We have met Russians of many backgrounds, they may not look or act like the stereotype of a Russian but they are Russian. We sat down with some of them to hear their experiences. Meet the Russians…
Doctor, activist and campaigner for LGBT+ rights
“Saint Petersburg is often called a ‘European capital’, or a ‘city of three revolutions’. Both names reflect its nature perfectly: a city built to make a transition from Asia to Europe.
“It is not fully Russian: it is different, rebellious, progressive and a bit neurotic at times. It is the birthplace of Russian football, our version of multiculturalism and the LGBT+ movement.
“It is the city of white nights, when the sky is at constant dawn all night. My St. Petersburg is the city of heart, not mind.
“Together with my friends I organise campaigns to promote equality, as well as various smaller projects such as excursions on the LGBT+ history of St. Petersburg. As an activist I can’t ignore the crimes the state is committing in St. Petersburg. In January 2018 the police abducted and sent two homosexuals back to Chechnya for certain death. At the same time, the FSB arrested and tortured three antifascist activists on dubious charges of ‘terrorism’.”
Mechanical engineer. Originally from Ghana
“It was 1977 and I was 24, working at a Russian factory in Accra when I got my lucky ticket and with two of my colleagues, received a scholarship to pursue my Master’s degree in Volgograd.
“I was fascinated by the city and its monumental glory, but most importantly I met the love of my life, Tatyana. We married shortly after the 1980 Moscow Olympics and raised two beautiful daughters.
“In 1986 I started following and became a regular season ticket holder at FC Rotor Volgograd. I was quite popular at the stadium because I had a lot of friends. I still keep my season tickets from that time as a memory, especially the 1995/1996 one as I was lucky to witness both legs of their glorious triumph over the English Premier League winners, Manchester United.
“I love Volgograd. This is where I feel at home, I have lived here for 41 years. I have a wife, two girls and two granddaughters. I have lived a very good life in Volgograd and have always had a friendly reception. I attended the opening match between Rotor and Krylya Sovetov this May at the new World Cup stadium and the feeling was just fantastic.”
Head of the information service of the LGBT movement ‘Avers’ and Oksana Berezovskaya, chair of ‘Avers’
“Samara is a city of contrasts. Here love for the city sits right next to the habit of littering in the streets, old wooden houses neighbour new high rises.
“Here we have both gay people and homophobic Cossacks living beside each other.
“As with many of our fellow citizens, we enjoy the old town and the splendid Volga embankment. But it is not easy to be a member of the LGBT community in Samara.”
Medical student from Botswana
“I am a proud Southern African, citizen of the Republic of Botswana and most importantly a proud product of Privolzhskiy State Research Medical University. I am currently paving my career path into Emergency Medicine, Search and Rescue. I am a former South African trained paramedic who aspired to become a medical doctor.
“Being a foreigner in Russia has been an overwhelming experience. Yes, when I first arrived I was overcome with fear, agony. From the very moment of my decision to come to Russia I was constantly advised against it. But I always want to see things with my own eyes.
“A lot of people have this misconception of Russia as being a brutal country with vodka as your cereal for breakfast. Okay, the vodka is not for breakfast only but hey, every country is known for something.
“There have been instances where the local people would stare at me and give me looks that, if looks could kill, would leave me dead. I really didn’t understand whether it was hate or curiosity. I soon learnt that in Russia with my skin color, you are exotic. I have to say it really boosted my self-esteem somehow, I would walk the streets and know that a million eyes are on me.
“I began to learn more about why Russian people are so fierce and rarely smile. I discovered that most people are still in sadness about the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the effects of World War ll.
“In the years I’ve been in Nizhny Novgorod I have never been attacked, nor have I been badly verbally abused by anyone, but many of my colleagues have experienced the sad reality of verbal abuse and violence. Once, a girl wearing a hijab was attacked by strangers while waiting for the bus back to campus after a trip to the shopping mall. The story was kept quiet but all I can say is yes it does happen but it’s not a daily activity.
“I think the younger generation is growing up to be more tolerant and welcoming towards foreigners, different traditions, religion and even sexual orientation - although sexual orientation is a sensitive matter even today. But hey in Russia, don’t ask, don’t tell.
“When I leave I will miss the daily drama that happens on the buses, in the hospitals, on the streets. I will miss the freezing winters, the autumn beauty, the freshness of summer. If I can return to live I most definitely will come back– if only for the buckwheat meals, victory day celebration or a true Russian style sauna.”
The ‘Football Twins’
House of the Friendship of Peoples of Tatarstan
“Tatarstan is a fusion of East and West, where people live in harmony together. What we admire most is how various religions peacefully coexist, enriching each other. Unique traditions are reflected in the architecture, folk festivals, and, of course, in sporting events.
“Both of us as twin sisters, Diana and Rusalina, are massive sports fans. We were introduced to football by our mother who first took us to the stadium and since then we now follow Rubin in Kazan, Aktobe from Kazakhstan and FC Barcelona, sometimes attending matches in Spain, too.
“We were at the Summer Universiade 2013, the World Aquatics Championship, the FIFA Confederations Cup in 2017 and of course will be there at the World Cup.
“We believe that football is able to unite people. The formula for positive results is openness and awareness, both in interethnic relations and in sports, because ultimately friendship must win. Football is a universal tool. You do not need to be a professional to love football. It is played by children, adults, people of all nationalities.
“Sport unites millions of people and we are looking forward to the World Cup because of the emotions it brings and the diversity it offers in bringing together all of the different nations in our wonderful sports city. We wish everyone victory for their teams and lots of positive emotions!”