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Some Russians in the U.S. fear sanctions' impact on family back home


With Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine well into its second week, Russian immigrants in the U.S. are growing increasingly concerned about friends and family back home. In Minneapolis, many in the small Russian American community are expressing their solidarity with Ukraine and speaking out against the aggression. Matt Sepic of Minnesota Public Radio reports.

MASHA ZAVIALOVA: I'm so grateful FaceTime is still working there.

MATT SEPIC, BYLINE: It's early afternoon in Minneapolis when Masha Zavialova dials up her cousin Tatiana back in their hometown of St. Petersburg.

ZAVIALOVA: FaceTime and WhatsApp.


ZAVIALOVA: (Speaking Russian).

TATIANA: (Speaking Russian).

ZAVIALOVA: (Speaking Russian).

SEPIC: Tatiana is in her 60s and retired and is out for an evening walk looking for anti-war demonstrations. Zavialova, an American citizen who curates a Russian art museum here, relays what her cousin is witnessing.

ZAVIALOVA: She said what she saw previously, that the group of protesters were very young. She says students and some of them probably high school students.

SEPIC: Both women have long opposed Putin, whose regime is cracking down on dissenters and why we're only using Tatiana's first name. Zavialova says her cousin, who lives on a modest pension, is prepared to face the impact of international economic sanctions.

ZAVIALOVA: She says she's ready to go to the full extent of deprivation if this helps to destroy the regime.

SEPIC: Across town in St. Paul, Marina Lieberman echoes some of those sentiments.

MARINA LIBERMAN: I hope that the world is going to squeeze Putin, and he is going to stop. I hope that he still have part of his brain telling him that he need to stop.

SEPIC: Lieberman and her husband moved here in 1992 after the Soviet Union collapsed and Western leaders declared victory in the Cold War. The couple soon opened a restaurant near the Minnesota state capital and named it for their hometown.


SEPIC: Moscow on the Hill has since built a following for its traditional Russian delicacies, including borscht, blini and caviar, plus their signature horseradish-infused vodka. During the lull between lunch and dinner, Lieberman says she also talks regularly with relatives in Moscow, and she fears that they may not be ready to face the extreme hardship coming their way.

LIBERMAN: They're just regular people, and it's going to be some issues of food or with gas or who knows with what? You know, they're not working, and who knows how it could be ended?

SEPIC: Lieberman says some conversations have been difficult, and she's even fallen out with a few longtime friends who watch Kremlin-controlled TV and support Putin.

LIBERMAN: I've noticed that for the last two, three weeks, maybe even months, I am not getting calls from them. So I am their enemy now because I do have a different opinion that I am supporting Ukraine.

SEPIC: Arkady Shemyakin is a university math professor who grew up in Siberia and also opposes the war. He says it'll have lasting consequences for both sides.

ARKADY SHEMYAKIN: For Russian and Ukrainian peoples, which are really historically tied, recent years saw definitely our prospects for good future being pushed further and further away.

SEPIC: Shemyakin, whose academic specialty is risk modeling, finds it impossible to predict how the crisis might end. But Shemyakin says he's trying to be optimistic and often reminds himself that no leader can remain in power forever. For NPR News, I'm Matt Sepic in Minneapolis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Matt Sepic