The stories of Brussels residents who receive Ukrainian refugees, collect things and protest against the war of Russia have been filling the news in recent days. But what about the reactions that Russian inhabitants of Brussels receive, are they equally understanding? “99% of my compatriots are fully committed to helping the Ukrainians.”
Dasha (31) is of Russian descent and has been living in Brussels with her daughter since 2014. Like many others, she has been collecting clothes, food and medication for Ukraine for a week. However, she feels that her background is playing tricks on her and that not everyone receives her as warmly. “It’s Putin’s war, most of the Russians never even voted for him. You can look here in Brussels for Russians who support him. But I am convinced that 99% are doing everything they can to help Ukraine.”
Dasha herself collects pet food for pets affected by the war. She does this together with the Brussels coffee bar Kaffabar on the Rouppeplein.
From the Netherlands there are reports of Russian shops being pelted and discrimination against people with Russian roots. So far, several Russian shops in Brussels have not experienced any nuisance or aggression. “Of course the situation in Ukraine is bad and of course we sympathise. But I’m not afraid that I would be targeted,” replies one manager.
Dasha, on the other hand, gets a feeling of distress when she discovers a closed group on Facebook calling for the boycott and bullying of Russians in Brussels. “In my head I think of scenarios in which my daughter is bullied at school. I’m really worried that groups like this will escalate the problem.”
The messages create an unsafe feeling. She therefore prefers to remain anonymous, but finds it very important that she is heard. “I myself come from a country without journalistic freedom, so I realise all too well how important the media is.”
Anna Yastrebova (36) is currently looking at the situation more optimistically. “I know I’m not allowed to speak for everyone, but at the moment there doesn’t seem to be any reason to panic. I hope everyone remains sensible enough to see politics and population separately from each other.” Anna has lived in Belgium for 12 years and has a family here. The friendship with a Ukrainian girlfriend is currently a lot more uncomfortable. But beyond that, her origin has not yet influenced her life here in Brussels. Earlier this week, Anna received several messages of support from teachers and parents from her son’s school.
Still, it wouldn’t surprise her if at some point this compassion gave way to hatred. “On the playground, my son heard some children say ‘those evil Russians’. You can assume that the children will receive this from home.”