Philly’s Russian-speaking community on Trump-Russia scandal: Let’s not talk about it

 Irina Gitman, who immigrated from the Ukraine, launched a Russian language weekly newspaper from her Northeast Philadelphia home in 1994. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Irina Gitman, who immigrated from the Ukraine, launched a Russian language weekly newspaper from her Northeast Philadelphia home in 1994. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Turn on the TV or radio, and odds are, you’ll hear someone rambling on about Russiagate, the scandal over whether Russian hacking and election meddling helped President Trump win the White House.

Google Russia and Trump, and 192 million results pop up. Even advertisers and comedians have capitalized on the controversy for attention and laughs.

Everyone, it seems, wants to talk about Trump and Russia.

Everyone, that is, except Lora Kushnir. 

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

20170714-elee-lora kushnir-northeast philadelphia bells market-russian immigrants trumpLora Kushnir is a manager at Bell’s Market in Northeast Philadelphia, where many Russian speaking immigrants have settled. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

“The latest headlines are the same like the earliest headlines. It’s all about Russia, Russia, his son, it used to be his son-in-law, it used to be somebody else,” said Kushnir, a Ukraine native who manages the Russian-owned Bell’s Market in Rhawnhurst. “I don’t care about Russia, Russia, Russia, Russia. I only care about headlines of this country.”

Like Kushnir, some in the Philadelphia region’s Russian-speaking community have grown weary of the flood of headlines pegging Trump as “Putin’s puppet” and otherwise dissecting the relationship between the Trump administration and the Russian government.

While this week’s Russiagate developments arguably have been the most explosive to date, with critics mulling treason, some saw the news as just more noise in a narrative they don’t believe.

“It’s like she-said/he-said,” said Ukraine native Irina Gitman, referring to this week’s headlines of the 2016 meeting of Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya and Donald Trump Jr.

Gitman runs a Russian-language newspaper called Philadelphia Advertising Services out of her Bustleton home.

“That lady, just look at her face, it’s a fox,” said Gitman, who believes Veselnitskaya lied about having dirt to discredit Hillary Clinton to push her agenda of repealing the Magnitsky Act, a 2012 law sanctioning Russia for human rights abuses.

Like many in the local Russian-speaking community, Gitman likes Trump.

“I feel like he wants to do everything for America, for American people,” she said. “He might be rude sometimes; he might be saying something wrong, not politically correct. But he wants with all his heart to help American people. He doesn’t need money; he doesn’t need to be famous. He is already rich and famous. He had such a good life, and now he has just troubles.”

The image of Trump as a tough-talking, anti-establishment leader especially appeals to immigrants old enough to remember life under Soviet rule, where dissidence was dangerous, others agreed.   

“We lived in Soviet Union, in totalitarian system, a time when you could not have an opinion at all,” said Malvina Yakobi, a Georgia native and editorial director of Philadelphia News, a Russian-language newspaper operating from a business park on Street Road.

20170714-elee-malvina yakobi diane glikman-philadelphia trevose-russian immigrants trumpMalvina Yakobi (left) and Diane Glikman are partners the the Philadelphia News Small Business TV, a russian language internet television program. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Clinton, on the other hand, couldn’t shake allegations of corruption during the campaign, and that “Crooked Hillary” perception resounds in a community that wants their adopted homeland of America to rise above the troubled native homelands they fled.

“I did not vote for Trump or Hillary. I voted against Hillary. Because I was sick and tired of her corruptions,” Yakobi said.

Still, those in the local Russian-speaking community caution against painting them with the same broad strokes, as one community unified in their love of Trump. After Politico posted a piece in March describing Philly’s Russians as “crazy for Trump,” a local Russian-language web TV show responded with a show rebutting such generalization.

“The Russian population is huge, (full of) different types of people, different types of religions, different types of beliefs, nationalities and personalities, and unfortunately, ‘Russian’ was thrown into one pie,” said Diane Glikman, a Ukraine native who runs the PNSB TV show that took on the Politico article. “Every Russian person has their own opinion … but we’re thrown into the same pot of ‘the Russian people who believe in Trump.’ People think automatically, that ‘Russian’ means you’re for Putin, like ‘you’re a Putin person, because Trump is friends with Putin.’”

She added: “I personally love Trump, because he loves America. I am not a fan of Putin, in all perspectives.”

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal