The Writing on the Wall: Graffiti, a Russian Community, and Israel

Graffiti, in broken English, calling out Russia as a result of the ongoing conflict.

Asher Boiskin ('24)

Graffiti, in broken English, calling out Russia as a result of the ongoing conflict.

“Russian – it’s Stalin, violence, banditism, unusual citizens!”

“Communist monsters. Wild people.”

“He’s not a man. He isn’t human. He is mad, ugly, stinkin.”

When I’m not in classes or traveling around the historic land of Israel through my study-abroad program, Tichon Ramah Yerushalayim, I like to take a walk around the streets of Jerusalem, oftentimes to buy falafel with friends, or pick up a few items at the nearby grocery store. Yet recently this walk has felt ominous and rather eerie: with each day that passes, Jerusalem’s dislike of the brutal onslaught that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has caused becomes increasingly more clear, even in a highly populated Russian area. Outside both the grocery store and falfel shop, more and more anti-communist and anti-Russian graffiti continues to appear, calling out the Russian encroachment of Ukraine, and in poor English and scribbly handwritten, famous Russian leaders as well. 

It’s not clear who the creators of the words on these walls are. However, members of the large Russian immigrant population, which lives nearby, might – strikingly –  be the perpetrators. Most of them are teenage students, stuck in Israeli immersion courses through a program called the Israel Youth Goldstein Village, after their parents dragged them to Israel in search of economic opportunities. These same Russian students bunk with both French, Moroccan, and Ukrainian students, as well as others from eastern European countries. You would think this would create high tensions between the students of different nationalities, and especially those with Ukrainian and Russian backgrounds. Yet the students I’ve sparked up conversations with, from various European countries, respect each other, although they might possess different thoughts on the ongoing war.

For example, at the pool a couple of weeks ago, I witnessed something unexpected: two students, one Ukranian and one Russian, swimming, talking and laughing together. When I asked them about the war and their thoughts regarding Putin, they pushed each other around, splashing water into the air. They joked about the war, in broken English, and seemed rather indifferent about the entire situation.

On another occasion, though, a fellow classmate, Jesse Weinstein (‘24), overheard a Russian calling Putin good and praising his leadership, while I was in the same room. Afterwards, the Russian laughed, which shocked Jesse and created an awkward tension in the room. By then, it was clear to me that the European teenagers here have varying opinions on the Ukraine-Russia conflict: some are indifferent and jokingly view the situation, while others likely support or have supported Putin’s efforts.

A few days ago, I decided to call up a Russian friend, Alex Milman (‘24), whose father was born in Moldova and his mother in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, but now lives in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, to hear his thoughts on the conflict. He expressed agreement with the graffiti pertaining to Putin and concern for his family located in Russia.

“I was texting back and forth with my cousin in Russia about the ongoing conflict. We both despise Putin’s actions, even though possessing such beliefs can pose a danger. I told him to delete his messages afterwards, as I fear that the Russian government might arrest him.”

Alex told me about some of his other fears as well. “I saw a video of a person in Moscow protesting the war by holding up a sign. Russian guards surrounded her, in addition to another woman. The other woman, however, was not protesting the war. She was screaming that she agreed with Putin and supported the invasion of Ukraine,” said Alex.

I also decided to chat with a French friend, Sam Herzberg (‘24), whose father and sister were born in France. His parents, who have deep ties to Europe and actively visit France, are currently working on solutions through the World Bank Institute to help Ukrainian refugees find jobs and assimilate into the economies of the countries they have fled to. Sam told me that he supports the people of Ukraine and denounces the Russian invasion.

I’ve talked to others too: people with direct ties to the conflict, people with European family members or passports and even others who have strong opinions about the war. While the majority supports Ukraine, everyone has different views on the issue. The war is so incredibly complex, and just because one has a tie to it, does not mean they support either the Russian or Ukrainian government. That’s why now, more than ever, it is important to not generalize the ideas and beliefs of certain people. We must remember the individual: each person has their own thoughts and opinions.