"Many Finns don’t like us": Russia-based companies cut the cost of war

"Many Finns don't like us": Russia-based companies cut the cost of war

"I am Ukrainian. Our staff is Ukrainian" read a recent Facebook post at Helsinki’s Alppila’s casual Russian-style restaurant Blinit, which has been offering affordable blinis and strong Russian beer for more than a decade. Owner, Artemy Senkotook to social media to respond to a wave of abuse the restaurant has faced since the war broke out.

Although the situation has calmed down somewhat since Russia first invaded Ukraine, the restaurant and its staff have been flooded with physical threats, scary calls and one-star reviews on Google.

On a quiet weekday lunch shift, Senko wanted to emphasize that anger was directed at him a "a small minority of noisy people" is in the wrong place.

"I am Ukrainian, but I grew up in Russia. My wife is partly Ukrainian. All our staff are either Ukrainian or have a lot of family. We do not support that psychopath’s attack on Ukraine," Senko explained.

Senko, who describes himself a "Finnish patriotic"said the company had never encountered such problems before the war broke out, and it feels like it "crazy" explain his background and loyalty to the public as a person who "just wants to keep a cafe".

The experiences of Blinit staff are not isolated cases. In response to growing concerns about harassment of Russian-speakers, the City of Helsinki recently issued a statement announcing "zero tolerance policy" discrimination and hostile attitudes.

Senko also expressed his fear that there could be such hostility "playing into Putin’s hands"because Russia has historically justified military attacks to protect Russian-speakers.

This view has been echoed by political experts who have raised concerns about recent appeals by the Russian Embassy in Helsinki to report all cases of discrimination against Russian speakers, leading some to believe that Russia is seeking an excuse to justify hostility towards Finland.

“Stop buying Russian gas”

Senko believes that "many Finns don’t like it" Russians, but that it is important to distinguish between pro-Putin Russians who support Europe and democracy. He also urged people to think twice before criticizing things that look and sound Russian.

"Russia is not the same as the Russian Federation. Russia is a culture that spans Ukraine, Central Asia and all the former Soviet republics. The food I make and the products I sell remind us all of home. They don’t just belong to Russia," he said.

When Artem presented the pen and paper, he began to list his operating expenses and the locations of his suppliers.

He emphasized that his money would not go to the Russian economy, but that all products would be sourced from either Finland or the EU. He added that if Finland really wants to overthrow Putin, they should stop buying Russian gas.

"Attacking my company will not stop Putin’s war machine," he said.

“The calls were the scariest part”

A similar story has developed into the upscale enclave of Katajanokka, where the upscale Restaurant Bellevue has served borscht and pavlova for over a century.

Restaurant Manager Alma Raitanen has been in control since last May. A veteran of the Helsinki restaurant world, he says that when he started working, he did not expect to have to manage the tensions around the war.

Alma Raitanen, the director of Bellevue, says that the restaurant has removed all products of Russian origin and donated part of its income to the Children’s Fund of Ukraine.

"The calls were the scariest part. And some of the comments on our social media have, frankly, been horrific", Raitanen said, adding that reserves have collapsed since the war broke out and incomes are less than half the normal at this time of year. Although public hostility has subsided, he says it has left its mark on him and the staff.

"At first I was scared all the time. But last time the restaurant received a threatening call accusing us of funding Putin, I asked them to come in so I could explain why that wasn’t the case. He did not appear".

Since the attack, Bellevue has removed Russian vodka and products of Russian origin from the menu. The restaurant will donate five percent of its revenue to Unicef’s Ukrainian Children’s Fund, which Raitanen said was set up. "to make clear our position on Putin’s war".

Like Senko, Raitan tried to reduce "Russian" The origin of the company, explaining that Bellevue was in fact founded by an Estonian merchant and his Finnish wife with ingredients sourced from a nearby Market Square. He also wanted to point out that most foods considered Russian often have a more complex background.

"Vorsmack is Polish. Chicken Kyiv is Ukrainian. Most of the “Russian” dishes are borrowed from the French culinary traditions. Even if you want to make some kind of anti-Russian statement, you are targeting the wrong things".

Raitanen was most worried about his waiting staff, whose working hours have been reduced due to the wave of cancellations, only weeks after the Covid restrictions on restaurants were finally lifted.

"Our staff is just trying to make a living. If this continues, our restaurant will have difficulty getting to the end of the year," he said.

“Is the war to blame for Tolstoy and Shostakovich?”

Although restaurants are often the most prominent sign of Russian culture in Helsinki, they are not the only targets of abuse.

Ruslania Books, a journalist with Russian-language literature, sheet music and academic texts, has also been in trouble since 1986. Until 2020, the company had a physical store on the Boulevard, but the financial losses caused by the pandemic caused them to move to Vallila’s warehouse.

Andreas Agopovwho inherited the business from his Armenian father and Finnish mother says the two weeks after the war broke out was a scary time.

The office received several threatening emails accusing them of selling "Putin’s propaganda" and warns them to cease operations. Meanwhile, a team of seven workers did not want to come to work for fear of being attacked.

More serious for Agopov was the significant financial impact as a large number of orders for Russian publications were canceled and the total number of orders fell 60 percent overnight.

He also believes fears of sanctions and Russia’s disengagement from much of the global financial system have led many former customers to misunderstand that they could no longer buy from Ruslania.

"We are passionate about the culture of the Russian-speaking world and have nothing to do with Putin or his policies."said Agopov, who describes himself as a "non-political" a person who did not want to comment on the events in Ukraine.

Rare books and academic texts are not the only items for sale. Until recently, one of Ruslania’s popular product lines consisted of matchstones recently removed from the online store and refrigerator magnets decorated with Putin’s face. The company still sells trinkets with Stalin ‘s face above the captions, such as "I will come back"which Agopov describes as "cheeky".

The company is also a major supplier of Russian-language academic papers, which Andrea said were particularly popular with military buyers, including the Finnish army, under Russian attack.

Andrea, for her part, believes that Russian literature, culture and thinking are "for everyone" and that restricting the availability of these resources means that all will be lost.

"Is the war to blame for Tolstoy and Shostakovich? The richness of Russian culture has something to teach us all, including here in Finland. It doesn’t belong to Putin," he said and added it "Finland cannot allow the old school’s hatred of Russia to return".

Source: The Nordic Page

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