Of course, as a true masochist, I went to Palace Square to look at those hearts, small and large, supposedly symbolizing the sister cities of Petersburg and Mariupol. It is clear whose heart is the small one, and whose the big one, in the imperial capital. My thoughts about this are unprintable, so I’ll omit them.
But I went for curiosity’s sake: how many people would be getting their pictures taken in front of the hearts? As I’d supposed, it was a lot of people.
I saw much more than I’d expected. It was a total trash fest. There were the hearts, people taking fotochki, as they say now, frozen Peter the Greats walking around, carriages circling the square, and a drunk-looking little dude playing the accordion right there.
But no one seemed to be paying attention to the unauthorized inscription on the heart — black and large and truthful. (See the last two photos.)
While I was standing there, however, both citizens and law enforcement agencies finally noticed it. And they will call it vandalism, of course.
Source: Marina Varchenko, Facebook, 18 December 2022. Translated by TRR
A Petersburg woman detained on Palace Square has been charged with “discrediting” the army, the press service of the Interior Ministry’s Petersburg office has informed Bumaga.
Earlier, city media reported that the inscription “Murderers, you bombed it to smithereens. Traitors” had appeared on an installation dedicated to the sister-city relationship between Mariupol and Petersburg, and that a juvenile female had been detained.
When Bumaga asked it whether these reports were true, the press service of the Interior Ministry’s Petersburg office replied that on the afternoon of December 18, the police had detained seventeen-year-old girl on Palace Square “for committing illegal actions.” She was charged with an administrative offense for public actions aimed at “discrediting” the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation (per Article 20.3.3 of the Russian Federal Administrative Offenses Code).
The installation appeared on Palace Square on December 12. Rotundareported that the Petersburg authorities ordered it back in September. According to the contract, the city spent 1.05 million rubles on the installation.
On December 18, an inscription appeared on the installation, after which the structure was partially disassembled. Workers told our correspondent that the installation would remain on the square, but would spend the next few days without cladding until the inscription was removed from it.
Source: Bumaga, 19 December 2022. Translated by TRR
Dec 19 (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin on Monday ordered the Federal Security Services to step up surveillance of Russian society and the country’s borders to prevent risks from abroad and traitors at home.
Speaking ahead of Tuesday’s Security Services Day — widely celebrated in Russia [sic] — Putin said the “emergence of new threats” increases the need for greater intelligence activity.
“Work must be intensified through the border services and the Federal Security Service (FSB),” Putin said.
“Any attempts to violate it (the border) must be thwarted quickly and effectively using whatever forces and means we have at our disposal, including mobile action units and special forces.”
Putin instructed the FSB to maximise their “use of the operational, technical and personnel potential” to tighten control of the society.
The FSB, the main successor to the Soviet-era KGB, has already been operating in Russia as an expansive surveillance and censorship apparatus and Moscow’s invasion in Ukraine has involved a large swathe of the security services.
“Maximum composure, concentration of forces is now required from counterintelligence agencies, including military intelligence,” Putin said, according to transcript of his speech provided by the Kremlin and translated by Reuters.
“It is necessary to severely suppress the actions of foreign special services, quickly identify traitors, spies and saboteurs.”
The FSB, headed by Putin ally Alexander Bortnikov, will also increase oversight of mass gatherings, strategic facilities and energy infrastructure.
Since the start of the war, demonstrations and dissent have been swiftly quelled in Russia, with more than 1,300 detained in September at protests denouncing Putin’s military mobilisation of 300,000.
The LED composition “Double Hearts” has been installed on Palace Square in honor of the sister city relationship between Petersburg and Mariupol, as reported on the city’s VK page.
The “Double Hearts” project was approved by Governor Alexander Beglov. Earlier, the installation was on display in a Mariupol city park. It symbolizes the unity, friendship, and love between people living in the sister cities.
Earlier, 78.ru reported that Petersburg authorities would hold a “Wish Tree” event for children from Mariupol.
Palace Square right now. It’s a three-minute walk from here to the house where I grew up and the school where I studied. Right there is the Hermitage, where I used to work.
I wish this were a dream and I could wake up.
Source: Tatyana Razumovskaya, Facebook, 13 December 2022. Thanks to VG for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader
Alexander Andreyev from St. Petersburg has been killed in the military operations in Ukraine. In 2020, he graduated from School No. 368 in the city’s Frunzensky District. The school administration reported the news on its VK page.
During his school years, Andreyev was the captain of the 368 Superheroes volunteer group, and “from the very beginning he was eager to defend his Motherland,” reports the school’s VK page. In the summer, the young man went to serve and was enlisted in the 76th Pskov Airborne Division, the page reports. Later, he signed a contact, and in early October he was sent to the war zone, the post says.
Alexander was killed on October 18, according to the school administration, when the observation post where the soldier was located came under mortar attack. Andreyev was awarded the Order of Courage and buried in the Avenue of Heroes at Babigon Cemetery, the message says.
This is at least the fourth known death of a Petersburger in the war in Ukraine. Earlier, a school teacher from Petersburg, physical education teacher Vadim Sedov, was killed there. In addition, in the first week of October, Andrei Nikiforov, a member of the Nevsky Bar Association, was killed near Lisichansk. In mid-November, news arrived of the death in Mariupol of Konstantin Simonov, a Petersburger who volunteered to fight in March.
The Smolny [Petersburg city hall] is considering three options for special parking permits for residents of the Admiralty District [rayon], Fontanka.ruwrites. On November 1, paid parking was introduced there, and locals were given the option to park their cars in their municipal precinct [okrug] for 1,800 rubles a year, the online media outlet reported.
Petersburgers recalled that residents of the Central District use similar permits throughout its territory, and not only in their own [smaller] municipal precincts, Fontanka.rureports.
As the media outlet’s journalists have written without specifying their source, there are now three possible options for how paid parking will work for Admiralty District residents:
— everything will remain as it is: supporters of this proposal say that permits are needed so that a person can park outside their house for free, while trips around the district only increase traffic, which is what the reform is meant to combat
— the validity of permits will extend to the entire district: proponents of this idea believe that such innovations will soften the public outcry
— residents of the Admiralty District will be able to choose another district in which their permits are valid, giving them the opportunity to travel around nearby districts without worrying about paying for parking.
According to the media outlet, the Smolny will make a choice in the coming days.
Paid parking was introduced in the Admiralty District on November 1. Now those who want to park their car here have to pay 39 or 100 rubles per hour, depending on the type of vehicle, or buy an expensive monthly or annual pass.
But for those who live in the district, the authorities have introduced special annual parking permits that cost 1,800 rubles a year, but are valid only in the municipal precinct in which the motorist owns property or is registered to live. To park a car in any other municipal precinct, one has to pay the standard fare.
On December 9, our country celebrates Day of Heroes of the Fatherland. On this day, Heroes of the Soviet Union, Heroes of the Russian Federation, and recipients of the Order of St. George and the Order of Glory are honored.
And on this day we want to tell you about a hero of our time, Alexander Igorevich Andreyev, a graduate of our school.
ALEXANDER IGOREVICH ANDREYEV
During his school years, Sasha was the team captain of the 368 Superheroes volunteer movement.
From the very beginning of the SMO, he sought to defend the Motherland. In the summer he went to serve and was able to enlist in the legendary Pskov 76th Airborne Division.
He signed a contract [as a volunteer] and just recently, in early October, was deployed in the special military operation.
On October 17, his unit was involved in heavy combat. When a comrade’s machine gun jammed, Alexander covered him before he himself attacked the enemy’s positions, thus contributing to the further advance of the paratroopers. By the end of the day, an enemy fortification had been captured. The next day, October 18, Alexander was at an observation post when the enemy opened fire with a mortar. He was hit by a shell and fatally wounded.
He died at his combat post. He was twenty years old.
By decree of the President of the Russian Federation, Alexander Andreyev has been awarded the Order of Courage.
Alexander is buried at the Babigon Cemetery on the Avenue of Heroes.
May the memory of this Russian Hero, friend and faithful comrade live forever.
We will never forget you!
Source: Secondary School No. 368 Frunzensky District of St. Petersburg, VK, 9 December 2022. Image of Alexander Andreyev courtesy of School No. 368. Translated by the Russian Reader
Petersburg is all gussied up in sparkling joyful lights. The holiday is coming to our town.
I have just read a letter from an acquaintance in a neighboring country:
“There has been no electricity in my city for almost a month. Previously, it was on for four hours a day, then for two, and then for one to two hours every few days. The last time the electricity was on was Friday for two hours. There are no schedules: it can be turned on at three a.m. when everyone is asleep and you just miss it. Along with electricity, there is also no water and heating, although it’s winter outside. Since electricity is provided for one to two hours every few days, it is only at this time that the cellphone tower begins to send out a signal. The rest of the time there is no mobile connection or internet. We have been plunged into the nineteenth century and life has come to a grinding halt.”
Source: Sergey Abashin, Facebook, 13 December 2022. Photo, above, by the author. Translated by the Russian Reader
Natalia Kharakoz, Evgen Bal, and Bohdan Slyushchynsky all died in March or April.
The story of Evgen Bal’s death is quite terrible. An elderly former submariner, the famous writer was tortured by the Russians over photos with guys from the Azov Battalion. They beat the elderly man with their rifle butts, breaking several ribs.
Source: We Survived in Mariupol, Telegram, 25 July 2022, 1:09 p.m. & 1:28 p.m. Translated by the Russian Reader
78-year-old Ukrainian military pensioner, journalist and writer Evgen Bal died on April 2 after being tortured for days in captivity by the Russian military. The reason for the detention and bullying was the journalist’s friendly relations with Ukrainian servicemen.
The aggressor seeks to wipe out any mention of his crimes from the face of the earth. Therefore, they kill all possible witnesses — military, civilians and journalists.
If Yevgeny [sic] Bal had not died, he could have told about the crimes of the Russian army in Mariupol and its environs.
He would talk about the inhuman conditions in which the Russians are holding captured Ukrainian soldiers and civilians.
Through his articles and books, the world would know how the Ukrainian military, his friends, resisted the Russian invasion of the besieged Mariupol.
He could show how barbaric Russians behaved in the homes of ordinary Ukrainians.
Killings and shootings of journalists are a gross violation of international law. The enemy can turn a blind eye to laws, but he will not be able to close the eyes of the world to crimes. After all, honouring the memory of those who died for the truth, we will continue to tell their immortal stories.
Natalia Kharakoz, journalist, author, member of the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine and the National Writers’ Union of Ukraine, and head of the Azov Literary Club, died in the russian-blockaded Mariupol in Donetsk region.
This was announced by her relative, Mariupol journalist Anna Kotykhova.
In her comment to an IMI representative, Anna Kotykhova told that Natalia Kharakoz’s house burned down and collapsed. After that, the woman had to live and hide in the basement. In early April, the relatives learned about the woman’s death from her neighbors, but tried to find out the circumstances and causes of death. The lack of communication made it difficult to obtain this information.
“An author of countless books and the editor of my books, on the first day of the invasion she emailed me the draft of my next book with the postscript ‘Sending this while there is still Internet access, save it.’ I did.
But I did not save any of her books. The apartments – both mine and hers – burned to the ground along with all the books. And I don’t know if her lines have survived in at least one library, at least one museum, at least in someone’s intact house.
Now I really want to reread her short story ‘Anyuta’s Letters,’ about how Anyuta lived through the Second World War – same Anyuta after whom I was named. But I can only snatch fragments from memory,” Kotykhova wrote.
As IMI reported, as of April 29, 22 journalists had been killed in shelling by the russian occupiers since the beginning of their full-scale offensive in Ukraine.
The Russian occupiers killed Bohdan Slyushchynsky, a doctor of sociology and professor at Mariupol State University.
This was reported on Facebook by the Department of Philosophy and Sociology of Mariupol State University, Censor.NET informs.
“The Department of Philosophy and Sociology, Mariupol State University and the entire Ukrainian sociological community have suffered irreparable losses — as a result of Russian aggression, Doctor of Sociology, Professor Bohdan Slyushchynsky died.
“Bohdan Vasyliovych was the man who created and actively developed the specialty ‘Sociology’ in the industrial city of Mariupol from scratch. He managed to create a unique atmosphere at the department, when all teachers and students really felt like one family. They came to him with good news and support in difficult times, shared their victories and complained about failures. Bohdan Vasyliovych could find his own approach to each of those words. He raised many real professionals and just decent people. Scientist, teacher, musician, poet, talented manager — it is difficult to list all the talents of Bohdan Vasyliovych.
“On this tragic day, the MSU sociological family longs for its mentor. He will always remain in our hearts! Kingdom of Heaven!” said [the]statement.
Source: “Rashists killed Bohdan Slyushchynsky, professor at Mariupol State University,” Censor.Net, 8 May 2022
Archbishop Pitirim of Syktyvkar has called on his parishioners to rally not around Christ, but around Putin, calling the West “the enemy of the human race.”
“After [hearing] the appeal made by His Eminence the President (on supporting the war – ed.), I considered it my duty to appeal to all the clergy, monastics, and God-loving laypeople of the Syktyvkar Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church, as well as to all the patriots of our Northern Region, to rally even closer around our supreme military and political leadership and our valiant army, which, as in the years of the Great Patriotic War, is defending our earthly Fatherland from the insidious enemy of the human race.
“Only by joint prayer and tireless military efforts will we be able to contain the enemy and erect a strong barrier to the West’s aggression.”
It should be noted that “the Great Satan” is Iran’s traditional name for the United States. Meanwhile, the Head of the Spiritual Assembly of Muslims of the Russian Federation, Mufti Albir Krganov, invoked the same metaphor in a speech he made during Eid al-Adha.
Previously, Pitirim (who had already taken holy orders) expressed his pride at being awarded the rank of Cossack colonel.
Source: Sota, 11 July 2022. Photo courtesy of Sota. Translated by the Russian Reader
The officers who raided Father Ioann Kurmoyarov’s home reportedly seized his mobile phone, a laptop, two icons, a cassock and a wooden cross.
He was taken to a police station in St Petersburg, and allowed to make one phone call to his family.
He told them he had been arrested.
Father Ioann is believed to be the first priest imprisoned under laws introduced in Russia to punish those who spread information countering the Kremlin’s narrative of the war.
“I am a prisoner of conscience, suffering for my beliefs. I consider the charges against me and my detention to be illegal,” says Father Ioann now in a statement he dictated to his lawyer in St Petersburg’s Kresty Prison.
Father Ioann adds that he is a Christian pacifist whose moral views are entirely based on the commandments of the Gospel and canons of the Russian Orthodox Church.
“Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called the sons of God,” and “Thou shalt not kill,” are among the quotes he includes in his statement.
On 12 March, just over two weeks after Vladimir Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine, Father Ioann uploaded an eight and a half minute video to YouTube.
In it he said that those who unleash aggression would not go to heaven, and that in this case it was not Ukraine that attacked Russia but the other way around.
“You are the aggressors who attacked and killed civilians. You will not be in any kind of heaven, you will be in hell,” he says of the Russian leadership.
In his video Father Ioann goes on to compare the Russian invasion with violent “jihad” suggesting that bloodthirsty leaders in Moscow should have converted to become “militant Islamists”, a theme that he kept returning to.
“We worried but we just didn’t expect that he would be arrested,” says his brother Alexander Kurmoyarov. He tells me that Father Ioann is currently serving an initial two month detention and is then likely to face trial.
“We thought maybe he would be given a warning by the police, but now we are worried that he will get 10 years in prison,” he says, referring to the maximum sentence Father Ioann could receive.
The only visitor to have seen Father Ioann in Kresty Prison is his lawyer Leonid Krikun who says his client appeared to be in good health and also defiant.
“I told Father Ioann that if he pleads guilty he will probably get a shorter sentence, but he refuses to say he has committed any crime,” Mr Krikun says.
“He says that he would rather serve a longer sentence than admit any wrongdoing and if that happens he will preach to fellow inmates.”
Father Ioann has shown before that he is unafraid of speaking out. He was suspended from the church in 2020 after calling the newly-built Church of the Russian Armed Forces a “pagan temple”.
The Cathedral in Moscow was the brainchild of Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and was due to house frescos that featured President Putin and Josef Stalin as well as scenes that celebrated the Crimean occupation.
In a social media post, Father Ioann said Mr Shoigu should be arrested for offending religious sentiment.
But what makes Father Ioann’s story all the more unusual is that before he got in trouble with the Russian state, he also had a brush with the Ukrainian security service, the SBU.
Ioann Kurmayarov lived in Vinnytsia in central Ukraine for most of his life, his parents having moved there after his father retired from the Russian army.
“Even as a child he was always very outspoken, always searching for the truth,” says his brother Alexander who speaks to me from Vinnytsia.
“It was in the church that he found a place where that search for truth was satisfied,” says Alexander.
But in 2017, Father Ioann made the news in Ukraine for an act of defiance.
With Crimea annexed by Russia and parts of the east occupied by Russian-backed forces, Ukraine expanded laws banning Soviet symbols.
But Father Ioann posted pictures of one of the most controversial of them, the St George’s ribbon.
He was taken in by police for questioning and the SBU brought administrative charges against him.
“He was not radically pro-Russia, he was standing up for freedom of speech and simply believed the authorities were doing the wrong thing by banning displays of the ribbon,” says Alexander.
At the time Father Ioann said he was prepared to pay the fine, worth around $100 (£84.50), but said he would then openly wear the ribbon seeing as he had now paid for the privilege. The Ukrainian case against him was dropped.
He soon moved to Russia where he is already paying a much higher price for speaking out against curbs on freedom of expression.
In April he was defrocked by the Russian Orthodox Church’s Moscow Patriarchate, though members of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad (ROCA) say he has been accepted by them.
More pressing is that he remains behind bars at Detention Centre Number One in Kresty Prison with the prospect of staying there for years. His initial detention period ends on 6 August after which his trial date is due to be set.
“I want him to be found innocent, as a Christian who was talking about Christian values,” says Alexander.
“But I worry about what is going to happen now and I worry about his future.”
There are tens of thousands of refugees from Ukraine in Russia. Some of them are trying to leave Russia for countries in Europe or the Transcaucasia, while others remain in temporary accommodation. Both groups are being helped by Russian volunteers. One of the informal leaders of this movement in Petersburg is Grigory Mikhnov-Vaytenko, a bishop of the Apostolic Orthodox Church and a member of the St. Petersburg Human Rights Council. Farida Kurbangaleyeva spoke with him about why he is not afraid of the Russian security forces, why Ukrainians are being taken to the Far East, and why the Russian Orthodox Church failed to oppose the war.
— How did you start dealing with the problem of Ukrainian refugees?
— In the very first days of the war, we thought about the Ukrainian nationals already living in Russia. According to various estimates, there were from eight hundred thousand to two million such people. We assumed they might have problems. I proposed to the Human Rights Council that we set up a hotline for Ukrainian nationals, and all my colleagues [on the council] supported me. Immediately, there was a large number of inquiries from people trying to leave Russia. In fact, if people’s papers were in order, there was nothing complicated abut the situation. But while we were figuring it out, refugees from Mariupol reached out to us. Som of them wanted to leave Russia, while others wanted to stay. But all of them were asking for legal assistance.
— Could you have imagined that Ukrainians would be brought to Russia?
— To be honest, no. Although it didn’t surprise me. I don’t want issue any judgements now—for this you need to be inside these events. But if you believe what the people directly involved have been saying, there was no possibility of organized evacuation anywhere except to Russia. At least, that’s what these people were told. And yet, when it is said that these people were taken to Russia by force, this is a somewhat inaccurate way of putting it.
— When I spoke with refugees from Mariupol, they said they had wanted to go to areas controlled by Ukraine, but that was tantamount to death—the humanitarian corridor was being shelled all the time.
— I don’t question what they said. I accept it as a fact. There was a humanitarian corridor to Russia, and, apparently, it was quite safe. I know that some people also left for Ukraine, but mostly at their own risk and mainly those who had vehicles. There was no way out on foot, as far as I know.
— But isn’t this violence on Russia’s part?
— When we talk about forcible removal, what I see in my mind’s eye are stills of German shepherds and people being struck in the back with rifle butts. There was no such thing [in this case], of course. But as far as I understand, people were not offered much choice. So, there was an element of there being no alternative. I personally am not ready to speculate about why it happened. I was not an eyewitness myself, and I have not seen any documents in this regard. I have only heard stories.
But it would be much worse if people who found themselves on Russian soil were legally subjected to forced detention, if the authorities prevented them from moving freely. According to my observations, they have not been prevented from doing this. Those who do not want to go to the proposed temporary accommodation facilities can safely go wherever they want.
It is another matter that these people have no money, that they have telecommunications problems, problems with paperwork. In this sense, the Russian state has not been providing them with anything. Ukrainian nationals could not cope without the volunteers who have been helping them obtain papers, board trains, and buy clothes and medicines, including prescription medicines, because there are people with chronic diseases among them.
— But why do the Russian authorities tell Ukrainian refugees to evacuate if they cannot provide for them? Is there no Pharisaism in this?
— I think there is an element of Pharisaism. But, again, now is not the time for making judgements. Now is the time for action. For example, I need to find a place for refugees to spend the night. Here we are talking, but at the same time I am corresponding on a chat, because another family is waiting for help.
The point is that what happened on February 24 is a crime—a crime against humanity, the unleashing of a war of aggression. Period. Everything else is a consequence of this crime.
We’ll figure out a bit later who is a hero and who is a scumbag. But now everyone should do what they can where they can do it. Journalists should write stories, human rights defenders should defend human rights, and caring people should make moral decisions by sharing their apartments, cars, or their own time. Not helping a refugee—even from the point of view of a book called the Bible—is a very grave sin. As the saying goes, “for you were strangers in a strange land.”
— How many Ukrainian refugees are currently in Russia? And how many camps are there?
— There are no official statistics. There are figures from different departments, and they radically contradict each other. The Russian authorities cite certain fantastic figures that are impossible to believe—860,000 people. I don’t understand where they came from, because there are much fewer people in Mariupol. Are they from the Donetsk region? But there seemingly hasn’t been a mass evacuation from there.
I think that these figures, as they pass along the chain through different departments, get zeros and ones added to them. I think that around one hundred thousand people have actually arrived in Russia from the war zone. Several thousand of them have already left, while a certain number of others are planning to leave.
We know of around five hundred temporary accommodation camps. That sounds scary, but you have to understand that there are places housing literally between fifty to seventy people. They’re like small boarding houses. There are probably only a few large camps, like the one near Petersburg, where 550 people have been accommodated. Or, for example, there are around three hundred people at the camp in Vladivostok.
— But why have refugees been taken so far away? Do you have an explanation?
— To be honest, I don’t see any special malicious intent in this. Apparently, somewhere in the presidential administration there was a request to all regions of the federation to ready sites for taking in refugees. And each region reported how many people it could take in. They are still trying to place these people in more or less normal conditions. These are not tent camps or barracks in the taiga.
The regions were also tasked with providing jobs and papers to the people who wanted them. It is clear that no region in the European part of Russia is ready to take in one hundred thousand people and give them jobs. Where would they find them? So, they began spreading people [around the country] as thinly as possible. Taking into account the size of the country, it turned out the way it turned out. We should be grateful that the most distant reception center is in Vladivostok, not Kamchatka.
— The buzz on social media is that this is another [mass] deportation.
— I don’t want to use words lightly. And, since the phrase “special operation” was introduced, words don’t function anymore, they’re finished. The safety of people has been ensured, and tickets from Vladivostok to Moscow, Petersburg, or Tokyo cost no more than money. Of course, this is all redundant. But what can be solved with money is not the problem.
— Can people who have no papers at all leave Russia—for example, if they burned up during bombing?
— Refugees can receive a temporary document called a “Certificate establishing the identity of a foreign national or a stateless person.” It’s a very valuable invention. It is issued at police stations, and features a photo, a seal, and three signatures. With this document, a refugee can leave Russia.
To apply for this paper, a person must confirm their identity in any way. They can even submit an electricity bill, or provide witnesses. For example, a family leaves [Ukraine]: five of them have their papers, but the sixth does not. Cases when an entire family does not have their papers are rare. Besides, there is an analogue of Russia’s Public Services Portal in Ukraine, so in ninety-nine percent of cases it won’t be difficult to confirm a person’s identity.
This document was introduced several years ago. As far as I understand, it was championed by the human rights activist Svetlana Gannushkina and her Civic Assistance Committee—because there were a large number of migrant workers in Russia, and their cases were different. Some people had lost their papers. Or, a person, for example, worked in Tyumen, but their country’s consulate was in Yekaterinburg.
Clearly, the nearest Ukrainian consulate is located outside the Russian Federation. Fortunately, the Russian border service understands this, so [Ukrainian refugees] face no particular difficulties when leaving [Russia].
There are more complex dilemmas. For example, there are infants who were born in the now-infamous Mariupol maternity hospital and did not have time to receive any papers. I met a couple here: the dad and mom are legally married, they have plastic biometric cards, but the child’s only ID is the tag it had on its hand or foot.
— Have you baptized any refugee children?
— I was asked to baptize two children, but at that moment there was no room ready. When I asked for a room to be readied, the baptism was postponed. I think we’ll go there in a week. God willing, we will baptize them.
— Who are more numerous—the people who want to leave or the people who want to stay?
— The overwhelming majority (and among them there are people who are absolutely pro-Russian) say that their greatest desire is to get home. You ask, “But isn’t everything wrecked there?” They reply, “That’s okay, we’ll rebuild it.” We’ll set aside how they imagine reconstruction from a political point of view—it’s not about that. The point is that people want to return [to Ukraine]. And they will do so the first chance they get.
That’s why, by the way, the vast majority of refugees do not apply for the fast-track Russian citizenship they are offered. They get either a temporary residence permit or a residence permit. Even those who don’t want to go to Europe and say “We’ll stay here for a while” still regard returning home as their ultimate task.
— How ethical is the offer of Russian citizenship under such circumstances?
— If we set aside February 24, it is something that is done within the concept that the Russian authorities have proclaimed.
— But we cannot set aside February 24, can we?
— That is why it is an outrage. But within this outrage, there may be things that are completely beyond the pale, and there may be things that, from a humanitarian point of view, make it easier for a person to live at a particular moment.
— It seems to me that this is like torturing a person and serving them cake during the breaks.
— But it’s a slightly more complicated scheme if they are told, “Eat cake and we’ll let you go.” Purely practically, there are people who gave the orders to start shelling, others who set up a humanitarian corridor, and still others in the federal migration service who offer fast-track citizenship. All of them together constitute the state apparatus. But individually, they are different people—who, by the way, also have different judgementsd of what is happening.
A very great misfortune has come into our home. But now, I repeat, is not the time for judgements. Now is the time for action.
If a person asks you to give them underpants, a t-shirt, and a toothbrush, you don’t need to ask them who they voted for in the previous election. You have to give them what they ask.
— If martial law is imposed in Russia, will refugees become more vulnerable?
— Such a turn of events would affect everyone. It’s another matter that I have a rather low opinion of our government’s administrative willpower. In Russia, things are usually loudly announced, but come to naught.
I strongly doubt that the authorities would impose martial law. Most likely, they will again make do by adopting hybrid measures so as not to call things by name, because the level of support for this whole business is quite low. In 2014, all the cars were decked out with Saint George’s ribbons and everyone shouted joyfully, “Crimea is ours!” But now we see the letter Z only on Russian National Guard vehicles.
— What about the opinion polls?
— In an authoritarian country that is smoothly segueing to totalitarianism, the worth of such polls is quite low. People are well aware of what answers are expected from them. By the way, the latest poll by the Levada Center says that support for the war has decreased ten percent in a month. This is quite a serious drop, despite the fact that hysteria is being whipped up.
Yesterday, we sent abroad a [Ukrainian] family who had arrived from Astrakhan. They got to Petersburg by train without concealing from others who they were. They did not hide the fact that they were leaving our blessed country. People gave them food, and money, and toys. This is a very important indicator. All the people they met tried to make amends to them.
— Many volunteers also say that they do not go to protest rallies, but help Ukrainians because they feel guilty.
— Now is not a time when you can change the opinion of the authorities with a protest rally. Now there is a flesh and blood problem—the people who have ended up here [in Russia]. And a lot more problems will start to emerge, because the war does no one any good.
I have an appeal on my hands from two hundred families of conscript soldiers who, as you can guess, wound up in this war without any desire or legal grounds for it. But now the high command won’t issue them papers stating that they were involved in hostilities [and are thus owed veterans’ benefits].
Some of them were injured and need long-term rehabilitation and treatment.
It’s called a “ruined life.” A man goes into the army to serve the Motherland and comes home without legs. But he is told, “Actually, fellow, you’re nobody, and we didn’t send you there.” I’m not even talking about those who came back in zinc coffins. War benefits no one except the idiots at the very top.
— If we go back to the statistics, the Ukrainian authorities say that about 200,000 children have been taken to Russia. It turns out that these numbers also don’t jibe with yours?
— Unfortunately, the situation is so monstrous that I am not sure that there is even one agency that can responsibly cite exact figures about the refugees. Imagine: it is a war zone. Management at each individual site belongs to the operational command located there. From there, people are sent to a variety of pretrial detention camps in the Rostov and Belgorod regions, and so on. And from there they are sent further on.
How well are the records kept there? How systematic and accurate are they? Or do people cross the border and that’s the end of it? If I understand correctly, the Russian border service should, theoretically, have more or less accurate data. It should also be borne in mind that among the refugees there are people who managed to get DNR-LNR passports, and people who managed to get Russian citizenship. Some are even citizens of third countries. My data revolves around the number I cited. Perhaps it is already larger. But in any case, it is tens of thousands of people.
— And what is happening in Russia with Ukrainian children who have been left without parents?
— This is the most important issue we are trying to deal with. Fortunately, so far we have not found documentary evidence of such cases. We know that a few days before the war started, an orphanage was evacuated from the DPR. As for all the other children from Ukraine who are in Russia, if they are not with their parents, they are with legal guardians—meaning grandmothers, grandfathers and so on. So we’ve read a lot of stories about total orphans, but we haven’t encountered them yet.
— Do you know what to do if such children turn up?
— Theoretically, we do. In the interests of such a child, a lawyer would represent them with the consent of its legal guardians. This is a difficult job, because the Ukrainian side would have to be involved. I think we would solve the problem somehow.
— You now communicate a lot with children from Ukraine. They say that a child’s psyche is supple, but surely war leaves an irreparable mark on it?
— Of course it does. We can do a deep dive philosophically and discuss when and how to talk to a child about death—what to do if its hamster has died. But what to do if a loved one has died in front of the child? Today, we helped a family travel on to Estonia. The father and grandfather were killed [in Ukraine]. The grandfather died in the arms of his grandson. The boy was barely eighteen years old. And his two younger sisters saw it. Words and tears fail me. This is monstrous.
— How do you find the right words for them?
— I don’t try to find the right words. I try to behave in such a way that, perhaps, they themselves will feel like talking. Of course, post-traumatic syndrome is a very difficult situation. Very often people need to talk to a person who inspires confidence. But I’m not unique in this. All our volunteers are caring, empathetic people. And they all tell their own stories about the refugees.
A few days ago, we had a difficult case getting a family out of the country. The eldest son, who is seventeen years old, has a severe form of cancer. We carried out the evacuation along with the Ukrainian League of Oncologists, because the boy was scheduled for surgery in Switzerland. That was why the family was evacuated directly there, via Warsaw. One of the younger children, a three-year-old boy, has a shrapnel wound. That is, out of four children [in this family], two are in serious condition.
Naturally, this family communicated with our case managers. Our volunteer asked them a completely standard question in the chat: “Do you have pets? Do you need carriers?” And the mother of these children replied, “No, we don’t need anything: our parrot was incinerated along with our apartment.” Such details reveal the degree of horror that has been occurring there.
Yes, a child’s psyche is supple, but we know that young prisoners kept their memories of Auschwitz for life. Many of those who survived have lived thoughtful, fulfilling lives. But this does not mean that they [the Ukrainian children] will forget everything. A lot will depend on the environment and the circumstances in which they find themselves. This is supremely hard work for many years to come.
— I can’t help but ask you as an Orthodox priest: how do you feel about the ROC’s position on the war in Ukraine?
— I feel bad about it. This stance was the basis for my leaving the ROC clergy—because I’d been seeing this position since 2014. Let’s set aside all the theological chatter and just say it outright: the ROC is a public organization with members in two countries. Naturally, this public organization has all the levers it needs for getting involved in peacemaking and bringing people together. Instead, the organization a priori takes one side: these guys here are right, and those guys there are wrong.
This is no dialogue. This is the clerical habit of preaching from the pulpit, from the position of “I teach, and you listen.” This has facilitated only one thing—a decline in the ROC’s authority among the faithful both in Russia and Ukraine and around the world. Read what Pope Francis had to say about his conversation with [Patriarch] Kirill: [he called him] “Putin’s altar boy.”
— But why does Patriarch Kirill support this war?
— Kirill is a man of the system. He has his assignment, and he is carrying it out. His assignment is to support the party line. He is part of the Russian leadership. Recently, a friend told me that there is Rosneft [the Russian state oil corporation], and then there is Roschurch, the state corporation in charge of spirituality. Rosspirituality is probably the right name for it.
That’s the wrong way of doing things, guys. In any case, [Patriarch Kirill] is the head of a powerful organization. It has tens of thousands of regional branches—let’s call them that. It has tens of thousands of rank-and-file clergy. I’m not even talking about the millions of believers in Ukraine. And Ukraine is a much more religious country, a much more “observant” country than Russia. That is, they are people who don’t go to church only out of obligation. Many people in Ukraine now say, “Yes, we are parishioners of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the Moscow Patriarchate. But, of course, it should stop communicating with Kirill. Of course, Kirill should no longer be our leader.”
I’m not even talking about the huge number of people in Russia who say, “That’s it, we’re not setting foot in that church.” [The ROC] doesn’t have to condemn or anathematize Putin. But it can and should clearly explain the difference between killing and peacemaking.
— Does this mean that Orthodoxy as a whole is losing its reputation?
— The reputation of religion generally will be greatly devalued by this war. Because religious leaders, unfortunately, do not have sufficient resources for peacekeeping missions. Yes, I know a number of clergymen in Ukraine—they are not necessarily Orthodox, many of them are Protestants—who are working in the war zone, evacuating civilians and helping the wounded. This is the Church’s business.
But the Church cannot make political decisions nowadays. Its word doesn’t have the weight it did in the Middle Ages, when wars were stopped and started because the Pope said so. It has no such resources. And there is no Sergius of Radonezh in Russia nowadays who could seal off the churches in Nizhny Novgorod.
One could, of course, do a performance. I could go to Red Square and seal the doors of St. Basil’s Cathedral. It would get written about, but it would be forgotten in five minutes, because [the Church] has now sway over minds. Society has long been de-Christianized.
— But the Pope has spoken out against the war, hasn’t he?
— I have a lot of sympathy for Pope Francis. But the Catholic Church is not just the Pope. There are also a huge number of people who should have worked even more vigorously. Now, unfortunately, what the Pope says is not heard by those to whom it is primarily addressed. Putin does not hear [the Pope], and Kirill does not tell him what the Pope says. We have reached a dead end. This is the trouble with ecclesiastical diplomacy and the Church’s influence.
— Do you cooperate with the Catholic charity organization Caritas?
— I don’t have any prejudices about anyone at all, especially when it comes to humanitarian cooperation. People can be atheists to the fourth degree or Catholics to the eighteenth power, but I say, “Lord, what a blessing that there are people who care.” Basically, we are willing to work with absolutely everyone—with the police, the border service, the Defense Ministry, the FSB. If it can be of real benefit to people, I say let’s cooperate, let’s look for a solution. If people are sitting and talking it’s always better than when they are looking at each other through the sight of a gun.
— Some of the volunteers helping the refugees have now become targets of harassment. Aren’t you afraid of this?
— I’m definitely not afraid of bullying. I didn’t experience it in 2014, when I supported Ukraine. Although I was asked a lot of puzzled questions. I think that the events that are happening now with the volunteers have to do with the fact that one of the heads of the regional special services isn’t quite up to his job. He misunderstands the state’s goals and objectives.
I talked to the big bosses in Petersburg and got their full agreement that everyone who wants to leave [Russia] should be sent away as soon as possible. This is in the public interest. Because otherwise we end up with an unmanageable number of socially disadvantaged people who still have personal ties to Ukraine and may have grievances against the Russian state.
Today, they say they want to live here, but tomorrow? Are we sure? Maybe we should get them out of her faster? And if the state does not have the material resources to keep them here and send them off, then thank God that there are volunteers who are willing to help these people go quietly and calmly wherever they want. [The officials] thought it over. They said, “This is an approach that suits the state.” I replied, “Well, you see.”
— Is it true that volunteers do not unite in one big movement and instead operate as discrete partisan detachments intentionally so that the authorities don’t harm them?
— We don’t have time to unite in one big movement. We would start spending time on organizational work, on electing a chair—on nonsense. Now there is a simple task: a man arrives at a train station [in Petersburg] and writes, “I have three bags and four kids.” He needs to be helped through simple efforts.
You can even just stand at the Moscow Station in Petersburg holding a sign that says, “I am driving refugees to Ivangorod.” That’s it. If you seem basically trustworthy, [the refugees] will approach you.
I am very happy (if I can say that at all nowadays) when I see thousands of volunteer chats. All my hopes rest on this.
People ask me, “Aren’t you afraid that half of [the people on the volunteer chats] are officers in the special services?” If that’s the case, then I’m doubly happy that they see and read everything. A person with the remnants of a healthy psyche cannot help but reach the right conclusions. It is a lot of fun to press a button and destroy an abstract opponent from afar. You listen to [pro-Putin TV talk show presenter Vladimir] Solovyov and go into battle for denazification. But when you come across people who have nothing to do with it at all—such as the dead grandfather [that Father Grigory mentioned, above] and the dad, who worked as an engineer at the Azovstal plant—you get a completely different picture.
— Aren’t you afraid of being named a “foreign agent”?
— I am a foreign agent by definition, because I abide by the the laws of the Kingdom of Heaven. It is not subject to the jurisdiction of the Russian Federation. This does not mean that I would deliberately and maliciously violate the laws of the state. But there are primary laws and secondary laws. The primary laws are: do not kill, do not steal, and so on down the line. So it is shameful to be afraid.
I don’t believe that I am violating the law by doing what I do. I obey it scrupulously. The law does not stipulate that the phrase “no war” is a crime.
Nor do I think that these words discredit the armed forces. I believe that they are words that any sane person would say. War is something that should not be part of humanity in the twenty-first century.
— Now you are you refraining from judging what is happening. When can we make this judgement?
— First of all, the fighting must end. Secondly, all refugees must find a home. It is clear that everyone won’t be getting home anytime soon. And considering such dangers as the use of nuclear weapons, this whole business could drag on for a very long time.
But that day will come. Someday a peace treaty or an act of surrender will be signed. The guns will stop talking. Not only analysts, but also historians will start talking. Sooner or later, judges and prosecutors will have their say. It’s a very sad spectacle. Of course, I would have rather that Russia had avoided this shock. But that didn’t happen.
Source: Farida Kurbangaleyeva, “‘I am a foreign agent by definition, because I abide by the laws of the Kingdom of Heaven’: how a Petersburg priest who left the Russian Orthodox Church has been helping Ukrainian refugees,” Republic, 10 May 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader
Specialists from Russian Ministry of Defense have started construction of 12 residential buildings in Mariupol in June 2022. About 2.5 thousand residents will occupy more than a thousand apartments in new five-storey buildings. The flats will be fully renovated.
Commercial and non-commercial property and social facilities, such as shops, will be on the ground floors. There will be recreation areas, children’s and sports grounds with full equipment, including play and exercise facilities.
In Mariupol, it will be one of the first such complexes.
Source: Russia House in Kathmandu, Facebook, 17 July 2022
So, what’s to be done? The United States needs to open a diplomatic channel with Moscow to get a clearer sense of what would be an acceptable settlement for all parties. Right before the invasion, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman indicated “possible support” for an approach in which Ukraine would pledge military neutrality and give up its bid for NATO membership. If it will stop the suffering of ordinary Ukrainians, why should the United States not encourage Ukraine to put that back on the table now? Given its ongoing struggles with corruption and undemocratic practices, Ukraine is still far from meeting the democratic criteria of NATO membership anyway.
Promises of unlimited support only embolden what is starting to be seen as the Ukrainian president’s “reckless stubbornness” in outright rejecting the possibility of territorial concessions. President Biden has repeatedly expressed that there are limits to U.S. assistance — it does not help Ukraine to pretend otherwise. It is rare that a war ends in total defeat, and it is not realistic to expect Moscow will fully retreat. U.S. policy must now shift to embrace this reality, and plan for the months ahead when deep divisions within the Western coalition grow, and when, in a lopsided war of attrition, Ukraine might lose even more ground.
Mark was born and raised on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. He received a BA from UPenn, an MA from Columbia, and a PhD from USC’s Annenberg School. His doctoral research examined international transitions of journalism from statist to capitalist media models.
Mark worked on John Kerry’s presidential campaign and the 2008 Obama campaign. During the Obama administration, he regularly provided political and policy analysis on MSNBC, FOX News, and CNBC. His writing has appeared in The Boston Globe, TIME Magazine, PBS, Politico, The Huffington Post, NBCNews.com, and elsewhere.
His knowledge about the role which media play in driving — and sometimes thwarting — democratic progress was what first caught the eye of EGF. And Mark was excited by the innovative and important work being led by Allyn Summa and Ian Bremmer at the new organization. Mark wanted to work in the world of ideas, but also knew that world all too often seemed unapproachable to most Americans. He wanted to help foster a conversation around the urgent foreign policy challenges our country currently confronts. EGF has enabled him to do just that.
He currently lives in Brooklyn with his wife and two young sons. After a childhood on Cape Cod, he enjoys spending as much of his free time as possible at one beach or another. He is learning to whittle, but despite being from a long line of carpenters, has found it to be quite challenging. He loves reading, and George Saunders, Philip Roth and Marilynne Robinson are among his favorite authors.
What strikes me as particularly undeniable is that the absence of the feeling of belonging to a class is characteristic of children of the bourgeoisie. People in a dominant class position do not notice that they are positioned, situated, within a specific world (just as someone who is white isn’t necessarily aware of being so, or someone heterosexual). Read in this light, Aron’s remark can be seen for what it is, the naive confession offered by a person of privilege who imagines he is writing sociology when all he is doing is describing his own social status. I only met him once in my life, and immediately felt a strong aversion towards him. The very moment I set eyes on him, I loathed his ingratiating smile, his soothing voice, his way of demonstrating how reasonable and rational he was, everything about him that displayed his bourgeois ethos of decorum and propriety, of ideological moderation.
Kateryna burst into tears when describing how she saw some 2,000 dead bodies with her own eyes. The shooting made it impossible to go in and help, despite the desperate pleas of bystanders.
“Russian units were occupying our flats, and I saw them shooting at civilians from the streets from the apartments. I was travelling around with a medical kit, trying to evacuate them to the main hospital, but then the Russian soldiers captured it too, using the patients and medical staff as human shields.”
On her last day in Mariupol, the road was destroyed, so she had to travel on foot. She saw a car that had hit a tree, with the driver already dead inside.
But then she spotted a teenage girl sitting in the back of the car. “Get out, we need to leave, they’re bombing here,” Kateryna told the teenage girl. On the other side of the car, a woman was lying in a pool of blood, moaning.
She realised that these were the girl’s parents, but she knew that with projectiles flying overhead she could only help one person — so she had to make the horrifying choice between saving the mother or the daughter.
Seeing that the younger woman was still able to walk, she chose the daughter. When she got her down the stairs of the shelter, Kateryna saw that the woman’s shirt was so full of blood that she was not able to wring it out.
When she was finally evacuated from the Black Sea port city, thousands of dead bodies were still on the streets, but she received messages from friends saying that Russian soldiers forced the remaining civilians to clean up the bodies to hide their crimes.
Now safe in Warsaw, Kataryna believes she will never forget what she has seen.
Source: James Jackson, “‘I was praying we would die quickly,’ Mariupol survivor says,” Euronews, 12 July 2022
Olga lived in Mariupol for many years. Until February 24, she worked as a courier, while her husband worked at the Azovstal steel works, and their two children studied at school. Since early March 2022, due to the so-called special operation, Mariupol has been under siege, and fighting has been going on in the city. In the middle of the month, when humanitarian corridors opened up, the family was able to get to Donetsk, and from there they took a bus to Petersburg. Their bus tickets were bought by volunteers — ordinary people who are not connected with government agencies. They also met the Mariupol residents in Petersburg and housed them in their apartment for the night, and then took them to Ivangorod, where Olga and her relatives crossed the Estonian border. The family is now in Finland.
There are many similar stories. In Petersburg, hundreds of residents help transit refugees every day. There are so many people willing to help that all requests — from putting up a family of five people and two dogs to transporting a nursing mother with a baby to Ivangorod — are claimed by volunteers in a matter of minutes. Over the border, in the Estonian city of Narva, Ukrainians are also welcomed by volunteers. This is the story of how ordinary citizens sat and watched the news, feeling powerless, but then found an opportunity to help others and themselves.
How Volunteering Heals Witness Trauma
Alexander from Petersburg is an artist. If it weren’t for [the war], he would now be engaged in art making. “I won’t be getting around to art anytime soon, but there will be food for it,” he says.
In April, Alexander and other volunteers launched a platform on the internet where they coordinate requests for assistance in crossing the border with Estonia and (less often) Finland. For security reasons and at the request of the volunteers, we are not publishing a link to this resource. Currently, there are more people willing to help than requests for help: people span up the requests in minutes.
Here is an example of a typical request: “A family is coming from Mariupol: a grandmother, grandfather, their daughter, grandson (12 years old), and a pregnant cat. You need to meet them at the train station, feed them, provide overnight accommodation, chip the cat and put the family on the bus to Tallinn the next morning.”
“Society has been traumatized. People were watching the news and tortured by a feeling of impotence, so we created a platform where we try to cure this powerlessness. I have the feeling that any problem can be solved en masse. People are competing for the opportunity to help,” says Alexander, “and so [the campaign] has turned out absolutely horizontal. People find the requests on their own and fulfill them on their own. In the past, I worked on the problems in my neighborhood, and back then it was several activists dragging the whole movement like locomotives, but now the wave rolls on by itself.”
We thought we were going to disappear inside Russia, the refugees tell local volunteers. People travel mostly in groups. Most of them are women, children, and the elderly. There are fewer men. “Many people are traveling with their pets,” says Alexander. In addition to Mariupol and the surrounding area, they come from the Kharkiv region, Donetsk, and Luhansk. They are going to European countries, but some seek to return to Ukraine as quickly as possible because they have relatives there, they can speak their native language, and they don’t have to deal with the “refugee” label.
It is not only Petersburgers who have been helping them to make the journey to the Russian-Estonian border. There are also hundreds of volunteers in Moscow. The Petersburgers are now establishing contacts in Rostov, Krasnodar, and Belgorod, the [southern] Russian cities through which the refugees travel most often.
“The other day I came to my senses, looked up from the screen, and realized that nothing was hurting inside me. I haven’t watched the news for more than a week and I don’t know what is happening in the political space. I have a specific task, it is very simple and clean. Unlike everything else, I have no doubt that it’s a good thing,” says Alexander. “Everyone wants to do good, and helping refugees certainly satisfies this need.”
How Natalia Got from Mariupol to Vilnius via Petersburg
Natalia got from Ukraine to Lithuania thanks to the internet platform where Alexander volunteers.
Previously, she worked as a cook in the Shchiriy Kum retail chain. She has two daughters: one is a high school student, the other, a university student. On the morning of February 24, Natalia went to work as usual. “I heard that there had been an explosion somewhere. But in Mariupol this is so routine that no one paid it any mind. (Echoes of the fighting have been audible in Mariupol since 2014, and most residents were used to the sounds of distant explosions and shooting — The Village.) When I arrived at work, I realized that things were serious. I finished up by three o’clock, and they let us go home. I didn’t go to work anymore after that.”
Natalia and her family remained in Mariupol until March 23. There was no “serious fighting” in her neighborhood, so she and her daughters stayed in their apartment, not in a basement or a bomb shelter. “But our things were packed to leave at any moment,” she says. The electricity in the city had been turned off, and the water was also turned off, so the family went to a spring to get water. Then the gas was turned off, so they had to cook on a bonfire.
When the fighting got close, Natalia, her girls, and her eldest daughter’s boyfriend went to the outskirts of city, where “there were buses from the [Donetsk People’s Republic].” They went on one of these buses to her parents who live near Mariupol and stayed there for three weeks. Then all four of them traveled to Taganrog [a Russian city approximately 120 km east of Mariupol]. At the local temporary accommodation point, they were offered a choice: they could go either to Khabarovsk or to Perm. Natalia didn’t want to go to Khabarovsk or Perm. She needed to get to Lithuania, where a friend of hers lives. That was when a Mariupol acquaintance put her in touch with the Petersburg volunteers.
“The vbolunteers bought us tickets to Petersburg. We got to Rostov, where we boarded a train. In Petersburg, we were met by Ivan, who took us home to eat. We washed up and changed clothes, and he took us to get on a minibus to Ivangorod,” Natalia says. The Mariupol residents crossed the Russian-Estonian border on April 23. “At the Russian border, they asked [my daughter’s boyfriend] where he was going and why.” The Petersburg volunteers had put Natalia in touch with Narva volunteers, and so the family immediately boarded a free bus to Riga.
Natalia is currently in Vilnius. She has no plans to leave — she no longer has the strength to travel with suitcases. “We’ve rented a room. We’re going to look for jobs,” she says.
How to Help via Twitter
“It all started with the fact that I felt helpless and useless. I really wanted to do something,” says Katya from Petersburg.
You can find out about helping refugees who are traveling to Europe via Petersburg on various websites. The one on which the artist Alexander volunteers is the largest. There are others. For example, Katya saw such a request on Twitter. In mid-April, a friend of hers asked whether anyone could welcome a family (a mother, son and daughter) and an 18-year-old girl who was traveling with them for a couple of days. Katya responded. The family was put up by her friend, while Katya took in the girl. “She met the family she came with two weeks before [the war]. They went for a walk once with the boy, and he decided to take her with him. Her mother refused to leave, and so now the girl is all alone, without relatives here,” says Katya.
Katya met the girl at the Moscow Railway Station and they traveled the rest of the way to her house. The question arose: how to talk to a person who has country has been invaded by your own country? “Either we were a match, or the girl herself is this way, but it was easy to communicate with her, like with a sister,” says Katya. They sat down to drink tea, and the girl recounted in a calm voice how one day a tank drove up to the nine-story building in Mariupol where she was hiding in a bomb shelter, raised its turret, and began shooting into the distance. “I was bored, and I started counting. It fired seventy shots,” the girl said.
Before the girl left, Katya and her guest hugged tightly. The Mariupol family eventually stayed in Sweden, while the girl ended up in Germany. “I was constantly thinking about what is it like to live when your city is gone, when it has been wiped off the face of the earth,” says Katya.
What Ivangorod, the Transit Point for Refugees Going to Estonia, Looks Like
It takes two hours to drive from Petersburg to Ivangorod. At the outskirts of the city, you need to show the frontier guards a passport or a special pass for entering the border zone. Refugees are allowed through with an internal Ukrainian passport. A kilometer from the checkpoint, on a pole right next to the highway, storks have built a large nest.
Ivangorod is home to around nine thousand people. Its main attraction is a medieval fortress. In the six years that have passed since The Village‘s correspondents last visited the city, it has become prettier. The local public spaces have been beautified under the federal government’s Comfortable Environment program.
Estonia can be seen from the bank of the Narva River. To get to the European Union, you need to walk 162 meters across the Friendship Bridge. At the entrance there is a hut where insurance used to be sold, but now it is abandoned, its windows broken. People walk down the slope carrying bags and plastic sacks stuffed with things. The local children ride scooters. Closer to the shore, the children turn right onto the embankment, which the local authorities attempted to beautify in the 2010s with funding from the EU. The people carrying bags go to the left.
There are several dozen people at the border checkpoint. A heart-rending meow resounds from the middle of the queue. A woman removes a black jacket from a pet carrier: a hairless Sphynx cat stares at her indignantly.
“Maybe I should let him out on the grass?”
The people in the queue say there is no need, that they will get through quickly. But it seems that this forecast is too optimistic.
“Are they all Ukrainians?” a man with a reflector asks loudly. The people in front of him shrug their shoulders. “Are they Maidanovites? Refugees? Are they fleeing from the nationalists?”
Someone argues that the frontier guards should organize two queues — “for people and for refugees” — to make the border crossing go more quickly.
Under the bar at the border restaurant Vityaz hangs a homemade “Peace! Labor! May!” banner and an image of a dove. On the way to the Ivangorod fortress there is a memorial stone dedicated to “the militiamen, volunteers, and civilians who perished and suffered in the crucible of the war in the Donbas.” The Village‘s correspondents did not encounter a single letter Z — the symbol of the “special operation” — in Ivangorod. Nor they did encounter a single pacifist message either.
How Narva Helps Transit Refugees
At the border checkpoint, people are met by numerous volunteers from various associations, including the Friends of Mariupol. “These are all private initiatives,” says Narva volunteer Marina Koreshkova.
“We have been seeing exhausted people,” says Marina. “Many are in rough psychological condition, and they really want to talk. We listen to them for an hour, two, three — we empathize with them and share important information. People say that while they were traveling through Russia, they saw the Z, heard unpleasant messages addressed to Ukrainians, and were forced to put up with it and remain silent just to get to Europe. But I often see examples of Stockholm syndrome. Or maybe people are just afraid to say the wrong thing.”
Six years ago, Marina and her children moved to Narva from Petersburg, because she understood that the situation in Russia was getting worse. In Russia, she was a lawyer, working for ten years in a government committee on social policy, then as an arbitration manager. She started her life from scratch in Narva, and is now studying new professions. She is a member of Art Republic Krenholmia and Narva Meediaklubi, nonprofits engaged in civil society development and social and creative projects.
On April 10, Marina received a call from the manager of the Vaba Lava Theater Center, who said that they had decided to temporarily convert a hostel for actors into an overnight accommodation for refugees. Soon, the Narva Art Residence also let transit refugees into its hostel for artists. Then the Ingria House, located near the train station, equipped a room to accommodate Ukrainians. And on May 1, a Narva businessman temporarily vacated his office, located near the border, for daytime stays.
“For the first week, Sergei [Tsvetkov, another volunteer] and I tried to do everything ourselves. We quickly realized that at this pace we would burn out or get sick. Now about sixty local volunteers are involved, and people have come from Tallinn to help. The number of people helping out has been growing every day. Local residents collect the refugees’ laundry for washing, and bring them food and medicine.”
Almost none of the refugees remain in Narva. “The proximity to the border generates a new sense of uncertainty for them,” Marina argues. In addition, the region’s refugee registration office, which enables Ukrainians to gain a foothold in Estonia, has been closed. The nearest one still in operation is in Tartu [a distance of 180 km from Narva by car].
Narva is also “the most Russian city in NATO.” Only four percent of the city’s population is ethnic Estonian, and thirty-six percent of residents are Russian passport holder. “I don’t have time to read social media, but until April 10, I constantly observed negative comments [from Narva residents] about the refugees, although I have not seen any outward aggression in the city,” says Marina.
She believes that a welcoming station where refugees could get basic information and relax inside in the warmth should be equipped at the border. “It was quite cold in late April. People were freezing on the border outside in the wind, then thawing out for an hour and not taking off their outerwear.”
There is not even a toilet on the Russian side of the border, however.
Source: “‘An absolutely horizontal business’: How residents of Petersburg and Narva are helping Ukrainian refugees going to Europe,” The Village, 5 May 2022. Image (below) courtesy of The Village. Thanks to JG for the story and the link. Translated by the Russian Reader
Umm Khaled hardly leaves the tent where she lives in northwest Syria, and she says she doesn’t pay attention to the news. But she knows one reason why it is getting harder and harder to feed herself and her children: Ukraine.
“Prices have been going up, and this has been happening to us since the war in Ukraine started,” said the 40-year-old, who has lived in a tent camp for displaced people in the last rebel-held enclave in Syria for the past six years since fleeing a government offensive.
Food prices around the world were already rising, but the war in Ukraine has accelerated the increase since Russia’s invasion began on Feb. 24. The impact is worsening the already dangerous situation of millions of Syrians driven from their homes by their country’s now 11-year-old civil war.
The rebel enclave in Syria’s northwest province of Idlib is packed with some 4 million people, most of whom fled there from elsewhere in the country. Most rely on international aid to survive, for everything from food and shelter to medical care and education.
Because of rising prices, some aid agencies are scaling back their food assistance. The biggest provider, the U.N. World Food Program, began this week to cut the size of the monthly rations it gives to 1.35 million people in the territory.
The Ukraine crisis has also created a whole new group of refugees. European nations and the U.S. have rushed to help more than 5.5 million Ukrainians who have fled to neighboring countries, as well as more than 7 million displaced within Ukraine’s borders.
Aid agencies are hoping to draw some of the world’s attention back to Syria in a two-day donor conference for humanitarian aid to Syrians that begins Monday in Brussels, hosted by the U.N. and the European Union. The funding also goes toward aid to the 5.7 million Syrian refugees living in neighboring countries, particularly Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.
Last year, the EU, the United States and other nations pledged $6.4 billion to help Syrians and neighboring countries hosting refugees. But that fell well short of the $10 billion that the U.N. had sought — and the impact was felt on the ground. In Idlib, 10 of its 50 medical centers lost funding in 2022, forcing them to dramatically cut back services, Amnesty International said in a report released Thursday.
Across Syria, people have been forced to eat less, the Norwegian Refugee Council said. The group surveyed several hundred families around the country and found 87% were skipping meals to meet other living costs.
“While the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine continues to demand world attention, donors and governments meeting in Brussels must not forget about their commitment to Syria,” NRC’s Mideast Regional Director Carsten Hansen said in a report Thursday.
The U.N.’s children’s agency UNICEF said more than 6.5 million children in Syria are in need of assistance calling it the highest recorded since the conflict began. It said that since 2011, over 13,000 children have been confirmed killed or injured.
Meanwhile, UNICEF said funding for humanitarian operations in Syria is dwindling fast, saying it has received less than half of its funding requirements for this year. “We urgently need nearly $20 million for the cross-border operations” in Syria, the agency said in a statement.
Umm Khaled is among those who rely on food aid. With her aid rations reduced, she has gone deeper in debt to feed her family.
Her husband and eldest son were killed in a Syrian government airstrike in their home city of Aleppo in 2016. Soon after, she escaped with her three surviving children to the rebel enclave in Idlib province. Ever since, they have lived in a tent camp with other displaced people on the outskirts of the town of Atmeh near the Turkish border.
Her family lives on two meals a day — a small breakfast and a main meal late in the afternoon that serves as lunch and dinner. Her only income is from picking olives for a few weeks a year, making 20 Turkish liras ($1.35) a day.
“We used to get enough rice, bulgur, lentils and others. Now they keep reducing them,” she said by telephone from the camp. She spoke on condition her full name is not made public, fearing repercussions. She lives with her two daughters, ages six and 16, and 12-year-old son, who suffered head and arm injuries in the strike that killed his brother and father.
The price of essential food items in northwest Syria has already increased by between 22% and 67% since the start of the Ukraine conflict, according to the aid group Mercy Corps. There have also been shortages in sunflower oil, sugar and flour.
Mercy Corps provides cash assistance to displaced Syrians to buy food and other needs and it says it has no plans to reduce the amount.
“Even before the war in Ukraine, bread was already becoming increasingly unaffordable,” said Mercy Corps Syria Country Director, Kieren Barnes. The vast majority of wheat brought into northwest Syria is of Ukrainian origin, and the territory doesn’t produce enough wheat for its own needs.
“The world is witnessing a year of catastrophic hunger with a huge gap between the resources and the needs of the millions of people around the world,” said WFP spokeswoman Abeer Etefa.
In many of its operations around the world, WFP is reducing the size of the rations it provides, she said. Starting this month in northwest Syria, the provisions will go down to 1,177 calories a day, from 1,340. The food basket will continue to provide a mix of commodities, including wheat flour, rice, chickpeas, lentils, bulgur wheat, sugar and oil.
Rising prices have increased the cost of WFP’s food assistance by 51% since 2019 and that cost will likely go even higher as the impact of the Ukraine crisis is felt, Etefa said.
Earlier in the year, before the Ukraine conflict began, a 29% jump in costs prompted the Czech aid agency People in Need to switch from providing food packages to giving food vouchers. The vouchers, worth $60, buy less food than the group’s target level, but it had to take the step to “maximize its coverage of food assistance to the most vulnerable,” a spokesperson told The Associated Press.
As the world turns to other conflicts, “Syria is on the verge of becoming yet another forgotten crisis,” Assistant U.N. Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Joyce Msuya warned in late April.
In northwest Syria, “a staggering 4.1 million people” need humanitarian aid, Msuya said — not just food, but also medicines, blankets, school supplies and shelter. She said almost a million people in the territory, mainly women and children, live in tents, “half of which are beyond their normal lifespan.”
Many fear that the situation could only get worse in July, because Russia may force international aid for the northwest to be delivered through parts of Syria under the control of its ally, President Bashar Assad.
Currently, aid enters the Idlib enclave directly from Turkey via a single border crossing, Bab al-Hawa. The U.N. mandate allowing deliveries through Bab al-Hawa ends on July 9, and Russia has hinted it will veto a Security Council resolution renewing the mandate.
A Russian veto would effectively hand Assad control over the flow of aid to the opposition enclave and the U.S. and EU had warned earlier they will stop funding in that case.
The result will be a severe humanitarian crisis, likely triggering a new flood of Syrian migrants into Turkey and Europe, the German Institute for International and Security Affairs warned in a report.
Umm Khaled said she has no choice but to endure her deteriorating living conditions.
“They keep reducing our food basket,” she said. “May God protect us if they cut it completely.”
Source: Bassem Mroue, “Syrians in desperate need of aid hit hard by Ukraine fallout,” AP News, 8 May 2022. Thanks to Harald Etzbach for the story.
Bhaskar Sunkara (born June 20, 1989) is an American political writer, editor and publisher of Jacobin magazine.
The son of immigrants from Trinidad and Tobago, Sunkara described Jacobin as a radical publication, “largely the product of a younger generation not quite as tied to the Cold War paradigms that sustained the old leftist intellectual milieus like Dissent or New Politics.”
The New York Times interviewed Sunkara in January 2013, commenting on Jacobin’s unexpected success and engagement with mainstream liberalism. In late 2014, he was interviewed by New Left Review on the political orientation and future trajectory of the publication and in March 2016 was featured in a lengthy Vox profile.
Sunkara writes for Vice magazine, Washington Post and The Nation, among other outlets. He has appeared on the PBS Tavis Smiley program, MSNBC’s Up w/ Chris Hayes and the FX show Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell.
Residents in eastern Ukraine face worst fighting in years in war with Russian-backed separatists
Sabra Ayres Los Angeles Times
February 15, 2017
The news reached Mariupol Mayor Vadim Boychenko via a morning phone call from an assistant: A rocket attack damaged 11 houses on the outskirts of the Ukrainian city.
There were no casualties, but a major concern had become a reality: The escalation of fighting elsewhere in the nation in recent weeks had reached the industrial city, a key component in southeast Ukraine’s struggling economy.
“We’ve gotten used to a peaceful life,” Boychenko said during a recent interview at his office. “I really don’t want to return to the problems we had started to forget.”
Ukraine’s nearly three-year battle against Kremlin-backed separatists in the east erupted into the worst fighting in two years in late January. Exactly why the fighting intensified recently remains unclear, though such encounters have occurred with some frequency during unrest that included Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March 2014.
The small city of Avdiivka, 90 miles north of Mariupol, became the epicenter of the recent violence. The fighting quickly spread along a 300-mile line separating the Ukrainian government-controlled lands and those claimed by separatists in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
Mariupol had seen only sporadic fighting over the last two years, primarily in the region’s eastern villages. But as news trickled in about the bombardment of Avdiivka, Mariupol began again hearing the deep rumble of explosions and heavy artillery fire less than 10 miles away.
The fighting halted vital shipments from Avdiivka’s coal processing plant to Mariupol’s massive iron and steel works plants, jeopardizing production at one of the region’s biggest employers.
Many local residents said they feared the renewed violence could quash the growing sense of confidence in Mariupol after nearly two years of relative stability.
One concern in the region is that President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin could strike a deal that would lift U.S. sanctions on Russia or force Ukraine to make painful compromises with Moscow. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has urged Western leaders to keep sanctions in place.
“Sanctions are the only way to get Putin to the table,” he said last week in an interview with journalists and academics in Kiev, the capital.
Nationally, there is little faith in the Minsk agreements, a road map to peace brokered in 2014 by European leaders between Ukraine, the Kremlin and the separatist rebel leaders. Poroshenko maintains that Ukraine is committed to its obligations to the agreements.
“Minsk is my plan. Putin accepted it. His signature is there,” he said.
Mariupol has gone through a noticeable transformation since war erupted in eastern Ukraine in the spring of 2014. Once the epitome of a run-down, Soviet industrial port city with two massive metallurgy plants puffing out pollution day and night, Mariupol in the last two years has emerged as a center of civic activism in Ukraine’s southeastern battlefront.
The city was the center of several violent outbreaks in spring 2014, when Ukrainian forces and supporters of the pro-Russian separatist groups fought gun battles in the downtown streets. The charred former police headquarters and city council buildings still stand as reminders. On Jan. 24, 2015, a missile attack hit an eastern region of Mariupol dense with Soviet-era concrete housing blocks, killing at least 30 people.
The previously politically passive, mostly Russian-speaking city created community groups that mobilized to gather whatever money they could to buy medical kits, food, and flak jackets and helmets for Ukraine’s ill-prepared military. The fighting displaced 1.75 million eastern Ukrainians, but locals opened their homes and about 56,000 newcomers settled in Mariupol.
“We don’t call them refugees anymore,” Boychenko said. “They are ‘new Mariupolites’ and have already become part of our city.”
Once-thriving Donetsk is now occupied by rebel forces, so Mariupol, the largest city in the Donetsk region under Ukrainian control, became the de facto cultural hub of the eastern industrial area along the Don River basin, known as the Donbas.
Displaced activists from Donetsk opened an avant-garde theater and creative space that has hosted some of the country’s big names in modern talent.
Small businesses — grocery stores, small restaurants and mom-and-pop shops — whose owners fled the fighting returned, and new cafes have opened. Ukraine’s most popular music group, Okean Elzy, gave a free concert in May attended by more than 30,000 people.
“We’ve been working all year to create a positive mood in the city,” Boychenko said.
Alex Ryabchyn, a deputy in Ukraine’s parliament who was born in Mariupol, said the city is in the early stages of reinvention.
“The population is starting to think of themselves as being the center of southeastern Ukraine. That’s new, “ said Ryabchyn, who was an economics professor in Donetsk State University before fleeing to Kiev after the pro-Russia rebel takeover.
Mariupol faces major challenges, particularly in the economic sphere. Ukraine’s economy has been battered since protests ousted a Moscow-friendly president, Viktor Yanukovich in 2014. The war ripped apart the country’s coal mining and steel processing industry, destroying many plants and severely curtailing production in those that survived.
The aging steel plants need modernization and the economy needs diversification to revitalize the region. Highways linking Mariupol to other cities are so bad that drivers are forced to reroute to avoid the worst sections. Train rides from Kiev to Mariupol, about 500 miles, take 18 hours, and the airport cannot accept commercial flights because of its location near the front lines of fighting.
Mariupol can feel like an isolated peninsula in Ukraine, an image many hoped was changing.
“You can see why [an increase in fighting] is a problem,” Irina Chirkova, 24, a waitress in Mariupol, said as a series of explosions pierced the cold air. “We have a lot of potential here — a big port, an airport and nice beaches. But our infrastructure needs investment, and who is going to invest in us now with this war?”