Sunday, December 25, 2022

In a Finnish Town, Russian Emigres are Helping Ukrainian Refugees

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Dec. 25 – Since Putin launched his expanded war against Ukraine, more than 40,000 Ukrainians have fled to Finland. One thousand of them have settled in the border city of Joensuu, where something remarkable, even heart-warming, is happening: they are being helped not only by Finns but by Russians who emigrated there earlier.

            In most cases, SeverReal journalists Anna Yarovaya and Gleb Yarovoy say, both Russians and Ukrainians there deal with one another as individuals, recognizing that none of the individuals there is responsible for the horrors now taking place in Ukraine (

            The two journalists provide vignettes of many such contacts between Russians and Ukrainians in this Finnish town. But perhaps the most affecting involves the relationship between Olga Filippova, a Ukrainian instructor recently fled Kharkiv, and Olga Davydova-Menge, a Russian researcher who moved to Joensuu from Petozavodsk 30 years ago.

            The two Olgas became acquainted in 2010 when they joined forces to conduct research in Joensuu and have kept in contact since then via Skype. The last time they did so was the day before Putin announced his expanded invasion of Ukraine on February 24. Davydova-Menge told her colleague then that if the worst happened, she’s always welcome her in Joensuu.

            The worst did happen earlier the next day, and Olga Filippova recalls that she was awakened at 4:00 am by her dog Winston and that several minutes later she heard the first explosions from the Russian attack. She couldn’t believe what was happening but had it confirmed by looking at Facebook.

            Initially, Filippova says now, she didn’t expect the attacks to last and consequently didn’t think about leaving. But then she began to reflect on what she would have to do before it was too late. She spent time with her 13-year-old son Ivan and her dog Winston in the basement of her apartment building along with 40 other residents and a wide assortment of pets.

            Her foreign contacts sent her messages asking her to leave as soon as possible and come to them. Her dog had to learn how to do his business quickly, but she had no way of getting out of the city because of the attacks and then the introduction of martial law with a strictly enforced curfew.

            Meanwhile, the other Olga gave interviews to Finnish media about what was happening in Ukraine and sought to find a way for her friend to escape and come to Finland. Her university offered the Ukrainian Olga a position, and the Russian Olga’s colleagues worked to find a way for her to come.

            Ultimately, she travelled for seven days by bus with her son and dog and only a rucksack of personal effects. She says that she understands that her position is much batter than many other Ukrainians because she already knows English, has an academic post and has travelled abroad. She says that about 80 percent of Ukrainians in Finland are now abroad for the first time.

            Filippova has become increasingly involved in helping other Ukrainians who have fled in the face of Russian aggression, often working closely with Russian emigres and Finns who want to help them as well. In the spring, she organized examinations for Ukrainian pupils, with the Finns providing technical help and American colleagues the money to pay teachers.

            Both Olgas are committed to looking beyond nationality to individuals and encouraging others to do likewise, but they both acknowledge that the longer this war goes on, the longer it will take for those who have suffered as a result to do that. The more people like the two Olgas there are, the shorter this time will be.

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