‘At least a few rubles’ Public-sector employees in Russia urged to donate to murky ‘fundraisers’ for Ukrainian refugees
In the lead up to Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the authorities in the self-proclaimed “Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics” announced mass evacuations to Russia. Now, after ten weeks of all-out war, roughly a million Ukrainians have been forced to flee to Russian territory. As Meduza reported previously, civilians living in areas occupied or blockaded by Russian troops have been forcibly evacuated to Russia and brought to “filtration camps.” In mid-April, the Russian Cabinet allocated nearly 439 million rubles ($6.5 million) from the country’s reserve fund for the accommodation of these refugees. However, in a number of Russian regions, public-sector employees are being urged to donate part of their paychecks to purported “fundraisers” in support of displaced Ukrainians.
In mid-March, a Russian government decree determined that 1,200 refugees from the Donbas would be sent to the Novosibirsk region. The regional authorities promised to provide temporary accommodations at local children’s summer camps and health resorts. Later that month, employees of Novosibirsk’s Siberian State Transport University received letters from the regional Federation of Trade Unions asking for “voluntary financial assistance for affected workers from the DNR and LNR.”
Lyudmila, an employee at the university (whose name has been changed), told Meduza that she received one of these letter around March 21–22. “The trade union sent out an application form, where the employee was supposed to write down how much he wanted taken out of his paycheck to help ‘affected workers’,” Lyudmila said. “No one explained what exactly this money would go toward.” According to the donation form, the payments would supposedly go into the checking account of the regional Federation of Trade Unions.
Lyudmila underscored that she “considers this war the most terrible crime” and is willing to offer help to Ukrainians who have been forcibly brought to Russia. But she didn’t want “to send money to god knows who.” As such, when they “attempted to foist” another “voluntary donation” form on her, she refused to take the form. Her colleagues did the same. According to Lyudmila, it “seems as though [their] boss was advised to prevent” conflicts, so there haven’t been any more requests for donations as of yet. Those who declined to donate money did not face repercussions.
More than million people have crossed from Ukrainian territory into Russia’s Rostov region since the all-out war began on February 24. Yulia (whose name has been changed at her request), works for the Rostov-on-Don helicopter manufacturer Rosvertol, which is part of the state-owned defense conglomerate Rostec. She and her co-workers were first urged to donate money to help Ukrainian refugees in mid-April.
A fundraiser announcement — addressed to the “respected helicopter builders” — was distributed among Rosvertol staff and posted on the walls of the enterprise. The appeal said that the “difficult situation” in the DNR and LNR had led to “hundreds of thousands” of Donbas residents “being forced to seek protection on the territory of the Russian Federation.” As such, the announcement explained, the Union of Machine Builders of Russia and the Defense Enterprise Promotion League had organized a “fundraiser” called “Always There.”
“My boss said that we needed to donate one day’s wage, that is, 1,000–3,000 [rubles, or $15–$45] on average,” Yulia recalled. The staff were told that this money “would go to a foundation to help refugees,” she said — but for some reason the donations would be attributed to the Union of Machine Builders, a public organization headed by Rostec CEO Sergey Chemezov.
“My department has 30 people, everyone reacted negatively to this news, except for one old lady,” Yulia said. “As far as I heard, employees in other branches [of the company] also categorically refused to fill out the [donation] forms.”
Soon, information about the “fundraiser” began spreading across Telegram channels; it was even shared by Ksenia Sobchak. After that, the calls for donations were taken off the walls — Yulia believes this was due to the publicity.
Be that as it may, Rosvertol employees are still being urged to make donations from time to time. “A few days ago, they announced that they would give us a day off for this,” Yulia said. According to her, this is a typical practice at the enterprise: “We have the same thing during elections: the more people you bring to a specific polling station, the more time off [you get], so people are happy and keep silent.”
According to the Russian authorities, 300 refugees from Ukraine have come to the Tyumen region “on their own” since the start of the war. A schoolteacher working in the region, Alina (whose name has been changed), told Meduza that her school forced its staff to pay “tribute” in early March. “At first, it was announced that one-day’s earnings would be deducted from our wages. Everyone was given pre-filled consent forms for ‘voluntary’ donations. You had to write in the amount (at least 1,000 rubles [$15]) and sign it,” she explained.
“Everyone gave in quietly. Only my husband and I were outraged. We’re both teachers at this school, [but] I’m on maternity leave. For us this is a significant sum, given what teachers’ salaries are and the fact that we live on his salary along with several children,” Alina said.
According to Alina, her husband even tried to “bargain” with his superiors: “He said he was prepared to donate 300 rubles [$4.40].” “To which he was told: ‘We need not 300, but 1,000!’ In the end, my husband threw his last 760 rubles [before his next paycheck] on the table. But he didn’t sign the consent form,” Alina said.
The Russian authorities are even transferring Ukrainian refugees to the Far East. As of late February, the Sakhalin region was expecting to take in more than 1,000 people.
On February 25, the day after Moscow launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the local news site Sakhalin.info reported that regional government employees had received letters asking them to donate part of their paychecks to help refugees. They were also given a consent form to sign, which said the following:
“I ask you to deduct from my pay for March 2022 my one-day earnings (minus personal income tax) and transfer it to the Rostov Foundation for Regional Cooperation and Development as a voluntary donation for implementing aid programs for refugees / displaced persons.”
Those who refused were threatened with ending up on a “list of objectors,” a source whose parents are both public-sector workers told Sakhalin.info.
According to the news site, these letters and consent forms were also sent out to employees of the regional Health Ministry. Sakhalin.info’s source said that donating was “quasi-compulsory” — Health Ministry employees were expected to donate “at least a few rubles.” Meduza was unable to independently confirm these reports: public-sector employees in the region read our messages, but didn’t respond to our questions.
Around 1,400 refugees from the Donbas have been transferred to Russia’s Volgograd region since mid-February. According to the news site Bloknot Volgograd, some public-sector employees were allegedly forced to donate part of their earnings to help refugees. In particular, Bloknot Volgograd quoted a nurse at Volgograd Regional Clinical Hospital No. 1 (the hospital’s management later denied these reports). Meduza was unable to independently confirm any of this information.
According to a poll conducted on Bloknot’s website, 91 percent of respondents said they were not willing to donate “one-day’s earnings to an assistance fund for displaced persons from the Donbas.”
Public-sector employees in the Volgograd region have been repeatedly mobilized for pro-government rallies and “managed” voting. For example, in February 2021, workers at municipal enterprises in the region were made to record videos in support of Vladimir Putin. According to the local publication V1.ru, some of the participants were under the impression that they were being filmed as extras for a music video.
Translation by Eilish Hart