St Petersburg Russian Cape May Connections

Students gather in protest in St. Petersburg, Russia. Credit Anton Vaganov.

This week I had an extensive online chat with a young man in St. Petersburg, Russia. He has been a J1 student worker in the past. Though Russian, Cape May connections were strong.

Come summer; he desires to return to Cape May. But that was before the war in Ukraine happened.

His responses to some of my questions were fascinating. Days went by before I realized how meaningful our conversation was.

I have written about the importance of this worker segment in the past. Russia is in the top ten countries that send  J1 student workers to New Jersey. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is likely to impact the number of students who arrive this year.

The following is a recap of my conversation with Vas in St. Petersburg, Russia. Special thanks to Jack Wright of Exit Zero for formatting tips with this writing style. Even though one of Jack’s writers called me belligerent, that’s a topic for another blog.

Note: I made minimal changes in the student’s vernacular.

CookeCapeMay: Will Russian students be permitted to enter the United States this year?

VAS: I don’t know yet. But this year we are supposed to be admitted because many of us have already got our visas and bought flight tickets.

CCM: How are sanctions imposed by the United States and others affecting your country?

VAS:  Oh, honestly, badly. Everything becomes more expensive every day because of inflation; there are so many restrictions to buy foreign currencies, and so on. All cool businesses like McDonald’s, IKEA, Nike, and others leave our market.

CCM: Wait a minute. Western media tells us Putin has banned Facebook, and here we are chatting on messenger?

VAS: Putin’s administration bans everything on the Internet. That’s true; I use a VPN (a virtual private network)  to use Facebook or Instagram. Because Putin fears people will know the truth about the Ukraine ware while our state-controlled media says everything is perfect.

CCM: Is the truth about the war in Ukraine reaching you and the people in Russia?

VAS: Sure. I mean, almost everybody in Russia understands the truth. Now the policy is if you are against the war, so you are against Putin, and all demonstrations are also being suppressed. But there are some people, first of all, police and military, who execute the criminal orders of Putin.

I have always visited anti-Putin demonstrations since the year 2019, and the police just suppressed that roughly.
Russian police are not American or European ones because they can do anything they want when they are arrested, and tortures are not an exemption.
CCM: Are there repercussions, retaliation?.
VAS: Our courts are controlled by the Russian domestic secret service (FSB), and they can send you to prison for three years for demonstrations or something like that. Everything is very complicated here but be sure Russians are the same people as everybody are, and we try all our best here to stop it, but it doesn’t work out regularly.
CCM: So obviously, you have a job commitment in Cape May, airline travel might be difficult. How will you get here?
VAS: Yes, I will work at (popular restaurant.) We will fly Turkish Airlines. They fly from Moscow to Istanbul and from Istanbul, you can get everywhere.
CCM: Thank you for sharing your story with me.
VAS: You’re welcome. Thank you for asking.
Regardless of where our J1 students come from this summer, they will not necessarily be supportive of Putin’s agenda. If like me, you wonder what I can do? Consider purchasing a t-shirt at Flying Fish Studios, donating $15 of every shirt to Ukraine.
Treat yourself to dinner at Exit Zero’s Filling Station. 100% of proceeds from their Chicken Kyiv dinner go to Ukraine relief.


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