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Russians in Finland "not fooled by Russian propaganda"

Russians in Finland "not fooled by Russian propaganda"

| Text: Bengt Östling, photo: Cata Portin

Maria Taina-Parviainen is one of many Russians who have moved across the border to Lappeenranta. 21 years ago she moved from the Leningrad region to take up an apprenticeship in Finland.

After working for a while in agriculture, she studied at Lappeenranta University. She got a family, a Master of Science degree and worked as a machinery project manager.

Family roots in Ukraine

Only recently she learned that her father’s family has roots in both Ukraine and Belarus. She has been shocked by the mass graves in Bucha and Mariupol and warns there will be more. She feels for those under attack and in distress in Ukraine, but she has never been there.

She has not been back to Russia for more than two years either, because of the Corona pandemic. Now it is impossible for other reasons.

The war is creating a split in the Russian population, and within families too. But not many Russians living in Finland are fooled by the Russian propaganda, believes Maria Taina-Parviainen. She thinks it depends on who watches Russian TV and who follows Finnish and international TV news.

"Russian TV claims that civilian people are not been killed by Russians in Ukraine or that it is only by accident. They say the murders in Bucha are all fake," she says, adding that some Russians really believe Ukrainians are bombing themselves.

"Most Russians have not even heard that Russia has been bombing separatist-controlled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk for eight years. They believe it’s Ukraine with some help from the West."

Understands the silence

She can understand why Russians in Russia are staying silent.

"There is a real danger of being arrested, raped, tortured, suffering permanent injuries in prison. In such circumstances to be against, even only in your mind, is dangerous.

"Sadly, in liberal Finland, only a small number of Russian speakers stand with Ukraine publicly. I can only hope they have tried to convince their friends and relatives what is really happening and that they help Ukrainians somehow. It is our duty to offer an alternative point of view," says Maria Taina-Parviainen.

"We have to do everything to stop this escalating catastrophe. If it is not us then who?"

It seems to have become a little more difficult being Russian in Finland, but there was always some underlying racism against Russians among Finnish people. During the Soviet Union, it was simply called Russian-hatred.

Today this is a particularly sore topic. Maria Taina-Parviainen does not want to give Russians any excuse for attacking Finland. The Russian embassy in Helsinki has used its social media to ask Russians in Finland to report any attacks on Russian citizens. 

Eager to talk about Mariupol

We meet Russian-born Maria Taina-Parviainen outside the Lappeenranta city hall. She does not quite understand why we want to talk about Russians in Finland now. But she is eager to talk about the situation in Ukraine. Especially about Mariupol.

“We have food and a safe home with central heating, while babies in Mariupol are under heavy bombardment in dirty, cold and wet bomb shelters without basic supplies like water”. 

Over 878 000 people from Mariupol and other regions were deported through filtration camps to Russia, mostly without consent, according to Ukrainian TV news. 

They have been accommodated in different locations in Russia.  Passports have been taken away and they cannot leave Russia easily. 

Help needed

We have to help Mariupol, says Maria Taina-Parviainen, including all those who have fled to Russia, Finland and the rest of the Nordic countries and Europe.

"Each of us around the world can find our own way to support those in need. Let’s not forget beautiful Ukraine, there is still an ongoing humanitarian crisis there. They need our help, she says. 

"I have never supported the acting Russian President and have never voted for him, only against. But I could have done more. It is not that easy to understand the whole situation for a non-professional. In my opinion, high-level politics carries more responsibility for what is happening than ordinary Russian people. It’s the politicians' job to prevent wars and terroristic acts, isn't it?"

Many Russians have managed to create new lives in Finland and do not think that much about their Russian nationality. Being Russian is no big deal. You only think about it when there is an ice hockey match on, jokes Maria Taina-Parviainen.

Today, nationalism feels particularly dangerous. The war and hostilities are built on a lie, she says. The arguments against Ukraine are absolutely false. Claims of denazification and Russian “help” for Ukraine seem unfathomable to her.

“Russia could be the world’s best country. But it needs a leader who cares about the people.  I hope Russia one day will have a female president. Russian women are the best thing Russia has.  They are intelligent, caring and they are not interested in wars," says Maria Taina-Parviainen.

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