There are many rumors (not without truth) about the Russian militzia and their habit of demanding money and bribes. At first stories of abusive militzia harassing foreigners just for a few extra rubles put me on edge. Anytime militzia were around, I worried, laid low, and kept walking without making eye contact. But on the metro at night, the militzia seem like a different breed. Rather than being frightened by them, I am continually impressed with their diligence and ability to keep people safe on the metro. I have two first hand examples supporting the idea that militzia protect the public, and zero first-hand, but a few second-hand, stories about militzia harassing foreigners.
One night after work, Rachel and I got on the metro at about the regular time, 10 PM. This seems like a reasonable enough time to be on the metro, especially considering that people are still in their business suites. On this day like any other day, we hopped into a random train car. Rachel sat in an open seat, and I stood by. Not long after the train started moving a fight, between two grown men, erupted. A small old lady rushed to grab a seat near Rachel, and I stood and stared, dumbfounded for too long before realizing that this fight could easily escalate to the point where I might be in the line of fire. (This realization came when one man started ramming or pushing the other toward our area of the car.) As I moved to change my position and put more people between me and the two men, I began to wonder if anyone would do anything. It had been about 30-45 seconds in reality, but it felt like minutes. Finally, one man stepped in to try to break up the fight. It took another long 30-45 seconds for another man to realize that he should also step in or the fight would keep going and maybe become larger. This fight, of course happened in-between stops, while the train was moving. Finally, the two men separated the fighters, and it seemed everything would stop, but people did not move back to their old seats, and there was a large bit of empty space around the men. When the train stopped at the next stop, I expected at least one of the fighters to get off the train, so as to prevent another fight, but they just sat there next to each other mumbling things back and forth. After the train had stopped for a split second and other passengers began to trickle on, the men were at it again! Perhaps they believed our protectors had stopped paying attention, but whatever the case, the militzia came running, grabbed the men and took them off the train. This was my first experience seeing the militzia in action, and I suddenly felt safer and not so frightened by the men and women in uniform.
The second example is less eventful. Last night, Rachel and I headed away from a housewarming party and raced to catch the metro before it closed at 1:30 am. We caught the last train out to Коньково (Kon’kovo), and as we boarded at Октябрьская (Oktyabrskaya), I noticed the militzia watching people on the platform. At first I was confused and a little nervous, but as the train moved onto the next station and the next, I realized we had definitely caught the last train. The militzia were making sure that no one was left on the platform, and if there had been a fight or a problem, they would have taken care it. No incident occurred last night, but I was happy to know that the militzia were there, just in case.