Bruised by the “shame” of the offensive launched by their country, they decided to help the Ukrainians. Russians living in Bulgaria recount their mood and their mobilization to overcome the shortcomings of a poor country faced with an influx of refugees.
One has lived in this Eastern European country for 15 years and runs a children’s holiday center that has been turned into a reception center for those who fled the bombings since the start of the war.
When Ukrainian Elena Bondarenko fled her city of Zaporozhye in April, she did not expect to be rescued by a Russian when she arrived in Burgas on the Black Sea coast.
“At first it was a shockThis 36-year-old former bank employee, who arrived with her two children and her mother, told AFP.And then it’s just the opposite. I’m glad to see that not all Russians are aggressors“.
His benefactor, who chose not to be named for security reasons and refuses to discuss politics, is hosting about 160 Ukrainians, some of whom had to leave nearby hotels at the start of the tourist season.
“I never hid that I was Russian because they immediately saw that I had good intentions. Nationality doesn’t matter when you want to help people“, explains the energetic forties, piercing blue eyes and easy humor.
He receives a daily allowance of 7.5 euros per person from the state, which is a modest sum compared to what his care costs him. But how can he drive them away as winter approaches, he gasps, bemoaning the lack of language courses or employment support.
In this former communist bloc country with strong historical ties to Moscow, the government has not been the most welcoming, prompting the departure of many refugees who have rebuffed sometimes hostile remarks.
Of a total of around 932,000 recorded arrivals, only 51,000 people are still there, according to official statistics.
In the nearby coastal city of Varna, another Russian is fighting to support the Ukrainians.
This 47-year-old translator traveled hundreds of kilometers to pick them up at the border with Romania. She put her professional experience at their service, shared clothes and still has several families.
No “collective responsibility”
But unlike the hotelier, she shies away when asked about her background.
“I found the formula: ‘I was born in Russia‘. It hurts less to say it this way“, she says, also on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals against her mother, who remained in the country.
“That feeling, I can’t describe it: you are ashamed of your own country“, she adds.
If those who help, in the community of 17,500 Russians living in Bulgaria, often do so in the shadows, Viktor Bakurevic is not afraid to speak loud and clear.
He moved to Varna 14 years ago, where he founded the Russian retail chain Berezka.