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Russia’s black population hasn’t been officially counted, but some studies estimate about 40,000 “Afro-Russians.” Many are attracted by universities that are less costly than in the West. Scores of them suffer racially motivated attacks every year — 49 in Moscow alone in 2009, according to the Moscow Protestant Chaplaincy Task Force on Racial Violence and Harassment, an advocacy group.

After the Soviet Union collapsed, Novozavidovo’s industries were rapidly privatized, leaving it in financial ruin.

High unemployment, corruption, alcoholism and pollution blight what was once an idyllic town, just a short distance from the Zavidovo National Park, where Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev take nature retreats.

Denis Voronin, a 33-year-old engineer in Novozavidovo, said Mr. Sagbo was the town’s first politician to get elected fairly, without resorting to buying votes.

“Previous politicians were all criminals,” he said.

A former administration head — the equivalent of mayor in rural Russia — was fatally shot by unknown assailants two years ago.

The post is now held by Mr. Arakelov, a veteran of the Soviet war in Afghanistan who says he also wants to clean up corruption. He says money used to disappear constantly from the town budget and is being investigated by tax police.

Residents say they pay providers for heat and hot water, but because of ineffective monitoring by the municipality, they don’t get much of either. The toilet in the municipal building is a room with a hole in the floor.

As a councilor, Mr. Sagbo already has scored some successes. He mobilized residents to collect money and turn dilapidated lots between buildings into colorful playgrounds with new swings and painted fences.

As he strolled around his neighborhood, everyone greeted him and he responded in his fluent, French-African-accented Russian. Boys waved to Mr. Sagbo, who had promised them a soccer field.

Sitting in the newly painted playground with her son, Irina Danilenko said it was the only improvement she has seen in the five years she has lived here.

“We don’t care about his race,” said Ms. Danilenko, 31. “We consider him one of us.”