First cases of Russophobia in Catalonia due to war in Ukraine

Russian community denounces that it is beginning to feel stigmatised

3 min
The owner of the Russian restaurant Ekaterina has placed a blackboard with anti-war slogans at the entrance.

BarcelonaThe drawing of a huge matryoshka decorates the shutter, making it clear that it is a Russian restaurant. Its owner, Genia Petrova, a Russian with clearly Slavic features, admits that she is afraid that an unscrupulous person might attack the premises or enter and cause a scandal in front of the entire clientele. So far she has already received some unpleasant phone calls, she has been insulted on social media and, what has hurt her the most, someone who never set foot in her restaurant has posted a negative review on Google about the establishment. The Russian community in Catalonia fears a wave of Russophobia following the invasion of Ukraine ordered by Vladimir Putin. They say they are against the war and are not responsible for what their country's government does.

Petrova opened Ekaterina restaurant, located in Barcelona's Eixample, five and a half years ago, although she has been living in Spain for two decades. She arrived very young, at the age of 20. The restaurant is a cosy place, classically decorated, with a beautiful teardrop light in the center, mirrored walls and what looks like oil paintings. On the outside, Petrova has put up a very visible blackboard that reads: "Russian restaurant. Against the war! Stop Putin!" And, in case there was any doubt, on the door of the restaurant she has also hung four posters the size of a sheet of paper with slogans such as "We are with Ukraine".

Genia Petrova at Russian restaurant Ekaterina, which she owns in Barcelona's Eixample.

"He who is silent consents," Petrova says to justify the fact that she has put up anti-war posters everywhere. During the last few days she has been overcome by feelings of all kinds: deep guilt, shame, pain... "Being Russian is not synonymous with being with Putin. I don't want us to be stigmatised. I speak on behalf of many Russians who live here," she assures. Still, she has already felt the effect of the conflict on her business. Customer numbers have plummeted since the war began last Thursday. According to Petrova, at lunchtime all the tables in the restaurant were always full. This Thursday at 2pm only three are taken.

"We were walking past, saw the restaurant and came in. How can Russians here be blamed? There's no logic in boycotting," said Victor Mier and Maria Garcia, a couple sitting at one of the tables waiting for the waitress to serve them their second course – they ordered Russian-style steak. But there are Ukrainian dishes on the restaurant's menu too. "I cook the food I ate during my childhood, when the Soviet Union still existed," Petrova justifies. Now she plans to include a charity dish on the menu: borscht, a typical Ukrainian soup based on beef and beet broth. Part of the profits will go to a humanitarian organisation that helps war victims.

A couple eating this Thursday at the Russian restaurant Ekaterina, in Barcelona.

The rector of the Russian Orthodox Church in the Vallcarca neighbourhood of Barcelona, Serafin Pavlov, explains over the telephone that his parishioners have also noticed a certain Russophobia. Nothing serious for the moment, "thank God", he clarifies. "A shopkeeper did not want to serve a lady because she was Russian," he gives as an example. "I have spoken to the consul [of Russia in Barcelona] and he told me that I can call him at any time of the day or night if we need help," he adds. His church is about to celebrate twenty years in the neighbourhood and, he says, Russians go there, but also Ukrainians, Belarusians, Bulgarians and Greeks.

Elmira Mirzoeva, representative of the Russian Culture Association ARCA, from Sant Cugat del Vallès, also expresses her concern. As she explains, some children of Russian origin have had problems with classmates at school; because, she says, you know how children are, sometimes they can be very cruel. "Some of us members of the association are collecting humanitarian aid on an individual basis," she declares to show that they too are in solidarity with the victims of war.

"We Russians are not passive or psychopaths. We are people of peace, but we have gone through many years of fear and misery. In Russia they can arrest us if we say no to war and in prisons there people are tortured," says Marina Ketlerova to make it clear that things are not black and white, but many shades of grey. Ketlerova is 28 and arrived in Barcelona just over two years ago, but she speaks Catalan perfectly. She is a translator and philologist, and works at a Russian language school. She doesn't know how the conflict will affect her work. "Maybe now fewer people will want to learn Russian," she ventures. She is clear about one thing: "We Russians have to reflect on why our country has become what it is now and we have to think about what we can do."