Kõlvart: Favorable treatment for Ukrainian refugees could cause resentment

Estonian-Russians may start to compare the treatment they receive from society with that of Ukrainian war refugees, which could potentially create problems, Mayor of Tallinn Mihhail Kõlvart (Center) said on Wednesday.

So far, the refugees have been met with overwhelmingly positive support from the public, which has not been the case with previous arrivals.

Some Russian-Estonians, who have spent their entire lives in Estonia and are loyal to the state, may start to feel jealous of the treatment they receive in comparison, the mayor said on ERR's Russian portal's "Otse uudistemajast" broadcast.

He said Estonian-Russian people may think Ukrainians are offered better benefits than locals which may cause resentment if left unaddressed. Kõlvart said this sentiment is already noticeable on social media and could snowball and explode if the situation is allowed to grow.

Secondly, Kõlvart said many Russian speakers in Estonia feel they are constantly being asked to prove their loyalty to the country. "I also feel it myself," he said.

On the one hand, it is said that Russian people are not Russia and they are not guilty of starting the war, but on the other, they are still regarded with suspicion, the mayor said.

He raised the issue of Russian schools and also said university students from Russia are now not allowed to study in Estonian universities, which have blocked new admissions from Russia and Belarus, and that discussions have been had about not allowing Russian citizens in Estonia to own weapons.

"It shows that there is no trust in relation to Russian people and it creates negative reactions. This could backfire and would be dangerous for society," the mayor said.

Kõlvart said in his opinion the country should do everything so Russian people's cultural independence is guaranteed.

In the interview, the mayor of Tallinn also criticized the government's lack of preparedness and coordination for the refugee crisis, comparing it to the response to the coronavirus pandemic. "Nothing has changed," Kõlvart said.

Similar to the coronavirus crisis, the decisions have been split across several government agencies. One example he highlighted was, at the start, the Social Insurance Board was represented by different people at every crisis meeting.

The country was late with its organization, refugees had already been here for a long time when large-scale activities were introduced, he said. This is why Tallinn took action itself as people had already arrived and not helping them would have damaged us, the mayor said.

The state did not have a crisis plan for the emergency situation, Kõlvart said. He said it is understandable that not everything was completely ready but the refugee crisis was foreseen and the state was not ready for it.

For now, the situation in Tallinn is easing as refugees arriving in Estonia are being directed to other regions, Kõlvart added.

The mayor emphasized Ukrainian refugees must be helped because they have not fled their homeland looking for a better life, meaning they are not economic migrants.

"We must never move away from humanity, obviously these people did not come here for a better life, but have fled from the war. People are being killed and peaceful people are suffering in the war. We must help these people. But we are also not allowed to forget our own people and look at things from a long-term perspective. In the long term, a large number of refugees always cause problems," he said.

So far, Estonia has accepted 22,000 Ukrainian war refugees fleeing from their homeland and approximately 40 percent are children.

Estonian society has welcomed the arrivals and public opinion polling shows there is high support for hosting Ukrainians here.

However, over the last week, opposition parties have said Estonia should stop accepting arrivals and right-wing party ERKE has said it is a way to bring in cheap labor.

Over the past few days, the rate of new arrivals to Estonia fallen.


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Editor: Helen Wright

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