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“I feel ashamed, hurt and scared”. Russian-speaking emigrants in Europe


“You should have sat there and kept quiet, you traitor.”

Lena has been receiving such messages on Instagram regularly for several days now. She is 32 and has three children. The eldest daughter will turn 7 this summer, and the youngest is just a year old. Lena lives in Prague, where she moved with her family in 2021. In Russia, her husband is recognized as a foreign agent. 

We asked Lena and other emigrants from Europe, who left Russia in different years and for various reasons, to tell us whether and how attitudes towards them have changed in the light of the events. Is it true that the degree of Russophobia in the world is now off the charts?

For obvious reasons, they refused to give their surnames or provide links to their social media accounts.

Read these stories. Many of them are inspiring. Try to answer the question yourself: who is man to man?

Elena, Czech Republic

“ There is no hatred. I can see it and feel it. Not even at the rallies. Here, the majority divides the state and the people who live in Russia. It’s nice to know, but it doesn’t remove the collective responsibility. 

Bulling is a very acute topic here. Its manifestations are carefully and clearly suppressed. We haven’t experienced it yet. My children study at the international school, a lot of children from various countries with different cultures and religions study there, they learn each other’s history and customs. A great deal of attention is paid to this. So if the children have any questions, they always find the answers.   

28 February was the first day at school after the holidays and the first since these events began. All parents received the letter, in which the principal expressed her and the whole school teaching staff's willingness to discuss the children's questions about it, to explain and help deal with anxiety and excitement, if necessary. She also assured us that bullying for any reason would be strictly suppressed.

In the Czech Republic, tolerance, respect and mutual understanding are taught from kindergarten age.

At home, however, only our eldest daughter asked us about it, and she was very excited about what was happening. There have been tears. But we talked a lot about it the last few days because silence will only increase the fears in her head. We have relatives both in Ukraine and in Russia. Of course, we are worried. 

These days, both locals and foreigners are driving to the border with Ukraine in their cars. They are helping refugees to get to the place they need and collecting big trucks of humanitarian aid. The majority of cafes provide refugees with free food and donate part of the proceeds to help those affected. Everyone is united in this impulse: Russians, Belarusians, Ukrainians and, of course, Czechs. It's unbelievable!

Our school organizes charity coffee mornings for parents, where you can talk to others and breathe out. All the money collected for coffee is donated to one of the charity funds. 

I've already taken a whole boot of essentials twice myself: food, bandages and nappies, hygiene items, chargers etc.

Every day I look at my children, and every time I repeat: we have taken them away. Then life makes sense again.” 

Meanwhile, the Czech government on 4 March declared a state of emergency due to the large refugee influx. Prime Minister Petr Fiala announced this at a press conference. 

Also, during the briefing, he added that there is no danger to the refugees or the republic. The Prime Minister asked citizens not to panic and reminded them that the Czech Republic is part of the European Union and NATO, which guarantee the security in the region. 

Till 10 March, approximately 200 000 Ukrainian refugees had already arrived in the Czech Republic.

Victoria, Switzerland

“ Everything that is happening now is a nightmare! It would never have been in my darkest nightmare. Terrible! Very disturbing.

Absolute suspense and uncertainty. Absolute shock and horror.

On the first day, February 24, I turned on the news in the morning, Euronews and BBC, and what I saw there shocked me to the core, it was impossible to watch without tears, it was impossible to believe that this was happening. Two years into the pandemic the world was already in a state of horror and coma, and now this.

All hopes and plans for the future, basically to meet with the relatives in Russia soon, crashed in one moment.

The attitude to Russians here, as I noted, didn’t change. In Switzerland, it’s not common to invade other people’s personal space, to break boundaries the people are very discreet in their daily life. In kindergarten, everything is alright, but it seems to me that some teachers look at us sympathetically.

At work, I have two colleagues from the Baltics. They are from Latvia and Lithuania, young guys. Moreover, I have two colleagues from Kyiv, also young. And we also have a translator who comes from Kyiv. The first few days after it happened, I had to go to work on the same work shift as my colleagues from the Baltics. And I didn’t know what they would say and how they would react. I must say that they were also very shocked, of course, more so than colleagues from other countries.

But just after talking with the colleagues from the Baltics, I felt better, we shared our thoughts and feelings, and it helped to get through the first difficult days.

In the following days, the colleagues from Kyiv came to the office to help. I didn’t know what they thought and how best to behave with them. I decided to speak with them in English just in case.

Someone I asked straight out, a little jokingly: can I still speak Russian with you? But they started speaking Russian immediately. We didn’t discuss anything else with them because there was nothing to discuss, it was clear to everyone. 

I haven’t noticed any hostility towards myself or Russian people, in general.”

At the moment, Switzerland joined the sanctions imposed by the European Union against Russia over the events in Ukraine, Reuters reported, according to the Government statement.

“ On 28 February, the Federal Council decided to apply sanctions packages, which the European Union imposed on 23 and 25 February.” said the statement.

Switzerland also joined the personal sanctions against Russian President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin and the Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov. The restrictions are already in force.

In addition to this, Switzerland has banned five Russian oligarchs “who are close to Putin” from entering the country,  said Justice Minister Karin Keller-Zutter. She didn’t give any names on the grounds of confidentiality.

Meanwhile, some media in the country acknowledge that the Swiss government is taking the “diplomatic route” that promises “potential benefits”.

Elena, Israel 

“I am ashamed, hurt and scared. For over a week now, I have been in constant shock and refuse to believe what is happening.

My hometown is St. Petersburg, but I have been living in Israel for more than ten years. I have never been ashamed to say where I am from until recently. 

For a week now, whenever I say that I’m from Russia, as if making excuses, I add that that is not a Russian “special operation”, is not a “special operation” by Russians against Ukraine and Ukrainians.

And explaining this has been a frequent occurrence lately. I almost fought today with a classmate who thinks that everything is right and we can’t backtrack. 

Israel got used to a state of war. There are psychologists at schools and kindergartens who help children and parents to accept or at least understand what is happening.

Tomorrow my son’s friend, who was visiting his Grandmother in Odessa when this all started, will return to kindergarten. They walked by foot to the border with Moldova and only today returned home.

In Germany, my daughter’s classmate is waiting to return home. I hope children will quickly forget about that horror they had to go through.

On 2 March, Israeli media published new entry rules for Ukrainian refugees, referring to the Israel Interior Ministry:

  • New repatriates who have received the visa from “Nativa” six months ago or more can repatriate without having to put a new visa in their passport.

  • Ukrainian nationals who want to apply for repatriation while already in Israel have to inform the Ben Gurion Airport Border Guard and the Nativa employee will be called directly to the airport.

  • Spouses of Israelis living in Ukraine can enter Israel as tourists by presenting a marriage certificate and children's birth certificates.

  • In case the Israeli spouse has children from the previous marriage, they also can enter Israel as tourists. It also requires children’s birth certificates and the permission of the other parent who stayed in Ukraine. However, it’s noted that even without this permission, the child will be allowed to enter the country.

  • Ukrainian nationals arriving in Israel during this period will be allowed into the country if the Israeli national pays a deposit of  10 000 shekels for his guest. The deposit must be paid at the Office of the Population Registry at Ben Gurion Airport during its opening hours. It is advisable to do so in advance. The Israeli who pays the deposit undertakes that his guest will leave Israel in one month.  After the deposit has been paid, the Ukrainian citizen for whom the deposit has been paid will be able to enter the country.

  • If the Ukrainian national who is to be invited to Israel has a criminal record or has previously applied for refugee status in Israel, has violated the visa regime or has been convinced of other violations, he will either be refused entry or required to pay a higher deposit.

Ekaterina, Germany

“One day, my friend and I went into a cafe. The waiter asked: "Where are you from?" I internally cringed but told the truth. “We are Russians”. He said:” Russians from Russia or Ukraine?” I answered that we are from Russia. I thought he was about to throw us out, and he said: “Oh, you can’t imagine how sorry I am for you. I’m from Yugoslavia, hang in there!”.

I confess I was afraid of being insulted, of the negativity. There is no negative. Neighbours, colleagues, strangers on the street -  in general, all Germans are sympathetic and supportive. They say it is not people’s fault.

The German chancellor gave a speech in which he said that all Russians should by no means be identified as invaders and that ordinary people were not to blame.

Ukrainians in Germany think so too! No one said a bad word".

According to the German statistic agency (Destatis), there were 254,325 Russian citizens living in Germany as of 2018. It is harder to establish the number of Russian speakers, but it is around 3 to 6 million.

According to analysts, more than 20,000 refugees from Ukraine will arrive in Berlin soon.

"It is a very volatile indicator. We can't predict how the situation will develop further. It is more likely that the number of migrants will increase rather than decrease”, said mayor Franziska Giffay.

Elena, Andora

"A week of pain, fear, emptiness and despair. A feeling of impossibility of what is happening. In the first days, there were conflicts in the chats of the Russian-speaking population, where there were both Russians and Ukrainians. Now comes the realisation that the majority is against what is going on. No matter what the passport is.

We live in Andora, a small country mostly made up of ex-pats from all over the world.

We have not experienced any aggression from the locals so far. Everyone is sympathetic and understanding. 

Our children study in an international school. My eldest daughter, aged 15, had lessons on the first day about the events, discussing the situation openly, without shifting the blame to all Russians. 

Now the schools are on holiday, hopefully, there will be no bullying when they return to studying too. Our families are in Russia, which is being cut off from the rest of the world more and more every day, and there is no telling yet when we will be able to see them.

It's only been a week, but it feels like an eternity, and there's only darkness ahead".

Gianna, Finland

“ It is a huge tragedy with unpredictable consequences for everyone. The pain is especially great for the ordinary people caught up in the conflict zone. We pray for everyone! This is what we can do, not counting the humanitarian aid".

By Ekaterina Komova

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