As the conflict rages on between Russia and Ukrainian nationalists, thousands of miles away in San Francisco, people are following closely. There are an estimated 3,800 Ukrainians here. But the city is also home to more than 17,000 people who identify as Russian. So, what do they think about what’s going on back home?
I stopped in at a market in San Francisco’s Richmond District to get the perspectives of local Russian speakers, as they stocked up on tea, sour cream, and pelmeni (Russian dumplings). Here are some of their voices.
“I listen to what’s happening there in the news, but at the same time, what they say on the news doesn’t always coincide with what’s going on,” says Gena Prikhodka, who works at the market. He has lived in the United States since he was nine years old.
“It’s really difficult to figure out what is actually going on among all the various hands involved in it. And all the people who think this or that — it’s all a little otherwise. And the influence the the U.S. government has there, and various governments, is perhaps a little implicated,” Prikhodka says. “Then, the people are not in full agreement with their government, but I think there’s some other party that has helped lead Ukraine away from Russia. And I don’t know how good an idea that is.”
A shopper named Boris, who did not want to give his last name, had this to say: “I consider it fair that Crimea has become part of Russia, because -- purely historically and so forth. You understand? And when Yeltsin did a stupid thing when he said to everyone, ‘Take what you want,’ he forgot about Crimea. And Crimea is really located strategically for Russia. That is just. Everything else I consider unjust, in the sense of the East, Kharkiv, everything is absolutely unjust on the part of Russia.”
Veronika Khodus came from the city of Tomsk, in Siberia. She has been here for eight years. “Earlier, we all somehow lived — whether Ukrainian, Uzbek, Tadzhik, Korean — we lived very well — peaceably, maybe not so luxuriously, but everything was fine,” says Khodus. “But now, everyone is fearful. The youth are dying; our innocent youth are perishing. They are our future, after all; how can that be? …. To oppress your own kin, that’s senseless overall.” The rest of Khodus’s family still lives in Tomsk.
Asked what she thinks of Putin’s actions, Elena Pisakhovskaya responds quickly.
“He’s acting like Hitler,” she says.
“He reminds us of Hitler and the 1930s, with his tactics,” chimes in her husband, Leonid Pisakhovskij.
“Whatever is right or wrong in Ukraine, that’s a completely different question,” says Elena. “We believe that Russia has no right to interfere.”
Olga Vainberg moved here from Moldavia. She was choosing a box of tea when I approached her.
“Ukraine is a good country, a rich country. What’s happening with it now is very grave,” Vainberg says. “We’re very worried. We cry; we’re unsettled; we can’t sleep peacefully, because what’s to come of our people who are living in Ukraine? Who’s guilty? There should be peace; people should live in peace.”