We aim to create a closer dialogue between members and representatives of the Russian Diaspora and to promote Greek-Russian cultural & historical heritage links. We intend to organise educational lectures, tours, voluntary works & publications in media to encourage bonds between Russian immigrants local Greek communities. These will concentrate on language skills, Russian & Greek culture, traditions and history.

"You can't take home with you on the soles of your shoes..."


Probably, every immigrant had to live through a period when you feel you’re from a different plant. The first steps are always difficult--both for small children and adults, who by fate found themselves in a foreign country, where life is not like the one you’re used to, russian...

The social circumstances of immigration often make people limit their interests, lose the chance to meet new people and therefore sometimes, see new opportunities.
Therefore, the Union of Russian Immigrants in Greece, named after the great duchess Demidova, created a program of assistance for immigrants above 50 years of age, in the framework of the program of the European Union “Steps Towards Active European Citizenship”.
Below, Irina Zhalnina-Vasilikioti, the founder of the Union, will tell us some more details about the initiative. :
1. Who is the initiator of this program in Greece?
Our Union was contacted by the similar group of compatriots “Inkeri-seura” from Finland, through its head, Aili Mehilayajnen, with the proposition to take part in a european project connected to the problems faced by elderly people among the immigrants from the former USSR. We thought it was an interesting idea, since there’s always someone who knows better than us. It’s interesting to learn something new. Even more, something new that will help our compatriots.
2. What are your goals and missions?
-The goals of the project are to identify the problems of the immigrants that came to Europe in an advanced age, and to find a way to ease their lives, make it more interesting, more communicative, to help people overcome isolation in a new environment. There are a lot of ways to help our people: seminars to learn the local language, culture and history, seminars on new technologies, such as the internet, skype, mobile connections, etc. All seminars will be free. We are also planning on conducting a sociological research, the results of which will be later presented to the curators of the program in Europe. Maybe that will somehow make the EU start helping Russians. It’s not a secret: Europe needs qualified immigrants, but people often need help. And such programs for help exist, only that few know about them.
3. What is the Greek program going to specifically focus on? What should immigrants living in Greece pay attention to?
- Each country, definitely, has its own specificity. In Germany and the UK, for example, the government gives financial support to immigrant groups. Here this is either completely absent, or inadequate. In Greece this work is often based on desire and sometimes, the sacrifices of a few enthusiasts, who don’t have help from anywhere. Because of that, the majority of organizations like that or russian-speaking newspapers are targeted towards the working population, whom it tries to help in finding a job, a partner, a means to socialize etc. And unfortunately, the elderly are somehow left outside this whole process. And with them, there are so many people who came here just for their children and grandchildren. Some had a relatively comfortable social status back in the USSR, higher education, and now this potential is going unused. It’s specifically the elderly that pass on to the growing population their knowledge about culture, the Russian language and history, since young parents most often have to work.
The first problems that these elderly immigrants face when they first arrive here have to do with the language. Not knowing the local language, it is very hard to live in a foreign country. In this regards, it’s worth mentioning the success of Pontic groups, who helped Pontic Greeks and members of their families with adaptation in the new environment. And we should follow their lead in this direction, but the spectrum of our goals is larger: it’s culture, history, psychology. The faster one in integrated in a society, the more opportunities open up in front of him and the world starts looking less hostile.
4. Tell us about the participants of the project
- Among the European groups that we will be working with is the Finnish union, of which I already talked. The german society (from Essen), headed by Dmitrij Piterskij, has a lot of experience in working with elderly people. They have run a “Club 60+” for over 4 years now, and their eldest member just turned 89!
Our colleagues in Belgium also do some interesting work in this direction. Partly, the organization “Russian house” (“Russkij Dom”), headed by Marina Novikova, has created a wonderful website, which is essentially an encyclopedia of Russian presence in the country.
The Bulgarian society “Russian Academic Union,” which received a grant from the “Ruskij Mir” funn,  is also conducting a lot of productive work. As a result of its activities, it published the unique book “Russian immigration in Bulgaria: history and now.”
We also have a lot of faith to meet with our english partners, who are represented by the society “Russians in England,” headed by Anna Portnik. This young woman managed to create an organization that already counts 2000 people in its members!
Our compatriot organization in Latvia (curator of the program is Tatyana Adrianova) connects the russian-speaking intelligentsia, who, are we all know, don’t live that well.And the desire to maintain the culture of one’s own people, enriching parallelly the world of one’s ancestors, is a characteristic that unites us all.
A lot of people have expressed the desire to work with us on a voluntary basis. They are ready to share their knowledge and experience of adaptation. I’ll name some here: father Grigorij (Pigalov), Galina Chionidi, Olda Patrunova, Irina Anastasiadi, Pavel Onoiko, Elena Tsyndrina. Also, people known in the russian-speaking communities, such as Tatyana Rab, also offered their help.
5. What topics will the first seminars cover?
- We want to have our first seminar on the topic of healthcare education. To talk about the problems, having to do with medical services in Greece. In this task we will be helped by the doctor-surgeon, graduate of the 2nd Moscow Medical School, Alexander Chionidis. Alexander has been doing for a while now free medical consultations from our group, for compatriots in need ( http://www.soruem.gr/besplatnye-konsultacii-vracha/) .  It often happens that people insured by a national insurance company, don’t know what their rights are. And this is a very important question.
Possibly, we will also ask help from another member of our Union, the surgeon-traumatologist Philip Artur (http://www.soruem.gr/besplatnye-konsultacii-xirurga-travmatologa/). He works for the charity “Doctors of the World,” where he usually offers consultations and in some exceptional cases you can get free medicine. The seminar will be accessible to everyone. We will personally go to the neighborhoods where the most socially unsecured people live.
6. How will people hear about the program and what should those, who immigrated at such an old age, expect from it?
- We announced the start of the program and that we are accepting applications from our compatriots, we placed this information in russian-language newspapers. A lot of people have already responded. They find it interesting. we are hoping for the support of the russian press in Greece. In the information placed in newspapers we will include details about the “Club 50+” and about who can participate.
We think that as we move ahead, we will find new horizons, since there are a lot of talented and bright people among the Russian immigrant population here. Besides, we will be posting information about our activities and their results on our website www.soruem.gr.
I’m not going to say anything new: the elderly immigrants’ prospects strongly depend on them. However the activities of our organization are targeted towards supporting them and giving them the chance to exchange experiences. Of course, the economic instability of our compatriots is often a barrier for a successful start in a new place. But united, we can help each other.
7. What plans do you have in the framework of cooperation with initiators of such programs on an international scale?
- In the frameworks of this program, we will conduct meetings, celebrations and seminars, in which various of our colleagues across Europe will participate. For this purpose, the European Union have us a grant to pay for tickets and lodging in the countries we visit. Each of the more active members of the program (both participants and organizers) can equally take part in these mobilities and get to know Europe a little better, while also seeing how other Russian immigrants live across Europe.
On October 28th the equivalent program starts in Riga. At the event, dedicated to this collaboration, representatives of our organizations will be present. Our colleagues and guests will receive the general program and the schedule of events and meeting. The organizers will talk about the website, where we will all place the information pertaining to the program and our activities related to it. I think, we will get back to this this topic pretty soon and tell you all about our achievements and successes. The next trip abroad is planned for the winter of 2012, when the Greek delegation will travel to Finland. But we will know about concrete dates after the first meeting in Riga.

By Yulia Golovan for www.immigrant-press.ru

Contact details:

Kannigos 19 1st floor
10667 Athens, Greece
Tel: +302103839459
Fax: +302103839459