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Investigation

Ukraine: Russians from Monaco and the French Riviera testify

Menton
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The Russian-Ukrainian war is escalating. After the testimony of four Ukrainian refugees and residents in the Principality, this time Russian nationals from Monaco and the Côte d’Azur share their fears with us.

Some refuse to comment. Others wish to remain anonymous. And others start to tremble or cry at the mere mention of the war between Ukraine and Russia. While the Ukrainian population has clearly been suffering for over a month because of the war, Russian expatriates are also feeling the repercussions of a war they did not choose.

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SEE ALSO: Residents, refugees… Ukrainian women from Monaco tell their stories

One reader, for example, who lives on the French Riviera and in London, rails against the unfair situation in which he and his compatriots find themselves: “Russians are now getting it from all sides.  We have been ‘pushed around’ by our government, and the rest of the world has simply turned its back on us. And while some people understand that our government didn’t ask the Russians for permission to conduct “special operations”, and continue to treat us well, the hatred of other countries and businesses towards us is impossible to ignore. Russians are not being hired, they are being thrown out of sports and intellectual competitions, from medical organisations, when all these things should be above politics. To my mind, it is another kind of “terror”, which is unjustified and vicious.”

When I read the messages between my daughter and her cousin who is still in Ukraine, I sit and cry all night

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Elena, Nice

Constant worry

Oleg is an engineer on the French Riviera. Although he is very worried about the renewal of his resident’s permit, for the moment he is as focused as possible on the Ukrainian cause: ‘We try to help, to donate to charities, we have hosted refugees (and will host more).  We post information on social networks, translate important content, try to convince our Russian friends who do not understand the seriousness of the situation. (…) What is really scary is the reaction of the Russian population these days! I didn’t expect such indifference, such cynicism. They talk about military operations as if it were a war between robots or computer game figures! Nobody talks about the lost and broken lives, on the contrary. It proves that the interests of the State are more important than the interests of society!  People are ready to believe all sorts of nonsense, from Ukrainian Nazis and nuclear and bacteriological weapons that Ukraine is allegedly using to threaten Russia, to conspiracy theories, just so they can justify the actions of the State and their own inaction!”

SEE ALSO: Prince Albert II wishes to welcome Ukrainian refugees to the Principality

Elena, an interpreter-guide from St. Petersburg based in Nice, also feels overwhelmed by the war: “There are probably few families where Russians and Ukrainians have not been mixed over the course of a generation.  My first father-in-law was a Ukrainian from the Mykolaiv region, my daughter is a quarter Ukrainian. When I read the messages between her and her cousin, who stayed in the village, in a basement without electricity, water or heating, with elderly parents, I sit and cry all evening. (…) We can only hope that members of the Russian-speaking community living on the Côte d’Azur have enough wisdom and patience to behave decently in the face of shared misfortune (including on social networks, there’s a war of words going on).”

I’ve been getting a lot of insults. At work, aggressive customers tell me I should go back to Russia.

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Ekaterina, Roquebrune

It is true that most expatriates are finding it hard to cope with how difficult it is contact their loved ones. Mrs. Cazorla works in a Russian grocery store in Beausoleil. Although the establishment has an international clientele and product lines, the war is particularly present here.

She tells us, with much emotion, about her fear of the situation in Ukraine: “It’s horrible, we can’t talk to the customers, we cry together. It’s awful… I come from southern Ukraine; my family is over there. We are the ones who are suffering, we are paying for it, whether in Russia or Ukraine. Why? What for? You want peace? So why did you send the army, instead of a diplomat? Who’s listening to us? I send a message to my family every morning, but I can’t speak freely. Everything is monitored. I ask them on WhatsApp if everything’s okay. But the real question is: “Are you alive?” For now, they are fine, thank God. We hope it all ends soon.”

Russophobia is taking hold

While solidarity is the order of the day in the store, where Russians and Ukrainians rub shoulders, some Russian nationals are the targets of remarks and insults.

SEE ALSO: Ukraine: A couple from Monaco creates a Facebook group to help refugees

This is the case for Ekaterina, a social worker living in Roquebrune, who tells us how her life has changed: “I’ve been getting a lot of insults, but I don’t care about threats from virtual people: I am more concerned about ones from people I know. A friend of mine (who is in Ukraine now) threatened me, telling me that her husband would take care of me himself, that his parents would have me deported, that I will be held accountable and so will my daughter. All of which was said using foul language and insults.  My beautician, in Nice, says frightening things too: that they are going to massacre Russians, that they hate our country. (…) At work, aggressive clients tell me that we are fascists and Nazis and that I should go back to Russia.”

For Elizaveta Lovering, founder of the translation and interpreting company Monaco Translations, which has been based in the Principality for 20 years, this tension was also keenly felt in her workplace: “I am Secretary General of the Club des Résidents Étrangers de Monaco (Crem).  I have had messages on social media saying that Russians should not be allowed in the Crem. They use fake accounts to make these kinds of comments under my publications. I don’t answer them, I report them, and I block them”

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Also a certified translator and interpreter at the Court of Appeal of Monaco, Elizaveta mostly works with the Principality’s Russian-speaking community. Recalling Russians’ and Ukrainians’ shared origins, she stresses that expatriate Russians stand with Ukraine. “It’s a tragedy for us and for them,” she explains. “When we came to live here, it was a life choice. (…) So we need to protect these Russians from this stigma. The Monegasque authorities must be made aware so that Russian citizens who are residents in the Principality are spared. I do not know a single person who condones what is happening.”

A mother of two children, aged sixteen and seven, Elizaveta has also been watchful. Although they consider themselves “citizens of the world”, due to their multicultural background and having been born in Monaco, Elizaveta was keen to ensure that neither of them are subjected to bullying at school because of their Russian roots. “I think there has been an awareness-raising effort. I asked them about it, but they assured me that they’ve not been hassled by their classmates. Fortunately, everything is fine. We need to explain everything to the children and make them aware of what’s happening.”

All my transactions have to be confirmed by my bank

Tatiana, Monaco

Monitored bank accounts

The consequences are not only social. Tatiana (an assumed name) lives in Monaco. Although she has not felt any particular Russophobia in her social circle, she did get a nasty surprise when she checked her bank account: ‘after the sanctions came in, even though I am not on the [sanctioned Russians] list, I found out quite by chance that I was prevented from making any kind of money transfer, even for internal transfers.  (…) I didn’t get a letter, or any information… I had to contact the bank, which could not give me an answer at first. For now, all my transactions have to be confirmed by the bank, which usually takes two more days. (…) What bothers me most about the situation is the total lack of transparency. I can understand that my transfers are checked, but I would have liked to have been warned beforehand.”

SEE ALSO: AS Monaco and its President aid Ukraine civilians

Maria, based in San Remo, had the same problem: « I had a very unpleasant conversation with my bank in Italy, which asked me if I had dual nationality. I said no. They didn’t close my account, but they warned me not to send any money to Russia, which I never have in any case.”

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But the young woman is also concerned about her family, which is still in Russia: “I am no longer free to go and see them, given the new restrictions. All the air routes are closed, and I now have to find a backup plan to meet up with my loved ones somewhere else.”

And apart from insults and audited transfers, what the Russian community fears most is escalation. Archpriest Andrey Eliseev, rector of the Russian cathedral in Nice, received an anonymous threatening letter on 10 March saying “You are friends of Mr Putin (sic).  Go to Russia soon, otherwise you and your friends will be killed. You have one month.” The message, signed “a friend”, was reported to the police according to our colleagues at Nice-Matin.

In the hope that words do not become deeds in the coming weeks, and whatever these expatriates have suffered since the war began, they are all hoping for one thing: peace. And soon.

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