Interview with a migrant from Ukraine by Tatiana Savchenko

A military conflict in the East of Ukraine (in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions) broke out in April 2014. Since that time thousands of Ukrainians have been seeking new homes. Some of them applied for refugee status in Russia, but even more migrated on their own. The family of Anton Maslow moved to Tuapse (Krasnodar Region, Russia) from Dimitrov (Donetsk Region, Ukraine) in March 2014. I had a chance to talk to Anton and discuss his current life situation.

T: Anton, could you please tell us your story? Why did you decide to leave Ukraine?

A: My family left Ukraine just after the tragic events in Independence Square in Kiev took place. That is the answer to your question “why”. Everyone who understands politics at least a bit has realised that the new Ukrainian leaders cannot do anything good for the country. My family is from the Donetsk region, and as you know this part of Ukraine is now fighting for its independence. It was simply not safe to stay there. I don’t want my wife and infant son to live in everyday fear.

T: That’s understandable. But why did you choose to migrate to Russia? Did you consider any other country, such as Poland or Belarus?

A: We chose Russia for a simple reason: I had a house here which I inherited from my grandparents. To be honest, if we didn’t have that house, we wouldn’t have even thought about moving.

T: Oh,it is clear to me now. As you said, you moved to Russia on your own. But is it difficult to get refugee status in Russia?

A: I don’t know much about it. They say everything depends on the region. For example, Krasnodar Region is overpopulated. That is why the number of people that can be accepted as refugees is limited. I guess the situation is the same in Moscow, St Petersburg and other areas of European Russia.

T: My home city is also on the border with Ukraine, and at the railway station I saw special signs for refugees that said “Allocation of Ukrainian refugees to other Russian regions is on the second floor”. The European part of Russia is the most attractive one, but people should understand that it is not easy to provide living and working conditions for newcomers. Was it difficult for you to find job in Tuapse? What do you do for a living?

A: In the first few month it wasn’t easy, of course. I’m a sound engineer, and in Ukraine I worked in TV. When I went to the federal TV channel in Tuapse, they told me that they were not understaffed and in compliance with the law every foreigner must have residence and work permits. At that time I didn’t have them. I tried many different part-time jobs, then after half a year I found a job where my income was 2-3 times more than the average salary in Tuapse (note: the average salary in Tuapse is 15,000 roubles – about 200 Euros). This job (photography) is also my hobby, which is why I am satisfied with it.

T: But do you get any help from the Russian government? I know you have a little son. Do you have medical insurance and can you send your child to the kindergarten for free?

A: Everyone who has a residence permit gets free medical insurance. So yes, we can go to any doctor for free. And my son can go to the kindergarten like any Russian kid, but we will have to pay for it, I think. He is still too young, so we haven’t thought about those details yet.

T: Sure, you still have time for it. Could you please tell me if it was hard for you to adapt to Russian culture?

A: I didn’t have to adapt to anything. In my opinion Russia and Ukraine are twin sisters. Needless to say I didn’t have any problems with a language. I consider Russian my mother tongue and I know it better than Ukrainian. The only irritating and exhausting thing is obligatory visits to the immigration office.

T: Believe me, I can imagine what you are talking about. But have you ever encountered conflict based on nationality? How do people treat you here?

A: Until now I have experienced neither a special attitude nor any kind of conflict. The people I meet here wouldn’t care if I were from Mars. Sometimes I hear people talking about the situation in Ukraine with a great sympathy. Occasionally someone says that refugees are too impudent. From comments such as these I conclude that every migrant or refugee should understand that no one is obliged to give him anything. In fact the opposite is true: having moved to another country, please behave yourself and prove that you deserve to be here. Nobody asked you to come here. So prove that you can be useful or at least don’t cause any trouble. Look for a job instead of asking for help. I don’t reject the idea that there should be programmes for refugees, but nothingmore than that. You may not agree with me, but it is my personal opinion.

T: I haven’t been in such a situation, so I can’t judge if your opinion is right or not. Do you miss your motherland? Do you think you will be able to go back one day?

A: Now I can’t even imagine going back. The main thing I ran away from was an absence of prospects for the future. Changes going on in Ukraine now show that in the next 15-20 years there will be nothing to do there. The social situation is in constant decline. Interregional hostility is growing. I don’t see a way to provide for my family and make plans for the future under such circumstances. My priority now is to get Russian citizenship. Only if something miraculous happens to Ukrainian economics will I think of going back.

T: Hopefully the situation will change for the better soon… By the way, do you follow news about Ukraine on TV or maybe somewhere else?

A: Of course I do, but not on TV. In fact, at home we don’t even have one. I haven’t watched TV for 8 years. To follow news I use the Internet, but I always check different sources to build an objective picture.

T: That’s very wise. Thank you so much for your time! And best wishes to your family! I hope that your life in Russia will bring only good things.