‘I’m ashamed to be Russian’ – how expats in Tel Aviv are speaking out for Ukraine

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‘I’m ashamed to be Russian’ – how expats in Tel Aviv are speaking out for Ukraine

Jewish News meets volunteers preparing packages of medicine, food and clothes to be sent to Ukrainian families in need.

Russian Israeli Ivana Mereulova at the Ukrainian Cultural Centre in Tel Aviv, 1 March, 2022 (Jeremy Last)
Russian Israeli Ivana Mereulova at the Ukrainian Cultural Centre in Tel Aviv, 1 March, 2022 (Jeremy Last)

Dozens of Ukrainians and Russians showed a display of unity in Tel Aviv on Tuesday as they prepared packages of urgently needed supplies to be sent to families in Ukraine.

In an emotionally charged atmosphere at the city’s Ukrainian Cultural Centre, Jewish News spoke to volunteers as they worked feverishly into the night, packing boxes filled with basic items including toiletries, clothes and medicine donated by local Israelis.

The boxes were being loaded onto a truck headed for a warehouse in central Israel where they were to be transferred directly to the war-ravaged country by air.

Emotions were running high among expats of both countries involved in the devastating conflict.

Valeria Ivashkina, a 31-year-old journalist who moved to Israel from Odessa, Ukraine, only 10 months ago and lives in Ramat Gan with her husband, had been at the cultural centre most of the day.

“It’s hard to not cry, because my relatives – my parents, my sister and my grandparents – are in Ukraine,” she said as she took a break from filling boxes with sanitary products and clothes. “This is my country. When I see what the Russian army is doing with our cities I feel like I was hit in the solar plexus and I can’t breathe.

“My stepfather is fighting in the military and my mother is a dentist who has volunteered since 2014. I’m helping from Israel: finding contacts and speakers from Ukraine for international journalists, coordinating translators, gathering humanitarian aid, but I feel that it’s not enough. I should be there.”

Ukrainian Israeli Valeria Ivashkina at the Ukrainian Cultural Centre in Tel Aviv, 1 March, 2022. (Jeremy Last)

Expressing a sentiment that was echoed throughout the group of volunteers, Ivashkina said she has nothing against regular Russians.

“I can tell the difference between Russians who support Putin and those who are against him. I am not against Russian culture or language. I am ok with it, but I am not ok with aggression and with chauvinism. We will fight for peace,” she said.

“I have Russian friends in Israel and in Russia. They feel ashamed because they don’t want the war.”

Ivana Mereulova, 32, hails from Magadan in northeastern Russia. She said she felt an obligation to take a stance against the invasion of Ukraine by Vladimir Putin’s forces.

Holding a sign stating, “I am ashamed to be Russian,” Mereulova said: “I wanted to support Ukrainians because I love them so much. I have friends there who don’t want to leave the country because they want to volunteer. And their brothers are at war – it’s just awful.”

Ukrainian Dariia Nor and Russian Svetlana Singer at the Ukrainian Cultural Centre in Tel Aviv, Tuesday March 1, 2022. (Jeremy Last)

“Right now I feel like I want to die because my friends are at war. It’s an awful feeling. I am shaking all the time. I can’t sleep – I’ve slept two and a half hours each night since this started.

“I am ashamed that the Russian army are killing my friends in our brother country.”

Another Russian, Tanya Reznikov, 45, from Moscow, has lived in Israel for 22 years.

“I feel terrible about what’s going on now,” she said. “It is painful for me to know that two countries that I think are brothers are at war now.

“I am here to help the people. It doesn’t matter who is here, Ukrainian, Russian, it doesn’t matter. Israel is my country now and I think it is terrible, horrible what is going on.”

Russian Israeli Tanya Reznikov at the Ukrainian Cultural Centre in Tel Aviv, 1 March, 2022 (Jeremy Last)

The volunteers came from across the age spectrum and from all parts of Ukraine and Russia.

Nineteen-year-old Michelle Levina, from Dnipro, Ukraine, has lived in Israel for just a year. Like many others at the cultural centre, her family remain in Ukraine.

She said: “Of course we are all feeling very shaken up. My family is still in Ukraine and I have many friends there. My heritage and tradition are from Ukraine. I was born and raised there.

“We feel very sad but at the same time angry at the Russian government for invading our country and starting a war. We were at peace, we were fine.”

Ukrainian Israeli Michelle Levina, at the Ukrainian Cultural Centre in Tel Aviv, 1 March, 2022 (Jeremy Last)

Levina had harsh words for Putin. “He is sick and mad and I think he should suffer for everything he is doing and all the lives that he is taking right now.”

Underlining the positive atmosphere at the Tel Aviv venue she added: “We work with anyone who supports Ukraine and we are all united. Because the only way to win this thing is to stand united against the evil.

“My family are saying it’s scary. They are saying they need to spend their evenings in bunkers. They are crying but they are all united. We all have hope. We believe in our army. I love Ukraine and I hope this all ends soon.”

Svetlana Singer, 31, was born in Magadan in Russia, lived in Kyiv for 15 years, moved to Israel five years ago. Her mother currently lives in Kyiv.

She stressed her concerns that the conflict could spill over beyond Ukraine.

“The situation is terrible. I don’t think it is a conflict between Russia and Ukraine anymore. I think it has to do with every citizen of every country in the world,” she said.

“It’s just normal, peaceful citizens against evil. You cannot just sit quietly because tomorrow it will be at your door and you will feel it.

“Putin is a killer. He is killing innocent people. The building 100 metres from my mum’s building was bombed. My sister with two tiny children, my nephews, who I couldn’t see because of covid, I am not sure I will see them.”

Russian Israeli Svetlana Singer at the Ukrainian Cultural Centre in Tel Aviv, 1 March, 2022 (Jeremy Last)

Singer said her family has been divided by the conflict. “My father, uncle and aunt are in Moscow and my father has been calling my sister and claiming there is not a single Russian soldier in Ukraine.

“This is insane. Families are being broken down because of some ambition of a psycho, tyrant. It is unbelievable. I don’t feel Russian. I don’t feel any pride or connection to the country and I think every Russian who has pride should be ashamed and stand up against war, against murder.”

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