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Flow of refugees from Ukraine reaches St. Petersburg

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According to the Federal Migration Service, around a 1000 people came to the Northern Capital within the last several days

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Departments of the Migration Service are working at an emergency mode. Residents of Lugansk, Kramatorsk, Donetsk, Slavyansk constantly turn to the service in search for a temporary refuge. Or – if they get lucky – a permanent one. Many come to their friends and relatives. Authorities of St. Petersburg are providing rooms in rest homes and sanatoriums, offer different help and support to those who don’t have next of kin in the city.

Experts say that we have to brace ourselves for a bigger number of refugees from Ukraine to our city. Their number will surely exceed 1000 people in the nearest future.

By the way, June 20th is marked as the World Refugee Day. The UN report on the matter, distributed in Geneva, says that for the 1st time since the World War II the number of IDP has exceeded 50 million people. Until then the world had not seen so many people running away from the horrors of war. Countries with the largest amount of refugees are Pakistan, Iran, Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey. Notice – all these countries are far away from Russia. Until a certain moment, we thought that refugees were a distant problem for us, Russians. Turns out we thought wrong.

Events in Ukraine turned refugees into part of Russia’s geopolitical reality. And how does St. Petersburg fit into it? Cues to the local migrant registration offices have been taken when it still dark. Our observer Alexey Mikhalev spent a few days with those who fled from the war in Ukraine to St. Petersburg – to find home and safety here.

Alexey Mikhalev, reporter: “It’s a huge crowd at the registration office at Smolyahckova street 15. People come here in a non-stop flow, to the clanging of a steel door. There are announcements in Arabic – until recently migrants from Syria were the most numerous ones. But in June refugees from Ukraine turned up, around 400 people a day. They’re taking the most valuable from the hell of war – their children”

Nila Yanushkevich, acting head of forced settlers and refugees department of the Federal Migration service in St. Petersburg: “There are citizens who do not want to enlist to the army, to obey to mobilization announced by the current government. That is a category of those who do not want to participate in a fratricidal war”.

You can tell they’re lost and scared by looking in their eyes. Because of the nightmare they survived, but mostly because of the pain they’re feeling for those who stayed there. In Donetsk, Artemovsk, Slavyansk. That’s why people do not provide their last names – sometimes even don’t reveal their first names too – not to harm those who haven’t managed to escape yet.

Elena, resident of Gorlovka: “We came here on Friday, and on Monday we learnt that our village was bombed. The part where the rebels had their regiment, it was bombed. And they stood next to 5-storied buildings, our homes”

Sergey, resident of Melitopol: “Ukraine’s largest regiment of military-transport aviation is located in my town. And that Il-76 which was gunned down, that airstrip – all that happened close to my town. My parents live across the road from the airstrip”

Having come to St. Petersburg, President’s envoy on children’s rights Pavel Astakhov informed that humanitarian corridors are the most badly needed at the border with Ukraine – which could be used to send clothes, goods and medication there and get refugees in return. The number of which is growing every day.

Pavel Astakhov, president’s envoy on children’s rights: “The border is very long, there are many crossings. Only in one day, 14 thousand people crossed it. Just a short while ago this number stood at 7 thousand, now its 14 thousand”

There are human lives behind those numbers. Not every refugee’s story makes it into public spotlight – like, fortunately, it happened with 8-month-old infant Zhenya Ezekyan from Slavyansk. Not only doctors of the pediatric university contributed to his rescue, but dozens of ordinary people who genuinely cared.

Svetlana Agapitova, St. Petersburg envoy on children’s rights: “They went together with our employees, gave documents to register a migration card. On Monday they will receive a document legitimizing their stay on the territory of the Russian Federation”

Viktoriya Ezekyan, mother of Zhenya: “Thank you so much! Everyone’s helping us. Such a wave of compassion!”

“Refugees” is a half-forgotten, almost unrealistic word – as if taken from black and white chronicles.

What does it feel like to be one in the 21st century? Elena, who we met at the Migration Service office, came to St. Petersburg from Gorlovka, where fighting happens now and then. She grabbed her kids and dodged machine gun fire to escape. But the war doesn’t let them go – every text message from home is like frontline chronicles.

Valeriya, resident of Gorlovka: “Fighting’s going on between Artemovsk and Severnyi. It will reach us by night”

Empty spaces and even walls covered with feral plants. Kuzmolovo, where Elena and her kids have found refuge, remind them of their home in Gorlovka – particularly similar in its sleepiness. It’s like a pensioner’s dream, which a war simply cannot correlate with.

Elena, resident of Gorlovka: “They could have gone towards Lugansk, but started bombing our region first. It turned out they just needed shale gas. Only now they have raised two villages of the planet’s face and still can’t take over Slavyansk.

They dream of returning home – once the war stops. They do so in the knowledge that they only have burnt ruins to return to. But they’re honest with themselves – this day will not come soon. Meanwhile, official figures say the number of refugees from Ukraine has exceeded 400 thousand people. 

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