Millions of Ukrainians have fled the country. Photo: Nico Smit

Russian expat helps Ukrainian refugees

“I am lucky because if we hadn’t left, I’d be hiding from the mobilisation right now, or worse.”

Russian expat Anton Mamyko came to Cork as a refugee in 2000, leaving behind what he describes as “a society of violence at every level and place” when he was 11 years old.

Now 34, married, and an Irish citizen, Anton said when his home country launched its assault on Ukraine in February, it felt like going through the abrupt loss of a close relative.

“Shock, denial, helplessness and anger took over and most of my days were spent doom-scrolling the news. I’d have given anything for the war to stop, and still would,” Anton told the Cork Independent.

He continued: “Helping the Ukrainian refugees arriving in Ireland helped. My wife and I eventually resumed our search for our first home. We are now renovating an old bungalow in Kerry and hope to do our bit with the accommodation crisis.

“This process of building in the face of destruction has helped me feel normal.”

Like millions of his compatriots, Anton has close relatives in Ukraine and said he hopes Russians who are against the war will eventually be able to express their condolences and sorrow to the people of Ukraine.

Anton said: “I was born in a mining town called Vorkuta. It’s -28C there this week. Its function in the past was an administrative town for the gulags in the area. My mother’s parents were sent there from western Ukraine by Stalin’s system of repression.”

He added: “When I was 11, my father had made a decision to leave Russia as the ‘90s was a turbulent time. The journey over and living in a direct provision centre in Cork was not easy - 6 schools in the space of 3 years.”

Anton said he has some positive and sunny memories of living in the Russian countryside but that overall, 2 decades later, provincial Russia still lives in a state of subsistence and hostility towards one’s neighbours.

“This goes a long way in explaining the despicable behaviour of the Russian troops towards the civilians in Ukraine,” he said.

“The Russian ‘elite’ are fully to blame for this lack of progress as limitless wealth has been squandered through corruption, and the middle class has been pushed back down to reduce the call for more democracy and to make a fertile ground to conscript soldiers from. It is not an accident that the contract with the Russian army is set to pay roughly 10 times the local wages.”

Since Russia began the annexation of Crimea in 2014, Anton has held a pro-Ukrainian stance and said he does not have anyone around him who supports the war. He also said that whenever he has to mention his nationality in conversation, he feels he must supplement it with an anti-war stance.

He said: “My aunts and cousins in St Petersburg are anti-war and have posted Ukrainian flags on Facebook. Another cousin in Kaliningrad is against it and his wife has had a visit from the security forces at her job; she is a journalist.

“There are others, who watch the state television, whose attitudes to the war range from ‘it’s complicated’ to tired patriotism. I have nothing to say to them now, war makes things black and white.”

Anton said he has no criticism of the mainstream media’s coverage of the war but that he is worried about the effect of Russian state-funded propaganda on his far left compatriots.

“There are people who take the opposite stance to anything that USA does, taking it as far as being apologists for Russia while it carries out acts of mass terrorism,” says Anton.

With all dissident media having been forced out of the country, Anton says state propaganda and its message of resentment towards the west and absolute hatred towards Ukrainians has been very successful with two thirds of the population.

He said: “With each military defeat they are running out of ways of how to sell it to the public, which is great to see.

“The Russian state propaganda is straight out of ‘1984’ and most of the propagandists are doing it for the money. I hope that I will see these propagandists in the Hague.”

Anton said nobody can know what will happen in the new year, but he is confident that if support for Ukraine does not dwindle, then Russia will continue to endure humiliating defeats until eastern borders are restored.