Being a Russian speaker in a Finnish border city when war rages over yonder

by , under Enrique Tessieri

Katja Marova, a Russian speaker from the border city of Lappeenranta, spoke to Migrant Tales about how the war in Ukraine had impacted her life as that of other Russian speakers in her home city. Russian speakers are the biggest group in Finland (88,000) followed by Estonian speakers (50,000). 

The Russian border is only a stone’s throw away from Lappeenranta. According to Marova, the atmosphere in her home city is different from Helsinki and other parts of Finland.

Katja Marova lives in the Finnish border city of Lappeenranta.

“The [Russophobic] situation is worse here than in Helsinki and related to fear,” she said. “Since we are next to the Russian border, people are afraid because we’d be the first to experience a military strike if a conflict broke out.”

Making matters worse are news stories by Yle on Lappeenranta’s bomb shelters and where people would be evacuated. Marova said that when people start to fear, they act strangely.

“This has led the city [of Lappeenranta] not to follow the example of other cities like Helsinki, which openly condemn all forms of racism,” she continued. “The city has not agreed to make a public statement against discrimination and racism.”

Marova said that she had asked victims of racist harassment to contact the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman.

“There was a case of a person who said he would not rent to Russians,” she said. “When we told him what he was doing was illegal, he changed his mind and rented the premise.”

Throughout Lappeenranta, there are a lot of banners that read “Slava Ukraina,” Glory to Ukraine. According to Marova, all these banners are financed by National Coalition Party MP Jukka Kopra, an Islamophobic hardliner.

One of the outcomes of the war on Marova and other Russian speakers is that it has limited free expression.

“The war has had a limiting effect on free speech,” she continued. “If you have different views on the war or about [Finland’s] NATO [membership], then you are automatically labeled a Putin supporter. It isn’t right and dangerous because free expression of one’s opinion is a hallmark of our democratic system and the rule of law.”

Marova would like to see the Finnish media write more about how Russian speakers in Finland are helping Ukrainians. She said Russian speakers had helped Ukrainians the most in Finland, but the media avoids writing about it.

“The written stories should give a wider view,” she continued. “Stories by Yle are framed in such a way to comply with a certain opinion. If you have middle-aged white men deciding what angle the stories should be, you won’t have a wide view of the story.”

Marova said that having more diversity in the newsroom is one good way to show that different opinions and other aspects are brought to light, like the discrimination of Russian-speaking Ukrainians.