Winnipeggers of Russian descent are condemning Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and doing what they can to voice their opposition and help Ukrainians fleeing for their lives.
The rescue effort continues in Mariupol, where survivors are emerging from a theatre bombed in a Russian airstrike. Hundreds of civilians had been taking shelter there after their homes were destroyed in the attacks.
The bombing comes amidst attacks across the country targeting a school, hospital and other health facilities. According to the United Nations, about two million people are internally displaced in Ukraine.
Marina Bulan, a Winnipegger originally from Rostov-on-Don in the southern part of Russia, says she’s been glued to news stations 24/7, watching the horrors of the war, in shock.
“I can’t sleep well. Because it’s just the thought that we … started that war and they’re killing people and …ruining cities. It’s something unbelievable and something unthinkable,” she said.
After Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, Bulan said she realized her country was “not her own” anymore. She and her partner immigrated to Canada in 2016.
Bulan said they’ve donated money to the Canadian Red Cross for Ukrainian relief and have offered up their guest bedroom to Ukrainian refugees.
“I just want it to stop. First and foremost. And I’m pretty sure it’s the most important thing now for everybody, is to stop the war.”
Manitoba is home to more 58,000 people of Russian descent, according to the 2016 census.
“So many Russians are against it. Especially those who live abroad … they left their country mostly because they weren’t OK with the politics with that country,” Bulan said.
“Ukrainian people are who need all the help this world can provide now.”
On Feb. 24, Vadim Ivanov said he and his family, like millions of others, woke up to the news that Russia, his own country, had “treacherously attacked brotherly Ukraine.”
“It’s surreal. Every day I can’t even imagine that this is happening right now. It’s devastating, I feel anger, sadness, depression,” he said.
Ivanoc came with his wife and seven-year-old son to Canada under the provincial nominee program in 2020. He said he made the decision to leave Russia after Putin’s long-time critic Alexei Navalny, whom he supports, was jailed.
The long-haul trucker, still a Russian citizen, says as the situation now worsens, he feels ashamed and helpless.
“I’m thinking about Ukrainian people and how they’re suffering. I’m thinking about Russian people and how they suffer and will suffer in the future. And even those who immigrated, they’re suffering,” he said.
He said it pains him to see the bloodshed of innocent Ukrainians and the atrocities that Putin’s troops are inflicting on their homeland. He has friends in Ukraine who are living in cellars, sending videos of themselves wearing parkas to keep warm.
“Sometimes I don’t even want to tell people that I’m Russian because I feel guilt. Because I”m guilty in some way. Because maybe I could have done more,” he said.
Russia’s economy devastated by sanctions
Canada and other Western powers have levied heavy sanctions against Russia, disconnecting the country’s banks from the global economy, restricting exports and imposing steep tariffs on its imports.
The effects have been devastating for the Russian economy but Putin’s troops have only pushed further into Ukraine, pummeling major cities and killing thousands.
“I’m worried about this situation, people are dying in Ukraine and our Russian soldiers,” said Aleksandr Nosov, 32, an engineer who came to Canada with his wife 8 years ago under the express entry program.
“I do not support this war. I am strongly against this war. I think Ukrainians are our brothers and sisters.”
Nosov said after the annexation of Crimea, sanctions were imposed on Russia and he decided to move to Canada. He calls Russia a “totalitarian country” now, returning to the ways of the former Soviet Union, where speaking out against the government was a crime.
He said the disconnection of Russia from the SWIFT banking system has prevented him from transferring money to his family. He worries for his parents, who don’t support the war and he fears may starve, and for his sister — a mother who is not working and instead protesting in the streets.
“She’s not going to keep quiet. She’s an oppositioner, she’s very brave. She’s going to get jail,” he said.
Nosov wants to help his family leave, but says it’s virtually impossible to get out right now.
Some in Russia ‘totally brainwashed’
Bulan said her sister in Rostov-on-Don also strongly opposes the war, and has expressed frustration and devastation over those there who don’t realize the reality of the situation.
“So many people around truly believe in that TV propaganda and they are totally brainwashed, they don’t think it’s war, they don’t think civilians are dying,” she said, echoing the sentiments of both Nosov and Ivanoc, particularly about Russia’s older generation.
Bulan wants the war to end and a new government for Russia. She said she would go to war to fight for Ukraine but believes her own family wouldn’t survive without her.
“It’s really difficult to live in peace with yourself now,” she said.
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