close the front door.
“I think that those men, Ruslan and Valentin, were engaged in human trafficking. When Ruslan found out I was pregnant, he was beside himself with anger and kept insisting that I have an abortion. Also there were a lot of women’s clothes in his apartment even though I had not seen other girls there, so I think they were there before and after me.”
Martien escaped with nothing, she did not even have warm clothes. It was the end of January. She found other Africans in the metro who helped and sheltered her for several weeks. In February she gave birth to a child, and almost immediately she contacted the Civic Assistance Committee. We are now supporting Martien, who has nothing left, helping her with housing and providing her advice on obtaining asylum.
It has only been a year since the unrest in Kinshasa.
Text: Elena Srapyan
Pictures: Alexandr Fyodorov