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Russian volunteers help Ukrainian refugees in Russia

Since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Russian Galina Artyomenko began collecting money to help displaced Ukrainians inside Russia, until her bank cards and those of two volunteers were suddenly blocked in mid-July. “The bank says our fundraising intentions are ‘dubious,'” says Artyomenko, insisting that “every ruble spent” can be justified. He is careful not to express any political stance.

The ban reflects doubts about its humanitarian efforts in a country where critics of the invasion of Ukraine are increasingly repressive. With the help of other volunteers in St. Petersburg (Northwest), Artyomenko launches appeals for donations online and then uses the money he collects to buy clothes, medicine and food for Ukrainian refugees in Russia.

It regularly receives Ukrainians arriving at the train station in St. Petersburg and helps them find housing and work or go through the necessary administrative procedures to move from Russia to the EU. Artyomenko adds: “There are many good people, thousands of people helping (Ukrainians), but they don’t want to talk about it for security reasons, even though there is no law prohibiting helping people in distress.”

Against a backdrop of worsening repression, many volunteers refuse to comment on the conflict and the aid they provide to refugees, fearing the attention of authorities, who regularly arrest unknown people accused of collaborating with Kiev or accused of extortion. The popularity of the Russian army.

For her part, Lyudmila (43 years old), who did not want to reveal her surname, says that many Russians are “quiet” and cannot express their position publicly. Instead, they ease the burden of their conscience by helping victims. She adds: “We cannot be idle. We should help those who live in worse conditions than we are living and those who are suffering. “We can do it without risk.” Volunteer Galina Artyomenko considers it “the only way to survive.”

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Organized help

According to a United Nations census through the end of December 2022, Russia is hosting about 1.3 million Ukrainian refugees, while Moscow estimates the number of refugees at more than 5 million, a figure denied by non-governmental organizations. Some of these pass only in Russia; Others affirm their desire to stay on Russian territory, particularly in the St. Petersburg region on the border with the European Union.

For its part, Kiev accuses the Kremlin of transporting Ukrainians to Russia and pushing them to obtain Russian passports.

In March, the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Children’s Commissioner Maria Lavova-Belova on charges of illegally deporting Ukrainian children.

Moscow denies the allegations, insisting that the refugees are being taken to safe havens either voluntarily or during targeted evacuations.

In Russia, solidarity networks helping refugees, like the one Galina Artyomenko works with, have been active since the conflict began.

Agence France-Presse said in a statement that he met Artyomenko, a volunteer, after buying household items to deliver essential items to a collection point for Ukrainian refugees.

On wooden shelves, shoes, clothes, food items and household items are kept in a center called “Komsklad”, which is open daily and dozens of families benefit from the aid daily.

Afterward, Artyomenko ran to a shop in the city center to buy glasses for Elena and Igor, a Ukrainian couple from the eastern Ukrainian city of Pakmut, which Moscow says it has captured since spring, despite continued fighting. More than a year.

Other centers also work to help Ukrainian refugees, such as the NGO Mayak.fund in Moscow, which has more resources than the Komsklad center.

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According to Ukrainian volunteer Yulia Makeyeva (49 years old), the organization currently receives 50 people every day after registering a record attendance in 2022.

“Tales of Suffering”

Makewa believes that the emotional factor is the hardest part of dealing with the plight of refugees. “To maintain energy and hope, I try to keep my distance (from stories of suffering), otherwise I can’t work, I cry,” she says. She began to cry with her husband, Alexander, as they talked about their survival from the bombing in the Ukrainian city of Kopiensk, from which they fled a year ago, along with their two children, ages 3 and 7.

Ukrainian forces recaptured the area in eastern Ukraine in September 2022 after Russian forces occupied it for 6 months. But Russia has launched a new offensive in the region. “I want peace,” Yulia adds.

Rolf Colon
Rolf Colon
"Creator. Award-winning problem solver. Music evangelist. Incurable introvert."

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