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Ukraine War Sparks Hate Crimes in Germany

Russians, and Those Perceived to be Russian, Targets of Attacks

A smashed window pane and smeared white paint are seen on a Russian-Polish supermarket in Oberhausen, North Rhine-Wesphalia, March 3, 2022. Police are investigating the incident. © 2022 Christoph Rechwein/dpa/AP Images

Since Russia’s February invasion of Ukraine, reports have surfaced of people directing anger over the war at Russians, Belarussians, and Ukrainians living in their own communities. Incidents targeting Russians or people speaking Russian have been widely reported in the media.

On March 30, Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, noted that “a rise in Russophobia has been observed in a number of countries.” In Germany specifically, Interior Minister Nancy Faeser on April 5 said that there had been an increase in offences against Russians and Russian facilities. In mid-April, Germany's Federal Criminal Police Office (Bundeskriminalamt, BKA) reported they had registered more than 1,700 offences “in relation to the war,” which included targeting Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians. The BKA wrote to Human Rights Watch that it currently counts about 200 such crimes a week, ranging from “insults and threats to physical assaults. There is also damage to property, such as paint graffiti with corresponding content.” Officials have also warned about false reports of xenophobic attacks as part of a Russian disinformation campaign.

Since the start of the war, restaurants owned by Russians in Berlin reported receiving threats; memorials were desecrated; a German-Russian school in Berlin was the target of an arson attack; bottles were thrown at a Russian-orthodox church; and Russian-speaking children and children perceived to be Russian have reported bullying at school.

Over the past few weeks, we have spoken to Russians about their experiences since the war started. Anna (pseudonym), a 40-year-old woman from Russia living in Germany for 17 years, said in late April while walking through a park in Berlin with her daughter and her Ukrainian cousin, a man who heard them speaking Russian threatened them and said, “We will kill the fascists and rape you.” The women were able to get away safely, but Anna said it left her shaken. “In public, I now lower my voice when I speak in Russian. And I am checking who is around my daughter and me at the playground.” The police are investigating the incident.

Germany should continue to monitor closely violence and discrimination targeting people speaking Russian, or people assumed to be Russian. Authorities there and around Europe should investigate, arrest, and prosecute perpetrators of hate violence and abuse against Russians. European leaders and Europeans need to stand up against intolerance and hostility towards everyone.

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