The unfamiliar-sounding names can be seen along a stretch of Collins Avenue and East Hallandale Beach Boulevard: Matryoshka Deli Food, Tatiana Club & Restaurant, Kirova Ballet Academy. The owners of these businesses are Russian-speaking professionals catering to Russian-speaking customers.
Welcome to South Florida’s Little Moscow.
Among the most famous of so-called Russian residents in this region are NHL player Pavel Bure and tennis player Anna Kournikova, who own luxury waterfront villas on nearby Miami Beach.
But those who live in the district that stretches from Sunny Isles to Hallandale Beach, could hardly be called “Russian.” They consist of more than 20 nationalities: Ukranians, Belorusians, Jews, Lithuanians, Latvians, Moldavians, Uzbeks and Chechens, to name a few. The only thing that unites all of these people is the Russian language.
Russian speakers began to emigrate during former Soviet Union times when many were fleeing for political and social reasons. Among those relocating to South Florida was a significant Jewish population. Immigrants of the 1970-’80s adopted the United States as their new homeland, so they spent much of their time trying to adjust themselves and their children to American traditions, culture and way of life.
The second wave of Russian immigration came after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. For many, the desire to relocate was for economic reasons.
“These people didn’t ruin their Russian connection — they kept on developing businesses and investing in Russia while staying in Miami,” writes Vera Kishinevski in her book Russian Immigrants in the United States: Adapting to American Culture (New Americans).
The author adds that many of the immigrants from that era still call Russia their home and follow Russian news, politics and the economy. Many also hire Russian teachers for their children.
At the Russian-named shops, cafes and bars that dot the bilingual Sunny Isles/Hallandale Beach district, customers can find just about any service in Russian faster than in English. Lawyers, doctors, hair stylists, tourism managers and journalists are ready fulfill the needs of Russian-speaking clients.
Janna Kirova, founder of Kirova Ballet Academy of Miami, has spent about 10 years teaching classical Russian ballet to American, Russian and Hispanic children. A professional dancer trained at the prestigious Vaganova Academy in St. Petersburg, Russia, Kirova said she can’t imagine herself without endless ballet classes. She teaches Russian-style choreography to her 200 students.
“Ballet is undoubtedly one of Russia’s symbols,” Kirova said. “As opposed to other arts, it’s been cultivating in our country throughout its whole history, even in the Soviet times. So it’s literally our natural way to express feelings in motion.”
“When I watched a ballet performance for the first time in my childhood, I was fascinated by its airy beauty and symbolism,” she said. “Ballet has become my way of life, my language and my love.” While Kirova’s dance academy has survived, other businesses in the Russian-speaking district have struggled, and a few have closed over the years.
Matryoshka Deli Food, which opened in November 2012, has become a popular gathering spot for Russian-speakers in Sunny Isles Beach. According to store owner Tatyana Pugachova, “It is a supermarket and bistro with traditional Russian food and with the high level of service that the Americans are used to.”