There are more than 60 people of different nationalities living in the community village in Finland where my voluntary project takes place. While the majority of the villagers are apparently Finnish, the community is also home for a German, a Dane, an Italian, an Azerbaijani, a Latvian, a Polish, a Slovakian and a Spanish, as well as for two Russian volunteers, including me. We have a Ukrainian family here, too.
Albert, the community's farmer, is originally from Zaporizhzhia Oblast, the fertile agricultural land in the Southeast of Ukraine. Last year, after a couple of summers as a seasonal worker in the community's organic farm, he finally moved to Finland permanently and brought his family with him. We were helping them a little when they were moving to their new house in the village. A couple of times I carried Albert's youngest daughter on my shoulders pretending to be a riding horse. Not to mention the whole summer that we spent together with Albert on the field, sweating, getting sunburned and talking.
And the conversations we had were long as summer days. Albert also, as many Ukrainians, speaks Russian, though you can clearly hear the native influence on the language, in pronunciation and even in vocabulary when some Ukrainian word accidentally slips into his speech. Sometimes we would laugh at jokes that only Russians and Ukrainians would understand, sometimes the conversation got seriously deep and personal, sometimes we would just work in comfortable silence. And now I'm afraid to even say hi to him.
Two weeks ago when Russian troops invaded Ukraine, the connections between my homeland and the rest of the world started to tear apart. While all the support naturally goes to Ukraine, politically, economically, culturally and, most important, just humanly Russia became isolated. I believe this isolation is felt even more by those Russians who are now far away from their homes, like me and other international volunteers. I can only hope that my colleagues at their projects are treated with the same level of understanding and compassion as I am.
I've been volunteering here in the community village since last May, and locals got to know me quite well. Through me they can better understand Russian people and our struggles caused by the complexity of current political situation in my country. When you get to know someone personally there's no place for prejudgments and misunderstandings anymore. The connection made is strong enough so that even a war can't break it.
And now imagine there's a new person in your neighborhood, he surrounded his house with a wall so thick that you can barely hear a sound and so tall you practically don't see anything. You don't know a thing about him and can only guess who he is, his image gets filled with rumors and speculations and then the neighbors begin to treat him with distrust or even fear, adding more bricks to his wall while they only need to start talking. This is what is already happening to ordinary Russians and things will get even worse.
No doubt, the most important thing right now is to stop the war immediately and at any democratic cause. The death and demolition which Russian government brought to Ukraine is horrifying, but we should also think about the crucial human relations catastrophe which Russian politics brought to their own country. It will take years to build again what was destroyed in a couple of days. And I believe that, among other builders, international volunteers, the living carriers of inter-cultural relations, will be making the great amount of construction.
I believe this is significant that the Russian youth won't be banned from participating in international volunteering projects and ESC in particular. I hope that the connection between Russia and the rest of the world will be preserved at least at this level so then it can slowly start growing again.
By the way, I saw Albert the other day driving past me in a car. I hesitated, but he was the first one to wave his hand with greeting.