Russian expats in Dubai

Dubai is hugely popular with Russian tourists. But there is a growing community that calls the emirate home. We talk to the expats about their life in Dubai

Expat focus, Area Guides
Maya Imamutdinova, 24

‘When I first arrived in Dubai, I worked as a sales consultant at Harvey Nichols, then as a marketing executive in real estate, but that company went bankrupt, so basically, I’m looking for a job!

I’m from a small town in Russia. Growing up, I’d be watching TV and there would be shows about Dubai, and it was something unbelievable. I came here to set up my career and grow up. It was the only option. Now, I’ve been here five years. It’s really an amazing country. You just have to work hard and you can get what you want. In my village, life is quite slow. Now that I’m here, I do everything I can. I like going to Wild Wadi and to all the malls. I love the Madinat. I think it’s a really beautiful place. It’s perfect for relaxing.

I’m not sure how long I’ll stay out here. I hope I’ll be out here for another five years. Actually, I would like to stay here for as long as I can. Perhaps after here I’ll travel somewhere else. Because it’s a competitive market here, after living in Dubai, you can go all over the world, and they’ll accept you.’

Tamara Fani, 37

My first impression of Dubai was good, although the heat was unusual for me – it was extremely hot back then – 14 years ago. The weather is much better now, but in those days it was exactly like a sauna in summer. I like the safety here – there is no crime. When I left Chechnya, the war was just about to start, so I did not feel safe at all there. There are also all kinds of comforts here – you can have anything, any kind of food, from all over the world. The only thing I miss a lot about Russia is the greenery. And of course my extended family, but I try to see them often.

After I came here, I met my husband-to-be, Hussain Fani, from Iran, and we fell in love. We have two sons, Sam and Daniel, and a daughter, Mary. They are being raised as Dubai citizens, not as Iranians or Russians. They have Iranian passports, but they are children of Dubai. We decided to give them international names so that wherever they are in the world, they will be comfortable with their names. They know Farsi and Russian, but English is their native language. I met most of my Russian friends at the Al Nasr Leisureland ice rink; my daughter skates there every day. Her coach and most of the mothers there – around 70 per cent – are Russian. This is probably because ice skating is a very popular sport in Russia. The community is very friendly and the people I know are good to each other, but I would not say they are a very close community. I don’t know why that is. I have never really been a part of it, though, as I am quite a busy person; I don’t have much time at all for myself.

Elena Robertson Airth, 37

What did I think to Dubai when I first arrived? I was open minded and also very confused! I had a shop back home in Rostov-On-Don, selling dress fabric. I came here on a business trip, but I didn’t really have much idea how people functioned here and my English was very basic to say the least. It took about six months to get to the point where people could understand me properly. It was on that first trip that I met my English husband, Patrick, in Finnegan’s bar at the Park Hotel. He is a musician and that night he was playing the violin – my favourite instrument! We got married six months later at St. Mary’s Church. I then worked as a freelance artist while Pat played his music. That was 12 years ago. We weren’t very well off and only had just enough money to survive, but Dubai was a lot more laid-back then and we had some great times.

Seven years ago I started my interior design business. It was very scary to begin with – we only had three clients and an office in one of Dubai’s most expensive buildings – but we purposely went in at a high level and eventually it worked out well. Now we have a showroom on Beach Road, Elenora, a design studio in the Fairmont, First Impressions, and are investing in our own 4,000 square metre building at Dubai Investment Park.

My sister also moved here with her family a few years ago. We aren’t really involved in the Russian community beyond a handful of friends, but we do love Troyka.

It’s harder to progress back home, whereas you can succeed in Dubai if you have ideas and energy. I’m grateful to the city for this – although it also demands a lot of you. As a result I could see myself here for 10 years. And then next? A châteaux in France with ponies, dogs and cats, a vineyard and a couple of vintage cars for my husband to play with.


Elenora showroom, (04 344 5559) Jumeirah Beach Road

First Impressions, (04 332 9315) Fairmont Dubai

Troyka restaurant, (04 359 5908) Ascot Hotel, Oud Metha

Al Nasr Ice Rink, (04 337 1234) Al Nasr Leisureland, Oud Metha

Wild Wadi Visit, (04 348 4444/ Madinat Jumeirah

Russia factfile

Founded in the 12th century, the Principality of Muscovy overcame two centuries of Mongol domination to expand its control over neighbouring principalities. From the 17th century, the Romanov dynasty pushed east to the Pacific and Peter the Great, who coined the term ‘Russian Empire’, expanded the borders to the Black Sea.

Aristocratic rule and an outmoded feudal system led to much unrest in the early 20th century. After defeat in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05, revolution followed in 1905, leading to the formation of a parliament. World War I contributed to more instability and the house of Romanov was unseated in 1917. Following civil war Vladimir Lenin took charge, ushering in over 70 years of communist rule. The newly formed USSR grew stronger than ever under the brutal Joseph Stalin. After World War II, the USSR was locked in an ideological struggle with the West [the Cold War], but a stagnating economy proved to be its downfall, despite a modernising programme led by Mikhail Gorbachev. The USSR crumbled in 1991 and a period of economic and political turmoil followed.

Rising energy prices and a consolidation of power under Vladimir Putin have reasserted Russia’s strength. The Chechen rebel movement has been repeatedly quashed and the recent conflict in Georgia is further evidence of Moscow’s willingness to reassert its influence on the region. This has caused international consternation, though Russia has been quick to point out that the US plan to place a missile shield in Poland is evidence that it is not just one side that’s still engaged in the great game.

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