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WHILE THE OIL BOOM has yet to make Siberia a magnet for Russia's knowledge class, it is attracting many other newcomers: impoverished immigrants from beyond Russia's borders. Early one morning, in a vacant lot just off the highway to Filipenko's showcase capital, a group of about 15 shabbily dressed men ranging in age from their 20s to their 40s are waiting for offers of work, however menial. A white Nissan pulls up, and several of the men walk over to talk to the driver, who is looking for a few hands to dig potatoes. But his offering price, just under ten dollars a day, isn't enough, and he drives away without any takers.

These men are what Russians, borrowing a German word, call gastarbeiters—guest workers. They are nearly everywhere in Khanty-Mansi. Most are Muslims from Tajikistan, the former Soviet republic in Central Asia whose economy was shattered by civil war in the mid-1990s. They come here in spring and return home before winter arrives. It's not every day they find a job, but when they do they can earn about $20 lugging bags of cement for a construction crew or doing household cleaning. They wire funds back to their families, and their employers avoid paying taxes on the wages.

The men balk at my request to see their living quarters. One says he is ashamed to show me how he lives. "I don't want you to get the wrong idea," he says. "We are not bandits; we are civilized people. We just need work."

The men are supposed to obtain registration papers certifying their place of residence, but, as they tell me, they have no authorized place to live, bunking instead in unheated garages illegally rented to them. A work boss—a kind of Mafia figure—obtains papers for them by bribing the registration office, but those documents, listing a false address, leave the gastarbeiters at the mercy of the police. When they are found out, they're sometimes forced to pay a spot "fine" (read "bribe"), and repeat offenders may face deportation. Russia's federal government recently put the burden on employers to register the workers and check their identifications, but such measures are unlikely to stem the tide so long as the oil boom continues.

A FLOOD OF RUSSIANS from economically depressed cities west of the Urals is also swelling the oil towns of western Siberia. Forty years ago Surgut was a collection of wooden hovels, in a place where temperatures can plunge to minus 60 degrees Fahrenheit and midwinter darkness lasts for all but a few hours a day. Today Surgut is one of western Siberia's largest cities, with 300,000 people. The new arrivals are voting with their feet, a sign that Russia's new market economy is actually working.

The polish and prosperity on view in Surgut were once unthinkable in Russia's hinterlands. A combined day care and preschool the city recently remodeled with 5.2 million dollars largely from oil revenue now has a heated indoor swimming pool and hydromassage whirlpool; an animal collection with rabbits, turtles, and parrots; and a room with a small wooden stage on which colorfully costumed children diligently perform fairy tales. When weather doesn't permit outdoor exercise, the children can ride around in toy cars in a large, glass-enclosed playroom kept at a moderately chilled temperature. And then the toddlers can be soothed by a hot drink from the herbal tea bar.

I understand that the "foreigner" is being shown the finest kindergarten in town, but only so much can be faked. Stuck in Surgut's traffic jams are as many Hondas, Toyotas, and Nissans as inexpensive Russian-made Ladas. Two-car families are becoming more common with the rise in living standard.

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