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Local Russian community confronts Ukraine conflict

While many Russians on the Peninsula have donated, nuanced viewpoints on the conflict have caused splits

George Farber poses for a portrait in Menlo Park on Aug. 23, 2022. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Six months after Russia invaded Ukraine, with bombs continuing to explode and refugees still fleeing, members of the local Russian community say they have not been staying on the sidelines. Many Russians on the Peninsula have been actively discussing the conflict, and some have been making donations to help the Ukrainian people.

But the war overseas also has caused a disturbance in the lives of many within the local Russian community.

George Farber is an American Russian Jew who immigrated to America with his family 30 years ago from St. Petersburg, Russia, and his social circle consists of Russian Jews like himself.

Farber is against the Ukraine conflict and said he is not alone.

"Amongst my peers, I do not know anyone, literally anyone, who does not share my sentiment (about Ukraine) and that's, you know, that's hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people," Farber said.

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While Farber's immediate peers feel the Ukraine conflict is "criminal," some people in the older generations also express that there's added layers of complexity.

"Among the previous generations, the generation of our parents or people who are in their 60s and 70s and 80s, for the most part people feel the same way. Although very often, their approach is more nuanced," Farber said.

For instance, some older people feel that Russia is not the only nation to blame for the conflict. People in the older generations, while they express love for the United States, say America provoked this war, Farber said.

Older generations often say: "What Putin is doing is absolutely criminal, but let's also be clear that he has been provoked. This whole expression 'Do not poke the bear in the eye,' well, Russia is that bear," he said.

"These people do not necessarily feel that what Russia is doing is appropriate, but at least they can find the view that there is a reason" for Russia to invade, he said.

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Differences in generational viewpoints are a nuance that sometimes causes arguments within families and the Russian community, according to Farber.

Russian-born Dmitry Skvortsov, a rising sophomore at Stanford University and head of the Russian-speaking Student Association, has also felt the tension between generations and has argued with his parents about aspects of the conflict in Ukraine.

Beyond that, however, Skvortsov has felt and seen the effects of sanctions placed on Russia. As an international student, he has had to jump through many hoops put in place as a result of the war in Ukraine. He has had to deal with using a Russian bank from which companies in America do not accept money and had to go to a visa station in Poland because Russian embassies in the U.S. closed.

"It's kind of sad. A lot of obstacles are created for those people who actually want to leave Russia. ... Obviously the obstacles that they face are nothing like what people in Ukraine are having right now. Just for me, it seems a little bit strange," Skvortsov said.

Skvortsov, who also grew up in Moscow, visited Russia in June for a week and was able to see some of the impacts of the war.

"A lot of brands left Russia, like Starbucks or McDonald's. I was obviously seeing some Z and V propaganda, these symbols of war, and propaganda that you should support your army, something like this. But otherwise, not a lot of things change in Russia," Skvortsov said.

With the major inconveniences to his hometown, Skvortsov hopes something will change.

"My hope is that the western world will much rather hurt the people in the government and not people who actually are obviously not responsible for what is going on," Skvortsov said.

Farber said the majority of Russians, no matter the generation, feel that Russia is causing significant harm to Ukraine and Ukrainians, and many people in the Russian community have been donating to help Ukraine. Some have even gone further.

"Most people that I know at least claim that they've been donating money. I do have several friends who actually went to the border of Poland and Ukraine, Romania and Ukraine and Moldova and Ukraine. And somebody actually went to the border of Estonia and Russia to try to help refugees, specifically for an organization called Cashforrefugees.org," Farber said.

'A lot of obstacles are created for those people who actually want to leave Russia. ... Obviously the obstacles that they face are nothing like what people in Ukraine are having right now.'

-Dmitry Skvortsov, rising sophomore, Stanford University

Farber has been able to donate a "fair chunk of money" to the cause, but he always makes sure that he personally knows the people who he is donating to, or has friends who do. He knows the founders of Cashforrefugees.org personally, and he feels they are a credible organization, he said.

"The biggest challenge for people like me, who are physically completely disconnected from everything that's going on there, is who do you trust? If you give somebody $1,000 and they say 'We're going to give it to the kids in Ukraine,' how are you going to trust that person not to go to a three-star Michelin restaurant with your money? So that's always been on really everyone's mind," he said.

David Saykin, who was the 2021-22 Russian-Speaking Student Association president at Stanford University, has helped organize rallies to support Ukraine but also has felt some mistrust from some peers. Saykin said he hopes the conflict will come to a peaceful resolution and relationships will be mended.

"Let's put it this way: Russian students have not been canceled, but Michael McFaul (former U.S. Ambassador to Russia) recently tweeted that Russian citizens who travel to a free country should need to pay a tax," he said, referring to McFaul's comment about the differences between helping pro-democracy opponents of Putin flee the country and charging a small fee to Russians wanting to vacation abroad.

"Russians are usually treated well, and hopefully our relations and our reputation will recover. Eventually," Saykin said.

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Jonas Pao is a former intern for The Almanac, Mountain View Voice and Palo Alto Online.

Follow Mountain View Voice Online on Twitter @mvvoice, Facebook and on Instagram @mvvoice for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

Local Russian community confronts Ukraine conflict

While many Russians on the Peninsula have donated, nuanced viewpoints on the conflict have caused splits

by Jonas Pao / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Fri, Aug 26, 2022, 12:57 pm

Six months after Russia invaded Ukraine, with bombs continuing to explode and refugees still fleeing, members of the local Russian community say they have not been staying on the sidelines. Many Russians on the Peninsula have been actively discussing the conflict, and some have been making donations to help the Ukrainian people.

But the war overseas also has caused a disturbance in the lives of many within the local Russian community.

George Farber is an American Russian Jew who immigrated to America with his family 30 years ago from St. Petersburg, Russia, and his social circle consists of Russian Jews like himself.

Farber is against the Ukraine conflict and said he is not alone.

"Amongst my peers, I do not know anyone, literally anyone, who does not share my sentiment (about Ukraine) and that's, you know, that's hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people," Farber said.

While Farber's immediate peers feel the Ukraine conflict is "criminal," some people in the older generations also express that there's added layers of complexity.

"Among the previous generations, the generation of our parents or people who are in their 60s and 70s and 80s, for the most part people feel the same way. Although very often, their approach is more nuanced," Farber said.

For instance, some older people feel that Russia is not the only nation to blame for the conflict. People in the older generations, while they express love for the United States, say America provoked this war, Farber said.

Older generations often say: "What Putin is doing is absolutely criminal, but let's also be clear that he has been provoked. This whole expression 'Do not poke the bear in the eye,' well, Russia is that bear," he said.

"These people do not necessarily feel that what Russia is doing is appropriate, but at least they can find the view that there is a reason" for Russia to invade, he said.

Differences in generational viewpoints are a nuance that sometimes causes arguments within families and the Russian community, according to Farber.

Russian-born Dmitry Skvortsov, a rising sophomore at Stanford University and head of the Russian-speaking Student Association, has also felt the tension between generations and has argued with his parents about aspects of the conflict in Ukraine.

Beyond that, however, Skvortsov has felt and seen the effects of sanctions placed on Russia. As an international student, he has had to jump through many hoops put in place as a result of the war in Ukraine. He has had to deal with using a Russian bank from which companies in America do not accept money and had to go to a visa station in Poland because Russian embassies in the U.S. closed.

"It's kind of sad. A lot of obstacles are created for those people who actually want to leave Russia. ... Obviously the obstacles that they face are nothing like what people in Ukraine are having right now. Just for me, it seems a little bit strange," Skvortsov said.

Skvortsov, who also grew up in Moscow, visited Russia in June for a week and was able to see some of the impacts of the war.

"A lot of brands left Russia, like Starbucks or McDonald's. I was obviously seeing some Z and V propaganda, these symbols of war, and propaganda that you should support your army, something like this. But otherwise, not a lot of things change in Russia," Skvortsov said.

With the major inconveniences to his hometown, Skvortsov hopes something will change.

"My hope is that the western world will much rather hurt the people in the government and not people who actually are obviously not responsible for what is going on," Skvortsov said.

Farber said the majority of Russians, no matter the generation, feel that Russia is causing significant harm to Ukraine and Ukrainians, and many people in the Russian community have been donating to help Ukraine. Some have even gone further.

"Most people that I know at least claim that they've been donating money. I do have several friends who actually went to the border of Poland and Ukraine, Romania and Ukraine and Moldova and Ukraine. And somebody actually went to the border of Estonia and Russia to try to help refugees, specifically for an organization called Cashforrefugees.org," Farber said.

Farber has been able to donate a "fair chunk of money" to the cause, but he always makes sure that he personally knows the people who he is donating to, or has friends who do. He knows the founders of Cashforrefugees.org personally, and he feels they are a credible organization, he said.

"The biggest challenge for people like me, who are physically completely disconnected from everything that's going on there, is who do you trust? If you give somebody $1,000 and they say 'We're going to give it to the kids in Ukraine,' how are you going to trust that person not to go to a three-star Michelin restaurant with your money? So that's always been on really everyone's mind," he said.

David Saykin, who was the 2021-22 Russian-Speaking Student Association president at Stanford University, has helped organize rallies to support Ukraine but also has felt some mistrust from some peers. Saykin said he hopes the conflict will come to a peaceful resolution and relationships will be mended.

"Let's put it this way: Russian students have not been canceled, but Michael McFaul (former U.S. Ambassador to Russia) recently tweeted that Russian citizens who travel to a free country should need to pay a tax," he said, referring to McFaul's comment about the differences between helping pro-democracy opponents of Putin flee the country and charging a small fee to Russians wanting to vacation abroad.

"Russians are usually treated well, and hopefully our relations and our reputation will recover. Eventually," Saykin said.

Jonas Pao is a former intern for The Almanac, Mountain View Voice and Palo Alto Online.

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