Russians have been part of the American story even before the United States was a nation.
The first Russians arrived in the late 1740s as fur traders in Alaska, and millions more followed in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Then came countless others looking for a new and better life after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
What do Russian expatriates make of President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine — and are they getting backlash simply because of their ethnic ties to their ancestral homeland? After all, tens of thousands of people in Russia have staged antiwar rallies, and hundreds have been arrested for speaking out against the war.
In recent days, public sentiment seems to be turning ever sharper against ethnic Russians and their supporters as global outrage mounts over images of the bodies of civilians strewn across streets and yards in Ukraine.
Athletes from Russia and Belarus, a former Soviet republic and staunch Putin ally, were disinvited from this week’s Boston Marathon in response to the invasion. “Like so many around the world, we are horrified and outraged by what we have seen and learned from the reporting in Ukraine,” said Tom Grilk, president and CEO of the Boston Athletic Association, which organizes the prestigious footrace.
And U.S. colleges and universities have been cutting partnerships with and financial ties to their Russian counterparts.
Here are some ways to localize coverage of ethnic Russians in your area and share with readers and viewers what they’re experiencing amid rising anti-Russia sentiment. Local stories could run alongside the AP story EU—Russia-Ukraine-War and other spot coverage:
HOW TO FIND RUSSIAN AMERICANS
New York City is home to the United States’ largest Russian expatriate community, with an estimated 600,000 living in the city and up to 1.6 million in the tri-state area that includes Connecticut and New Jersey. Many live in Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach neighborhood, nicknamed “Little Odesa,” which also has a large ethnic Ukrainian population.
Los Angeles, Chicago, Greater Boston, San Diego, Sacramento, San Francisco and Miami all have sizable ethnic Russian communities, according to the Migration Policy Institute.
To determine how many Russians are in your state or metropolitan area, go to the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute’s analysis of census data: https://www.migrationpolicy.org/programs/data-hub/us-immigration-trends. See links under “Immigrants’ Countries and Regions of Birth.” Select Russia from the dropdown box. (Source: Migration Policy Institute, based on census data.)
You can also search for Russian churches or civic organizations and visit communities where Russians are known to live. Search for immigration lawyers with Russian clientele, perhaps by contacting the American Immigration Lawyers Association or their local chapter.
Questions to ask:
— What are your own feelings about Putin and the war? Are you standing with Ukraine? If so, in what ways?
— What’s your American experience? Tell us the circumstances that caused you or your parents or grandparents to emigrate from Russia. Did you or they flee political oppression, and how did that influence your decision to pursue U.S. citizenship (if relevant)?
— To what degree do you feel like you’ve been misunderstood by people in your community?
— Can you describe a time when you feel like you were blamed or scapegoated because of your Russian heritage? How did that make you feel and how did you respond?
— Do you still have relatives in Russia? Have you talked to them about the developments? What do they make of it all, and is that similar to how you see it from here?
RUSSIAN BUSINESSES BUFFETED BY THE WAR
Consider interviewing Russian American business owners and entrepreneurs, some of whom have said they’re facing boycotts and other backlash, even if they’re strongly opposed to Russia’s invasion. Some have hung signs condemning the war, and others have used social media to make their positions clear.
Questions to ask Russian-owned businesses:
— Have you noticed a shift in how your suppliers and customers relate to you since Russia invaded Ukraine? What, if anything, have you done to distance yourself from Putin’s actions?
— Has anti-Russia sentiment affected your sales or profits? If so, what are you doing to offset that?
— What would your message be to the Ukrainian people? What do you want your own neighbors and customers here in the U.S. to know about you in light of the war?