In the midst of the war in Ukraine, everything Russia met with contempt and backlash | Russia–Ukraine War

Ike Gazaryan says it started with phone calls. Then came the bad online reviews, canceled reservations and threatening ratings.

“Some of these phone calls are quite disturbing,” said Gazaryan, owner of Russian restaurant Pushkin in San Diego, Calif. “They’re screaming, saying, ‘You fucking Russian pigs, I hope you die. “”

Gazaryan, who is Armenian, told Al Jazeera that most of its employees are Ukrainians, and that the restaurant has hung Ukrainian flags and donated money to support Ukraine amid the devastating military offensive of the Russia.

But that hasn’t stopped some members of the public from targeting his restaurant in the weeks after Russian President Vladimir Putin launched an all-out invasion of the country. “Russia is the new boogie man,” Gazaryan said in a phone interview this week.

“So I guess anything with the word ‘Russian’ in it will be a red flag for everyone.”

Public reaction

Western nations have repeatedly blamed Putin for the conflict in Ukraine, calling it the Russian president’s “war of choice” before it even started. But the continued attacks by Russian forces on Ukrainian cities, which have destroyed homes, damaged hospitals and forced millions to flee, have sparked public anger against Russia as a whole in many places around the world.

While some Russian citizens support the war and Putin himself, thousands have taken to the streets across the country to denounce the invasion, while thousands more have since fled Russia fearing forced military conscription. . Thousands of anti-war protesters have been arrested as Russian authorities crack down on dissenting voices, with Putin calling on Thursday for “a necessary self-purification” to rid Russia of those who do not support invading Ukraine.

But despite opposition to the war among many in Russia and abroad, several Russian community groups as well as businesses that are even only tangentially linked to Russia in the United States, Canada and elsewhere say they have experienced a marked cooling – and in cases like that of Gazaryan, a public backlash since the start of the invasion.

In Vancouver, on Canada’s west coast, blue and yellow paint – the colors of the Ukrainian flag – was thrown on the door of the local Russian community center earlier this month. Established in the 1950s, the center now offers Russian lessons for children and adults and hosts Russian cultural activities, such as concerts and plays.

“We were in shock,” said board member Natasha Lozovsky-Burns, who arrived at the center around 9:30 a.m. on March 5 to view the painting. About 90 children were coming to the Russian school that morning, she told Al Jazeera, and “the look on their faces and the faces of the parents was just devastating”.

“80% of our parents are of Ukrainian origin. Those poor people who are already in emotional turmoil because they have family and friends in Ukraine who are hurting…they come into the room, and to see that was just a slap in the face because they don’t have nothing to do with what’s going on there,” Lozovsky-Burns said.

“I think people just need to educate themselves and not make assumptions,” she added. “They see the word ‘Russian’ and they see red.”

‘Not unusual’

With images of death and destruction in Ukraine shocking and angering people around the world, “emotions are running high,” said Ronald Grigor Suny, a University of Michigan history professor and Russia scholar.

“People are extraordinarily upset and indiscriminately going after people they think are responsible, like all Russians,” Suny told Al Jazeera. He said a university woman was recently yelled at for speaking Russian on the phone in public, with the attacker calling her a “commie” – a communist – and telling her to “go back to Russia”.

“All attacks on Russians, blindly like this – just like attacks on Muslims after 9/11 – are a sign of ignorance, of not understanding the complexity of the situation,” he said. said, adding, however, that these types of incidents are “not unusual.” ” in history.

He pointed to how during World War I, residents of Saint Petersburg – then known as Petrograd – raided the offices of the American tailoring company Singer, believing it was involved in German espionage, while that during the Cold War, serious debate was cut short and anyone mildly critical of US policy was to “go back to Russia, whether you’ve been to Russia or not.”

More recently, Americans were outraged by France’s opposition to the US invasion of Iraq, briefly renamed fries “Freedom Fries”.

Businesses with the word “Russia” or “Russian” in their name, such as New York’s Russian Teahouse, have publicly denounced the war in an apparent effort to avoid any backlash. [File: Mark Lennihan/AP Photo]

Vodka, poutine bans

Amid the war in Ukraine, some US states banned Russian vodka, while cultural, sporting and other institutions of all kinds cut ties with their Russian partners.

Restaurants in the Canadian province of Quebec as well as in France that serve poutine – a Quebec dish of fries, cheese curds and gravy – have either changed names or closed statements emphasizing that they are not linked to Putin (the name of the Russian president is written “Putin” in French).

“We have received calls for insults and even threats,” La Maison de la Poutine, a French restaurant chain, said on Twitter this month. “It therefore seems necessary to recall that La Maison de la Poutine is not linked to the Russian regime and its leader.”

Some American bars have also renamed the Moscow mule cocktail, the kyiv mule. “It looks like these things will fade in a while, the kind of crazy, snappy reactions will eventually wear off, but right now it’s pretty serious,” Suny said.

This was echoed by Benjamin Freeman, a research fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft in Washington, DC, who also told Al Jazeera that “a very strong anti-Russian sentiment” currently prevails in the United States.

However, negative opinions about Russia did not start with the current war, as international public opinion towards the country has been in steady decline for years. According to a 2020 Pew Research Center poll, the proportion of people with a favorable opinion of Russia in the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada has fallen by at least 20 percentage points since surveys began in 2007. Seventy-one percent of people in United States said it had a negative view of Russia, according to this survey. Russia has also been widely criticized amid allegations of interference in recent US elections.

I think people just need to educate themselves and not make assumptions. They see the word ‘Russian’ and they see red

by Natasha Lozovsky-Burns

But in the context of Ukraine, Freeman cautioned against allowing anti-Russian views among the American public to translate into harsh sanctions that will hurt the Russian people – or lead to a “political race to make things that are not good foreign policy and actually punish the Russian people, not Putin.”

“We certainly don’t want modern-day McCarthyism to continue,” he added.

“I’m afraid of the name of Vladimir”

Meanwhile, the atmosphere has prompted several Russian-linked companies to publicly declare their opposition to the war in Ukraine, in an apparent effort to avoid threats and confrontations.

The legendary Russian teahouse in New York, for example, has a message on his site denouncing “Russia’s unprovoked acts of war in the strongest possible terms” and supporting Ukraine.

“For 95 years, the history of the New York institution has been deeply rooted in speaking out against communist dictatorship and for democracy,” the memo read. “Just as the original founders, the Soviet defectors who were displaced by the revolution, opposed Stalin’s Soviet Union, we stand against Putin and with the Ukrainian people.”

Back in San Diego, Gazaryan of the Pushkin Russian Restaurant said that while the threatening phone calls have slowed down over the past few days, a sense of anti-Russian hostility still hangs in the air.

This week, a friend of his from Uzbekistan told him about an encounter he had with a customer while he was repairing household appliances, Gazaryan told Al Jazeera. “That’s what he wrote to me,” Gazaryan said.

“‘I just had a client who introduced me as Gary to his kids when I walked into the house. I was confused, didn’t think much about it and didn’t really want to correct him Then after I walk into his laundry room, he comes up to me and says, “Hey, I know your name is Vlad, but the kids are scared of the name Vladimir.”

Gazaryan added: “This kind of thing [is] is happening everywhere and people in the US don’t understand that most Russians who live here don’t support Putin – they fled the regime.

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