The Sacramento region is home to more than 33,000 people born in the former Soviet Union, largely refugees who fled religious persecution, and their families. The recent expulsion of dozens of Russian diplomats from the United States over accusations that Russia tried to influence the U.S. presidential election has stoked tensions in the local Slavic diaspora.
The Sacramento Bee spoke Friday with two prominent voices in the Slavic community about the latest conflict between the United States and Russia. Florin Ciuriuc is director of the Slavic Community Center of Sacramento. He worked on Donald’s Trump campaign in California and is plugged into the evangelical churches that serve tens of thousands of Russian-speaking residents. Vlad Kirgiz is a manager at Afisha Media Group, which publishes a local Russian-language newspaper and produces Russian-language TV and radio programs. His organization has covered the debate between local Ukrainians and Russians following a 2014 democratic revolution in Ukraine and the subsequent Russian annexation of Crimea.
Q: What has been the local Slavic response to allegations that Russia used computer hacking to influence the election in favor of Donald Trump?
Ciuriuc: I’ve been speaking with the leaders in my community. We don’t believe that any influence from any government in the world would have caused Donald Trump to win. This was a critical decision that the American people made. The American voters were tired of having people just giving and not getting something back.
Kirgiz: It’s always difficult to speak on behalf of the community. The majority – most of our community is comprised of Ukrainians. They take positively any step against the U.S.-Russian relationship. ... But we also need to understand that the term “Russian” is misunderstood. Russians could be Armenians, those who live in the far north. Our community here in Sacramento is very diverse. We have all kinds of Russians – Jewish Russian, Greek Russians, so opinions are very divided.
Q: Did the Slavic community in Sacramento tend to back Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump?
Ciuriuc: My community voted for him. He showed more respect for family values and for Christian values.
Kirgiz: Despite allegations that Trump will have better relations with Putin, a lot of Russians and Ukrainians supported Trump.
Q: Have the accusations of Russian hacking increased tensions among Slavic groups in Sacramento?
Ciuriuc: I would love to keep my community united. The immigrant community – they found a new home and their final destination in the United States ... People who left Russia, they had a good reason to leave Russia. People who left Ukraine, they had the same reason.
Kirgiz: Ukraine faces a lot of internal problems: corruption, poverty. The New Democrats (which took over after a 2014 revolution) are even worse bandits than the ones they fought against. Over the years, Ukrainians have understood that conflict with Russians doesn’t achieve anything.
Q: What next?
Ciuriuc: I believe Putin will probably laugh about it. This is ridiculous. This is just Obama.
Kirgiz: Russia is trying to be constructive. It is time that we actually stopped escalating conflict and this way Russia and Ukraine will start finding common ground.