Accessibility links

Breaking News

''I Felt Guilty': The Russian Volunteers Helping Ukrainian Refugees

‘I Felt Guilty’: Russian Volunteers Helping Ukrainian Refugees
please wait

No media source currently available

0:00 0:03:05 0:00

‘I Felt Guilty’: Russian Volunteers Helping Ukrainian Refugees

Maria Kryuchkova says volunteering helps relieve her feelings of guilt as a Russian national.

When Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the 24-year-old left her home city of Syktyvkar, northeast of Moscow, and traveled to Poland's border with Ukraine to help some of the millions of refugees fleeing the war.

"I needed to help somehow, someone. And that's why I was trying to find a volunteering program somewhere in Poland," Kryuchkova told VOA.

"The first time I came here, I was quite afraid to tell people that I'm Russian, because I felt a lot of feelings at that time, and I felt guilty. Sometimes it scares people. Sometimes they're really happy. But now, I realized that people from Ukraine, they need to know that there are a lot of Russians who are against the war and who support them," she said.

Russian volunteers

Twelve months into Russia's war on Ukraine, the flow of refugees into Poland has slowed significantly, but hundreds still make the journey every day. Among the aid groups welcoming them across the border is Russians for Ukraine, a charity staffed by Russian exiles and migrants.

The organization runs a small refugee shelter across one floor of an office building in the Polish city of Przemysl, a few kilometers from the Ukrainian border.

Anna Sulmya and her children were among the refugees staying at the shelter during a recent visit by VOA. The family is from Dnipro, not far from the Ukrainian front lines, and lived through a year of war before deciding to flee.

"The situation was very critical, and the safety of my children was very important to me," Sulmya said. "I believe in Ukraine's victory, in peace on Earth. But the circumstances changed, so it was necessary for us to leave after so much time."

Sulmya did not care that she was being aided by Russian volunteers.

"I really appreciate their support in the first place. Despite the fact that they are Russian, in every nation, every population, there are some who are not good," she said.


Mykola Ivanovych was also forced to flee his home. A year into the war, the 77-year-old says he has learned the true nature of Russia's invasion.

"This is the eradication of the race. They want to eradicate Ukraine. They are not fighting. They are just exterminating the people. To erase Ukraine," Ivanovych said.

The Russian volunteers say they will continue to help Ukrainian refugees as long as they are needed. But for Kryuchkova, that may not be easy. Her Polish visa will soon expire.

Jail threat

"Recently, I got a message, a letter, saying that I can be a national threat to Poland, and that's why probably they're not going to give me permission to stay. But I'm just waiting for it to be confirmed or not. And then we'll decide what to do. Because right now, I cannot go to Russia because probably I will be in jail," Kryuchkova said.

She added that she will apply for political asylum if she is refused permission to stay.

"I'm trying not to think about the future of Russia because it scares me a little bit," Kryuchkova said. "One day I feel hopeful. And sometimes I feel, like, in one year, and then everything is going to be all right, and we'll see a new Russia with new rules and normal government. But another day, I feel like we don't have any hope, and it's going to last forever."