An anti-Russian wave is sweeping across Canada

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Some of the harassed Russian-Canadians believe they are victims of biased Russian and Western media coverage of the war and their own agendas.

Julia Burakova, a Canadian citizen of Russian origin, says she has already been the victim of harassment and hate speech three times since the February 24 invasion of Ukraine. She is deeply saddened by the war.

Burakova, a photographer, immigrated to Canada 12 years ago in search of safety and a better life. But, she says, today she feels destabilized and not in a good way, given the harassment she has suffered.

Sitting in a café in Vancouver, British Columbia, Burakova speaks in a low voice to avoid being heard as having a Russian accent for fear of being harassed. Recounting one of the latest cases, she says she was approached by an angry mother who told her she “should burn in hell”. The explosion occurred at a playground where she regularly takes her children in Coquitlam-Metro Vancouver.

In another instance, she recalls someone telling her and her family that they should be “ashamed of being Russians” just because they heard them speaking Russian while walking around.

“We are totally stressed. We don’t believe this is happening,” she said.

Vandalized Russian heritage sites

Russians have immigrated to Canada since the late 18th century, with more than 620,000 Canadians claiming Russian ancestry. As the war in Ukraine continues, many long-established heritage sites, communities and businesses have been targeted.

On March 5, for example, the Russian Community Center (RCC) in Kitsilano, British Columbia, established in 1956 as a cultural and social center with no political affiliation, had its doors vandalized with yellow and blue paint, Ukrainian flag colors.

In an interview with NCM, Ariadna McKenna, chair of the centers’ board of directors, expressed frustration with the vandalism, especially since the center has both Russian-Canadian and Ukrainian-Canadian members.

“I don’t know why it happened. I can only assume that someone who targeted the Russian community center is a supporter of Ukraine. What they don’t understand is that our members have a large percentage of Ukrainians,” McKenna said.

McKenna further noted that while she knows of incidents of harassment based on media reports, she “is not aware of specific instances within our membership.”

However, she adds, there have “probably been” cases.

New Canadian Media contacted Vancouver police to request updates on the investigation, but did not hear back.

St. Sophia’s Orthodox Church in Victoria was also vandalized with red paint thrown over its front doors. This is the second church targeted after another was vandalized in Calgary, Alberta.

Following the Calgary incident, All Saints Russian Orthodox Church called on people not to sow division and hatred as a result of the war.

Bullying Stories
Of the three other Russian-Canadians with whom NCM spoke about the harassment they experienced, only one person agreed to share it publicly, on the condition that their real name not be used to prevent further attacks.

Anna (pseudonym), for example, says her 15-year-old son was bullied at school by other students who yelled at him, telling him “we are praying for the death of [Russian President] Vladimir Poutine.”

After visiting the school to talk about her son’s bullying, Anna says she discovered that another pupil of Russian origin had been transferred to another school by his parents as a result of the bullying.

Online harassment

Online harassment on social media platforms targeting members of the Russian community has also increased.

On March 3, CTV News reported that Calgary police were “investigating multiple reports of online harassment on a social media platform targeting members of the Russian-Calgarian community.”

Others, like Burakova, have faced an outpouring of hate emails, phone calls and online comments because of their support for Ukrainians.

Burakova, for example, says she was verbally abused by other photographers after she suggested she coordinate a campaign to send money to Ukraine.

“They refused my support and instead used a lot of profanity,” she says.

In another case, a group of some 5,000 Russian and Ukrainian mothers who had joined a Facebook account to share their ideas about Russian motherhood, culture and society, quickly escalated into verbal attacks after some of them mentioned the current invasion.

Victims of media coverage

Burakova believes that much of the harassment directed at Russian-Canadians stems from the biased coverage of events by Russian and Western media.

“There is a new European wave of aggressive media against us,” she says. “They show a negative image of us as enemies of Ukraine… [even though] we support the Ukrainians and denounce Putin’s war.

On the other hand, she says, Russian propaganda led many Russians to believe they were fighting to protect Ukrainians.

For her, both sides are wrong, are aggressive and fan the flames of hatred with their self-serving coverage.

Editor’s Note: Professional and ethical guidelines for journalism state that all allegations must be substantiated and supported by evidence and clearly identified credible sources. However, this is not always possible when security and safety issues, for example, are at stake. Please see this guide (https://newcanadianmedia.ca/hub/naming-sources-in-stories/) posted by NCM to learn more about the ethics behind source naming and the use of anonymous sources.

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