Pro-Ukraine Russians in the Netherlands fear negative sentiment based on their nationality
It has been over a week since Russia's invasion of Ukraine caused an international outcry and many Russians, including those now living in the Netherlands, have condemned their government's actions. But several told NL Times that, despite their personal alarm and dismay toward the invasion, they feel people are perceiving them differently based on their nationality since last Thursday.
Andrei, whose real name is known to the NL Times, lives in a close-knit community near Amsterdam with his family. He was overwhelmed by the positive reaction from parents at his children's school after the events unfolded.
“We were of course shocked in the first hours and few days," he said. "People started to express their support. For example, parents of classmates of our children were also sharing support. They understand that it is not Russian people but the Russian government.”
For Andrei, that separation is crucial. He stressed how upsetting he finds it if people associate him with Russian President Vladimir Putin's actions, when the reality couldn’t be further from the truth.
A Russian woman, who asked to be called Natalia, lives in the Amsterdam area and also said she was “deeply concerned" about the situation in Ukraine. "It has been super hard not to just watch the news from Ukraine but also to talk to friends and parents still in Russia," she said. "All of my best friends are still there, I’m in contact with them every day.”
She has received support and comfort from those around her, even getting to know her Dutch neighbours for the first time because of these events. “Another couple of neighbours invited us for the first time to their home, they offered us tea and were taking care of us," she said.
Nevertheless, Natalia is still painfully aware of growing anti-Russian sentiment expressed by some people. This became apparent after she joined a peaceful pro-Ukraine protest in Amsterdam.
Her experience during the protest itself was positive. “At the rally after a few minutes, one man came and shook my hand," she said. "Other people came to talk and just say thank you.”
Natalia brought a sign stating that she was Russian but condemned the war. "When I left the square still with the sign, there was a crowd with young guys who shouted 'it’s your fault,'" she recalled. "Maybe they were just talking to themselves but it was two times from two different guys. I do understand them but it still hurts.”
While Natalia faced insults she knows others who have struggled more: her friend was expelled from a European university just for being Russian, she said. And, although Andrei has felt lucky because of the support he’s received from friends and neighbours in the Netherlands, he said some of his Russian friends have been targeted.
“I know that friends of mine living in southern regions, they hear outside their door whisperings, 'Russians are living here,'" Andrei said.
Personally, Andrei has received aggressive propaganda via WhatsApp. He believes that these mass messages are fueling the divide between people.
“I see a lot of WhatsApp messages that are creating this separation," Andrei said. "I feel that a lot of Russian people are influenced by this...Every such message tries to pull people on one side, it catalyzes the separation.”
Before the war broke out, Andrei didn’t think twice about how his Russian nationality could be perceived by those around him. Over the past week, this has shifted drastically.
“Of course you always start to think about speaking the Russian language in public," he said. "When I’m in the playground I think twice about speaking Russian, it’s simply the natural reaction.” He said everyday activities render him self-conscious: “If I bring the kids to football, the other parents know that I’m Russian and I feel that I need to explain.”
The situation in Ukraine looks as though it will not be resolved quickly, Andrei noted. Until then, people have to work hard at educating others to prevent any further divisions in society, he said.