“By helping refugees, we restore broken ties with Ukrainians and with each other”
Polina Lurie, a volunteer from a city in the center of Russia
The first reaction to the fact that Russia started the war is that now the government will collapse. But when I saw the number of people supporting what was happening, I realized that everything is more complicated.
I began to wait for refugees to help and understand what is really happening in Ukraine. The first ones arrived at the end of March. My friend and I went to a temporary accommodation center for refugees (TAP) and talked to a family from the Donetsk region. The picture of the world expanded: two women assured that the Russians were saviors, although it was a pity for the people dying under the bombing.
In mid-April, several hundred residents of Mariupol and other places in the Lugansk and Donetsk regions were brought to the city. Any assistance had to be coordinated with a representative of United Russia. In order not to interfere with the United Russia, I handed over the necessary things to Ukrainian women and agreed that they would collect contacts from their neighbors. Having called the first families, we understood what people needed. I wrote a post on social networks about personal assistance to each person. By that time, the “humanitarian aid” collected among the residents lay in unsorted heaps, and some of it was already in garbage cans. Several people responded: some decided to help families, others transferred money.
It turned out that any assistance must be coordinated with the "United Russia"
Volunteers are now helping refugees to resolve issues with health, necessary things, employment, agree on additional education for children, join in the search for relatives, organize transfers to other cities. We opened a fitting room warehouse where Ukrainians choose the right things. Local companies are getting involved: they provide laptops, phones, basic necessities, clothes, food, bicycles, household items, dental care.
With the money collected for the fund, we buy medicines, medical equipment, shoes, underwear, clothes. Pleased with personal fees. Money for moving to other cities, medical examinations, wheelchairs, hearing aids, glasses with complex lenses, blood pressure monitors are collected in a day. Partially, the tasks are solved with the help of local authorities: for example, refugees were given travel cards for public transport, and children can relax in a country camp.
People are different. Light and aggressive, modest and demanding, open and those who manipulate. There are much more of those who build human relationships with volunteers. Difficult people take up most of the forces. Most of those who came to our city do not have a higher education, they worked in factories, as sellers, and conductors. Perhaps those who had access to information, more money and self-confidence, leaving everything behind, left at the very beginning in a western direction.
Those who had access to information and more money left Ukraine at the very beginning of the war in a western direction
Those who waited for the "liberators" are less mobile and more pro-Russian, more likely even pro-Soviet. There are many elderly people who are nostalgic for the Soviet Union. All Russian speakers. The Ukrainian language was given to them with difficulty. The reason why people do not want to go to European countries is the lack of knowledge of foreign languages.
Many people want to stay in Russia. Most in our city. Here they get a job, start a new life. Some move to other cities where the pay is better. After Mariupol was occupied, there were those who wanted to return to check the housing, approve the rights to it, and visit relatives. We help with that too. Two families left for Europe with our help.
People only months later began to move away from the shock. In the early days, we saw the gray hard faces of people driven into a strange city. Now they are letting go, but also in different ways. The more active ones are already working, renting housing, thinking about mortgages. There are those who want to stay in TAPs as long as possible, not to work. Someone goes into apathy, starts drinking.
Those who personally help Ukrainians are now almost a hundred people. About a thousand people donate, bring things, repair equipment, help with transport. Activity does not drop. More and more volunteers join our every call. Basically, these are young people under 40 who perceive the war as a personal pain. Helping refugees is the only way to calm her down somehow, to come to her senses.
Helping refugees is the only way to somehow ease the pain
The sincere desire of volunteers to help the wards at all costs makes them look for new ways of support. We have released merch, we hold city charity events. So now helping refugees is performances, lectures, poetry readings, volleyball tournaments, book sales. Looking at what is happening in our city, I believe that Russia has a future. Helping refugees, we restore faith in ourselves, restore broken ties with Ukrainians and with each other.
“After talking with those who are staying, I decided that I would help those who are leaving”
Nadezhda Kolobaeva, a volunteer in St. Petersburg, takes refugees to the EU border
In the first days of the war there was some kind of chaos, no one here in Russia knew how to help, how to stop it. I went to all the anti-war rallies. Despite the law on fakes, I decided that they would write everything I think on the social network, just so as not to explode from the inside, so as not to eat my hand, not to harass my loved ones, turning my inner anger on them. And then a classmate wrote: “Do volunteering, it will help you, otherwise you will eat yourself.” He spoke about “Helping to leave”, this is a chat that deals with the export of Ukrainians through Ukraine deep into the country or abroad. The main thing that can be done from Russia is to help with information: logistics, search for volunteers, search for routes, order buses, minibuses, train tickets.
I registered, and they sent me links to Moscow and St. Petersburg chats, where they discussed how to help those who leave the occupied territories through Russia towards Europe or back to Ukraine to leave. At that time, Ukrainians did not know about the existence of this chat. By chance, with the help of word of mouth, information was transmitted that someone managed to leave. It has been developing for some time, taking shape and structure, and now it is a community of volunteers who can offer any help and help a refugee go abroad. You can either help buy tickets, or drive from Moscow, St. Petersburg or nearby cities to the border, or help in any other way. I chose to transport refugees from St. Petersburg to Ivangorod by car.
Sometimes I organized the arrival of refugees on a turnkey basis: they called me from Mariupol, I told them how to get to Russia, I bought tickets from the temporary accommodation center where they were brought to St. Petersburg. I met them there and took them by car to Ivangorod, where I handed them over to the volunteers of Rubikus, an international organization that helps Ukrainian refugees all over the world. The most common cases are when people donate in our chat to buy tickets for refugees from a temporary accommodation point to St. Petersburg or Moscow. Then we meet them at the station and take them to the border. It is most convenient to St. Petersburg, because from there it is 2:15 to the border. They cross the border, and then Estonian volunteers meet them and help them get to their final destination.
There are people who have concentrated on helping those who remain. After talking with those who are staying, I decided that I would help those who are leaving. In mid-May, I learned that among the refugees there are people who are going to stay in Russia forever. For me it was a real shock. I could not believe that some person whose country had just been bombed, who was deprived of his home, things, car, sometimes relatives, friends, acquaintances, who had seen death, comes to a country that bombs him, and says: "I want to stay here forever." For me, this is tantamount to a Jew from Palestine immigrating to Germany in 1939 saying, “I want to stay here. I know German and will live here.” I look at them (and may they forgive me) as if they are crazy. These are people who got out from under the bombings, mainly from Mariupol - they come here, they are not bombed here, their body says: "That's it, they don't bomb me here, don't touch me."
After talking with those who stay, I decided that I would help those who leave
The second category of people, probably the smallest one, are people who support the idea of the Russian world. One woman, when the volunteers began to apologize to her for the fact that Russia had committed genocide in Ukraine, said: “What are you talking about? I am ready to kiss the feet of the mothers of all Russian soldiers for freeing me.” Basically, these people are in temporary accommodation, and they really believe that the Russian army came to the territory of Ukraine in order to free them. That is, yes, there were excesses on the ground in the form of bombing, but they believe that they bombed mainly the Armed Forces of Ukraine, that the Nazis and Bandera are to blame for everything, and they completely share the point of view of Russian propaganda for only one reason - they only speak Russian and watch Russian television all their lives. They do not speak Ukrainian and have never watched Ukrainian channels, have not read Ukrainian websites, and they say: “Thank you, liberator soldiers, these Nazi bitches fired at us, and now we are homeless.”
The third category is elderly people who do not know any foreign language, speak only Russian, they are terribly afraid of Europe. They have exactly the same Russian prejudice, formed by Russian propaganda, that there is “Geyropa” and “they hate us”, “Russia is waging war against NATO”. These are people who are also stuffed with propaganda, who do not believe that the Russian world has liberated them, they understand everything, but they also understand that they cannot assimilate in Europe, they have no one there, but here it seems to them that once there is a Russian language, they are in a kind of friendly atmosphere.
By the way, after talking with my refugees, I realized that our system of volunteering is also to blame for this. They have the illusion that they are getting into a friendly atmosphere, but that there are a million of them, and only 20 thousand are ready to help them, and as a rule these are people against the current government, they do not realize this. They get to people who will provide them with clothes and shoes in 15 minutes, pour tea and warm it up. They, however, get the feeling that there is the most benevolent atmosphere here.
In the PVR, they do not have the opportunity to communicate with pro-Russian citizens who could offer them their point of view, also formed by Russian propaganda, they do not see these Zs pasted around the cities. They really have the illusion that people who are ready to help them live here. Russia bombed them and deprived them of their homes, but here they will be helped.
Finally, the most common category of people who stay are those who believe that now everything is overcrowded in the West, and in this they are right, they only speak Russian and therefore will not be able to work there. And they want to work and get their lives back, to live in some kind of house, so that it is not a trailer or a gym. It seems to them that in Russia they will earn more than in Ukraine. The latter, by the way, is a very common illusion. Everyone I took out said that until 2014 they had the illusion that Russia would come tomorrow and wages would rise five times, that's right tomorrow. And then Russia came to the Donbass, and salaries did not increase five times, but prices increased five times.
Russia came to the Donbass, and salaries did not increase five times, but prices increased five times
It seems to me that everyone I meet and bring to the border is a notch on the body, a visible scar. As I drive them, I listen to their stories: a woman saved her 16-year-old disabled son who was almost shot by the Russian military; a boy roasted a stolen chicken on a fire, and 15 meters away, two people died from shrapnel; people walked over corpses, trying to get out of the city; others were standing in line, and at that moment someone was killed by shrapnel. All these stories made me turn to a psychiatrist.
None of those whom I drove expressed any complaints to me - I hear only gratitude. I'm happy that they allowed them to help and at least a little glue on the masking tape the crumbling globe. I'm always on the side of the victim. In this situation, Ukraine is a victim. Of course, I don’t meet refugees with the words “So, Russia is to blame for everything, now I will explain everything to you.” I'm waiting for some initiative from them. If I understand that they are set to talk or some kind of confession, then I connect. I am very afraid to harm them with some of my fabrications, because they all have a huge trauma.
As soon as they start talking (especially those who leave for Europe), it becomes clear that they are insane, not even offended, but in a sense of injustice and a life taken away. Because until February 24, their children went to kindergarten, school or college, they cooked in their kitchen. They all vying with each other, interrupting each other, tell me: “You deprived us of children, friends, family, home, car. We bought the boy a car, and you shot it. Before my very eyes, a bomb hit the Mariupol Theater.” They choked, someone fell into insane aggression. I understand all this.
I am driving, and inside I have a hurricane, but I need to remain calm and drive, and after I drop them off at the border, I get into the car and I can’t move, because the tsunami just covered me, moved away , and inside there were bombs, shells, crippled bodies, although I can see the blue sky and Estonia across the river.
“Many have experienced terrible things, but are grateful to Russia. It's very demotivating"
Sergey, volunteer in St. Petersburg
I have a lot of relatives in Ukraine, including an elderly grandfather. When the war began, I, firstly, was very afraid for them, and secondly, I was afraid to be in this war, because they could pull me out of the reserve after military service and send me to fight. So I bought a ticket for the next plane and flew to Turkey within a couple of days. When it became clear that the war would drag on for a long time, I came back and became a volunteer.
A large flow of refugees went at the time of the almost complete destruction of Mariupol. Someone managed to take the documents, someone did not, someone left by car, someone under their own power. If we are talking about Ukrainian refugees in St. Petersburg, then basically these are people who sat in basements for two months and ate pigeons and water. On the one hand, they lost everything, and on the other hand, their arrival in Russia was not caused by a desire to move here, but simply by a desire to be in a safe place. The majority had a choice - either to go to Russia, or to sit in the basements further.
The majority had a choice - either to go to Russia, or to sit in the basements further
First, they were filtered, after which they were placed at a distribution point in Taganrog and Belgorod, and from there they were transported around the country. These are people who came in what they were, and they need almost all things. When I returned to Russia, I had a desire to somehow fix what was happening. This was probably the main motivation. Before that, I had experience of volunteering, I had a rough idea of how it works and understood what people needed and how to communicate with them. Volunteering is most often a thankless thing, and I was mentally prepared for the fact that it would not be easy. I got acquainted with the already existing system of volunteer associations and joined the team.
Volunteers went to the temporary accommodation center in Tikhvin only once. TAPs are closed for visits and you can’t just get there: only according to the lists that are checked by the authorities, and these lists are submitted through Smolny in some security department. They do not let them in to avoid provocations, and they are very afraid of public organizations. The TAP provides people with food, a roof over their heads, minimal hygiene products, and issues free travel cards. Plus, all sorts of state organizations come to TAPs - social services, migration, tax and others, who try to help them with documents.
The authorities let people in TAPs only on the basis of lists and are afraid of public organizations
In fact, this assistance, of course, is not enough at all, and much has to be obtained by the efforts of volunteers. We have people handing over things at the request of refugees through Telegram bots and chats, every Sunday a Gazelle went. Another task is to raise funds to buy medicines. There is a first-aid post in the TAP, a therapist is on duty there, but there are not enough specialized medicines. People are sent to the Tikhvin hospital, they write out prescriptions, but they do not have the opportunity to buy these medicines. Help here is not so easy: according to the rules, we cannot transfer prescription drugs and antibiotics.
Another important area is social adaptation. People need to be explained how to rent an apartment so as not to stumble upon scammers, where there are expensive and cheap markets, where to go, where to call and what to do in general. People in a foreign state with foreign rules, and they have to start life anew.
Те, кто не хочет оставаться в России, уезжают почти сразу (максимум берут недельную передышку и едут на запад). Не все могут уехать в Украину, потому что им некуда ехать, у них нет родственников на неоккупированных территориях. В Польше и так полно беженцев, ассимилироваться в Европе они не готовы. Есть мужчины, которые хотят вернуться в Украину, но не хотят обратно на войну.
Есть определенный процент людей, и достаточно большой, которые поддерживают все происходящее, — они пережили ужасные вещи, но при этом благодарны России, рады, что наконец они под российским флагом, и часть прямо хочет стать гражданами Российской Федерации. Это сильно демотивирует не только меня, но и других волонтеров. Это и вслух-то сложно проговорить, потому что это не похоже на правду и тяжело укладывается в голове. Тут сразу вспоминается и Стокгольмский синдром, и неготовность людей говорить правду, то есть возможно, что некоторые из них говорят, что поддерживают Россию только для того, чтобы получить здесь поддержку и помощь.
Я страдаю от того, что делает моя страна. Мне стыдно, больно и страшно. Я пытаюсь что-то поменять и сталкиваюсь с людьми, которые говорят, что все правильно. Зачем я тогда помогаю людям, которые считают, что все идет по плану? Конечно, эти переживания никак не отражается на той помощи, которая им оказывается. Волонтеры не помогают тем, кому хотят. У беженцев есть нужда — необходимость выжить, и мы помогаем им с этим. В ПВР люди разные, и среди них есть те, кому бы я на улицы руки бы не подал. Но когда речь о волонтерстве, это должно оставаться за скобками.
Зачем я тогда помогаю людям, которые считают, что все идет по плану?
Есть огромное количество людей, которые войну поддерживают и в целом поддерживают все, что происходит, но почему-то среди волонтеров их нет. Той части населения, которая не согласна с происходящим, приходится расхлебывать последствия и эмоционально, и финансово, и физически. Чтобы доехать до ПВР, надо ехать три часа в один конец и четыре обратно. Большинство волонтеров работают, у них обычные семьи, свои обязанности, своя жизнь, но при этом каждый стоит перед выбором — либо помочь, либо жить как раньше. С последствиями войны опять разбираются те, кто против этой войны.
В доверительном общении с волонтерами я понимаю, что многие беженцы настроены достаточно агрессивно к Украине. Часто они обращают внимание на то, что им хотелось бы большей лояльности к русскому языку, но мы с ними сходимся во мнении, что не такой ценой должны были в Мариуполе появиться лишние два часа преподавания на русском. Наверное, не такой ценой люди должны были себя почувствовать гражданами России.
Некоторые волонтеры страдают от действий патриотично настроенных активистов. Например, в Пензе волонтеры подняли шум, когда поняли, что беженцев содержат в ужасных условиях. В ответ им испортили машины, разрисовали двери и сказали: «Еще раз — и вы сядете». Самые активные волонтеры либо вообще уехали из города, либо перестали с кем-либо взаимодействовать. Белгородская область, как приграничная, не выдерживает потока беженцев. Больницы забиты, ПВР забиты. Есть проблема с голодом, много людей живут по квартирам неравнодушных людей и волонтеров, потому что мест не хватает.
Отдельная история — это история про местных жителей Тихвина, где находится ПВР. У нас были случаи, когда в чате беженцев появлялись жители Тихвина и говорили: «А можете мне тоже помочь? У меня ситуация по финансам не лучше, чем у беженцев». Волонтеры сейчас закрывают какие-то проблемы беженцев, но у нас и без них есть в стране чем волонтерам заняться и кому помочь.
«А можете мне тоже помочь? У меня ситуация по финансам не лучше, чем у беженцев»
Мне кажется, самое сложное и страшное для тех, кто будет оставаться в России, — это принятие реальности. Пока беженцам уделяется внимание, выделяются деньги, упрощается процесс получения документов, но нужно понимать, что рано или поздно это все кончится, поток поддержки прекратится как со стороны государства, так и со стороны волонтеров. Эти люди столкнутся с реальностью, а реальность такова — если не считать Москву и Санкт-Петербург — что уровень жизни в России и Украине примерно сопоставимый. И поэтому люди, которые приезжают в Россию с представлением о ней как о стране с высокими доходами и райской жизнью (а такие мнения реально есть), немного удивляются.
Когда люди начинают искать работу и понимают, что в условном Тихвине больше 25-30 тысяч не заработают, и что чтобы снять квартиру в Санкт-Петербурге, нужно минимум три платежа и комиссию, а им еще надо кормить семью. У многих этот процесс осознания будет происходить болезненно.