In the shadow of war, Russians and Ukrainians celebrate Easter in the UAE

SHARJAH, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Hundreds of Russians and Ukrainians gathered at the only Russian Orthodox church on the Arabian Peninsula on Sunday to celebrate the most important Christian religious holiday of the year — away from home and in the shadow of a war that has sown devastation in Ukraine and international isolation of Moscow.

The church’s golden Byzantine crosses rise unexpectedly from the dusty streets of Sharjah, a conservative Muslim emirate just south of Dubai, United Arab Emirates, dotted with skyscrapers.

Although the two nationalities, united in language and history, generally celebrate Easter in harmony in this strange corner of the world where they have forged new lives as expats, this year there was an unspoken tension even then. that children in flowered dresses played on the stone steps and the priests blessed the overflowing bread baskets under the scorching sun.

“I have no problem with Russians as people,” said Sergei, a Ukrainian businessman from Kyiv and resident of Dubai for five years, who, like all interviewees, declined to be named. family for reasons of confidentiality. “But war changes people. Children are dying. The Russians now hate my country.

A few Russians interviewed said they did not support the war and felt sick or guilty about it. But to avoid any confrontation on the benches, they settled for talking with Ukrainians about the festivities and global warming, they said.

“We are all the same, we all came from Russia or Ukraine to seek a better life here,” said Kata, who moved from Moscow to Dubai for a job in marketing just before the war. “It’s so weird between us right now. We try as much as possible not to discuss the war. … It’s too painful, too difficult.

Sharjah’s sprawling Russian Orthodox Church, the country’s largest church, has served for more than a decade as a touchstone for the burgeoning Russian and Eastern European community in Dubai.

Dubai’s glittering skyscrapers, white-sand beaches and luxury shopping malls have long drawn visitors from Russia, which was the city’s third-largest tourist market last year. Before the war, the Russian Embassy estimated that there were 40,000 Russian nationals in the United Arab Emirates, as well as around 60,000 Russian speakers from former Soviet states. Cyrillic signs dot the huge shopping malls and airport halls of the United Arab Emirates.

Dubai, one of the few remaining flight corridors from Moscow, appears to have become a magnet for dozens of well-heeled Russians who despair of their country’s future and fear that their own livelihoods will be damaged. more viable in the context of global sanctions.

The UAE has not imposed any such sanctions and maintains close relations with Russia — a major trading partner and member of OPEC Plus, the group of oil-producing nations and its allies that have pushed back against Western demands for increased oil supplies to calm energy markets. Russians do not need a visa to enter the UAE. Any investment over $200,000 in real estate guarantees a three-year residency.

Ordinary Russians say Dubai has become an increasingly rare haven as anti-Russian hostility escalates around the world over the bitter war, which has rocked Europe’s stability, spiked in skyrocketed oil prices and sparked the continent’s worst refugee crisis since World War II.

“Dubai is the best place for business and employment opportunities because conditions in our country have changed dramatically,” said Leonid, a Russian social media manager who moved to Dubai after the war.

Last week Leonid joined the now thriving expat Jewish community in the UAE in his celebration of the Passover feast. He has received invitations to the Passover Seder from more than a dozen Russian and Ukrainian Jewish friends who have moved to Dubai since the war.

“Professionals and IT specialists are leaving the country. They don’t want to live in the new Russia,” he said, adding that the Ukrainians and Russians he saw sharing the traditional holiday last week had managed to get along. “It’s not like on TV.”

In Sharjah on Sunday, Christian worshipers infiltrated the street full of Pakistani-owned mosques and barbershops after taking communion. The call to prayer sounds, inviting the Muslim faithful to fast for the holy month of Ramadan.

“This country is warmer to us than Europe,” said Maria, a Belarusian real estate agent who lives in Dubai. “There is no hate here, it’s natural.”

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