Living Side by side, Ukrainian and Russian Sailors Tested by War

There is an unwritten rule among sailors: Do not talk about politics and religion while at sea.

But soon after Russia invaded Ukraine, Andrian Kudelya, a 35-year-old sailor from Kyiv, realized that avoiding politics would not be possible. When his pregnant wife and son were fleeing Ukraine, two Russian sailors boarded the ship where Mr. Kudelya was working.

On deck, in the control room, in the messy room, Russian sailors engaged him and other Ukrainian crewmen, claiming that Ukraine was full of Nazis and that America had started the war.

Mr Kudelya said: “I can’t hear this lie. But on a ship, he added, “It’s difficult to completely avoid contact with these people.”

Commercial ships have become one of the few places where Russians and Ukrainians, who make up 15% of the world’s 1.9 million seafarers, still live side-by-side on worldwide routes while Their country is at war. Some ships have become rare refuges of understanding and forgiveness. On other ships, the mood became tense and at times unbearable, eroding the maritime tradition of sailors treating each other as comrades, regardless of their backgrounds.

Mr. Kudelya said he was relieved when he got off the ship in April in Germany, where he will reunite with his family and will find work at shipping companies that do not employ Russians. “I need to think about my job and not about the conflict and some pointless conversation about politics,” he said.

With the global maritime industry already short of commercial sailors, and particularly reliant on sailors from Russia and Ukraine, who tend to be highly skilled, some companies have shifted crews to lower their costs. Heat stress on board.

AP Moller-Maersk, one of the world’s largest shipping companies, said in a statement that having Russian and Ukrainian crew members on the same ship can be challenging. “As a precautionary measure, we have decided not to let crew members from Ukraine and Russia board the same ship,” the company said, adding that the policy was in effect at the beginning of the invasion. February.

According to Oleksiy Salenko, a Ukrainian officer, who signed the document and narrated the incident over the phone.

“It’s the law of the seafarers,” Mr. Salenko said. “We are not political.” However, a few days later, the Russian captain, who had previously served in the Russian army, began to demean him, which Mr. Salenko said he did not have enough time to complete the difficult tasks and told him that he is not suitable for the job. Mr. Salenko left the ship shortly after, ending his contract a few months early.

In the midst of difficult moments, on some ships, close contact between the Russians and the Ukrainians led to unexpected affection.

Roman Zelenskyi, 24, a sailor from Odesa, Ukraine, said that after he and other Ukrainians showed Russians pictures of damage in the Ukrainian cities of Kharkiv and Mariupol, four Russians were on board. His was shocked and embarrassed. “These are people like me working on a ship,” he said. “We are living in peace.”

Credit…Roman Zelenskyi

On another ship, several Russian sailors said they felt sorry for crew members over the destruction of their city. “We understood that it was difficult for him,” said Ivan Chukalin, a Russian sailor, of a Ukrainian sailor on his ship as it sailed for the Netherlands. “His hometown was destroyed.” However, Mr. Chukalin still insists that it is better not to take sides. “Politics is an undesirable topic for discussion.”

Another Russian sailor, Edward Viktorovich, 46, who works on a fishing boat in the Arctic Ocean, said the war had not affected the relationship between the Russians and a Ukrainian on his ship. “We all cook in the same pot,” he said. “We are colleagues here. Politics doesn’t touch us.”

Even on ships where sailors have made a concerted effort to avoid talking about the war, Ukrainian sailors say in interviews that they are haunted by fears about their family and friends in the country. Ukraine.

Dmytro Deineka, 24, a sailor from Kharkiv, said that he and four other Ukrainians on board tried not to respond to comments made by the captain and the main Russian officer on board his ship to avoid retaliation. . But within weeks of his grandmother’s house being bombed, he made his point to the pro-Russian captain from Crimea. The captain responded aggressively, saying that Ukraine was full of Nazis and needed to be saved by the Russians.

Credit…Dmytro Deineka

The Ukrainians on board wrote a letter to the Dutch shipowner asking for the captain’s dismissal. “The letter contained information about our feelings on the ship, what the captain told us, our emotional state and that we could not work in such conditions,” Mr. Deineka said. . Within weeks, the company had replaced the captain with another Russian captain, who sympathized with the Ukrainian sailors and the stress they suffered from worrying about their families back home.

Many young Ukrainians from the country’s port cities of Odesa or Mariupol have chosen sailing because it offers a stable salary. Currently, a small percentage of the 45,000 Ukrainians are trying to return to Ukraine to fight, but the majority want to stay on board, said Oleg Grygoriuk, president of the Ukrainian Maritime Transport Workers Union. He said there have been cases where Ukrainian sailors on ships stopping at Russian ports have been arrested for questioning and searched. More recently, when ships stopped at Russian ports, Ukrainian crewmen disembarked at nearby ports outside Russia and were picked up after the stop, he said.

Mr. Grygoriuk said missile attacks last month in Odesacame less than a day after an agreement was signed to secure the shipment of 20 million tons of grain stranded at Ukraine’s blockaded Black Sea ports, adding to his concerns about the safety of the country. port workers and sailors, who were paid twice as much every day that they worked in a war zone.

It’s a risk that some people are prepared to take on a tight budget. The sailors at sea are now the ones who left before the war started, and have stayed in the country ever since. Others, who were contracted when the war started and were unable to leave because of government restrictions that forbid men aged 18 to 60 from leaving the country, said in interviews that the savings Their savings are dwindling and they’ve cut costs on cigarettes and food. .

Vadym Mundriyevskyy, a Maersk executive who was contracted in Odesa, his hometown, when the Russian invasion began, said that the conversation in a Telegram group chat included the crew members. Russia and Ukraine, with which he worked before, have ended. Mr. Mundriyevskyy, 39, said: “There is nothing more to say.

With some Ukrainian sailors unable to work because of the war, shipping companies, already struggling with shortages, are already struggling with shortages, said Natalie Shaw, Employment Affairs Director for the International Shipping Division. staff, just barely managing staffed ships. Some shipping companies do not hire Russian crew because of uncertainty about how they will pay them, in the face of Western sanctions. The prolonged inability to bring Ukrainian and Russian sailors on board the ship could exacerbate tensions in the global shipping industry, she said.

Another stressor for crews is that some ships are traveling longer distances to avoid waters near a war zone, Shaw added.

“A reasonably harmonious situation would have been a challenge,” Ms. Shaw said. “As war increases and as people’s families become more affected, the likelihood of problems arising with interpersonal relationships worsens. That is inevitable “.

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