IN PHOTOS: The life of White Russian refugees in PH

Ayee Macaraig

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IN PHOTOS: The life of White Russian refugees in PH
Rappler posts never before seen photos of the anti-communist so-called White Russian refugees the Philippines welcomed into Guiuan, Eastern Samar in the 1950s

MANILA, Philippines – “We were happy that we were safe. This was the safety that was most important, and the optimism that things will get better.” 

Kyra Tatarinoff was among 6,000 anti-communist so-called White Russian refugees the Philippines welcomed into its shores in 1949. After fleeing Russia for China, they again had to seek refuge when the Maoist revolutionary army was about to take over Shanghai. Of all the countries in the world, only the Philippines accepted them. 

Now, the former refugees and their children express gratitude to the Philippines for hosting them in Tubabao Island in Guiuan, Eastern Samar, from 1949 to 1951. (READ: PH a ‘paradise’ for grateful White Russian refugees)

“Having the opportunity to go to the Philippines, being accepted there, we are grateful to the people, to the government, for letting us. We think of Tubabao a lot, especially those who were teenagers then. They have a very special place in their hearts for Tubabao,” Tatarinoff said.  

What was life like for these Russian refugees in Tubabao? In commemoration of World Refugee Day on Saturday, June 20, Rappler is posting never before seen photos of the White Russians in Guiuan. 

The Quirino Foundation obtained these to mark the 125th birth anniversary of President Elpidio Quirino, who opened the Philippines’ doors to the refugees, and visited them in the Tubabao camp.

After a grueling odyssey from Shanghai, the White Russians found a temporary home in Guiuan. Far from the persecution they experienced in Russia, they enjoyed the beach of Tubabao, organized cultural presentations, and experienced the world-renowned hospitality of Filipinos. (READ: TIMELINE: Philippine laws and policies on refugees

Here are the photos of the White Russians in Tubabao. We are posting them with captions and permission from the Quirino Foundation. 

Fearing the Maoist Revolutionary army’s takeover of China after the war, nearly 6,000 anti-communist refugees—mostly "White Russians”—residing in Shanghai for years left for the Philippines. Photo by the Museum of Russian Culture, San Francisco, USA

Tubabao Island became the biggest refugee camp in the Philippines' history of offering asylum, accommodating nearly 6,000 White Russians refugees. Located southwest of Samar Island, Tubabao is one of the major islands of Guiuan, and the nearest to the town proper. During the war, it served as a receiving station of the US Naval Base Construction Depot built in Guiuan. Photo by Larissa Krassovsky

A predecessor of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Refugee Organization (IRO) undertook the emergency evacuation of thousands of White Russians from Shanghai to Tubabao Island. Created on April 20, 1946 as a specialized agency of the UN to address the refugee crisis of World War II, IRO was also the agency responsible for managing the refugee camp, and assisting in the resettlement of the refugees until 1951. Photo by Irene Kounitsky

Wondering why the refugees were called “White Russian”? The Whites were the members or supporters of the Czar’s Imperial court where the official color was white. They were strongly anti-communist and fought the Bolsheviks, or the Reds, during the Russian Civil War. Among the “White Russians” who migrated to Tubabao Island were other nationalities affected by the war, including Latvians, Estonians, Lithuanians, Germans, Austrians, Czechs, Armenian, and 8 other groups from the Slavic and Baltic countries. Photo by Val Sushkoff

 White Russian children enjoy snacks in Tubabao. Photo by Nikolai Hidchenko

White Russian refugees enjoy a warm day in Tubabao Island. Photo by Larissa Krassovsky

 White Russians enjoy camp life in Tubabao. Photo by Sushkoff

Concerts, cultural shows, operas, film showings, art exhibitions and ballet performances were held regularly at the camp to beat not only boredom, but also the death of the spirit. Photo by Olga Valcoff

The refugees remained resilient, inventive and cultured despite the hardship and the uncertainty of their future. The “cream of the crop” of the Russian community in Shanghai, the camp swarmed with professors, engineers, architects, artists, ballerinas, doctors, lawyers, priests, and former officers of the Czar’s army. Photo by Olga Valcoff

The White Russians built the camp as a community and made it livable for each other— a true test of a people’s solidarity. Photo by Olga Valcoff

President Elpidio Quirino, responsible for accepting thousands of White Russians into the Philippines, visited the camp in Tubabao on October 28, 1949. When he was there, he noticed a barbed-wire fence surrounding the camp and immediately ordered to have it taken down. This, to the refugees, was a noble act of kindness, one that made them feel they were not in a refugee camp but that they were trustworthy and peace-loving people who belonged to society. Photo by Nikolai Hidchenko

Among the thousands of refugees living in the Tubabao camp was a holy man. From Shanghai to Tubabao to their permanent residence, Vladyka (Bishop) John stood as his people’s beacon of hope and spiritual strength. He is remembered to this day not only by former Tubabao refugees, but also by Tubabao natives as the man who blessed the camp from four directions every night. On July 2, 1994, the Russian Orthodox Church canonized him as a saint. It is said that one of his miracles was in the typhoon-prone island of Tubabao for while he was there, no typhoon struck the island. Photo by Irene Kounitsky

A super typhoon struck Guiuan in 1951, destroying the whole town including the refugee camp and the wooden bridge that connected it to the town. It was the most devastating typhoon in Guiuan before Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) of 2013. Not forgetting that the small town opened up its land to refugees in need in 1949, the UNHCR immediately provided aid to Guiuan and its people displaced by the typhoon. Photo by Axi and Louise Ivanoff

By 1951, the thousands of refugees in Tubabao Island of Guiuan were able to permanently resettle to US, Australia, South America, and France. Photo by Olga Valcoff

Today, the former White Russian refugees still carry the memory of Tubabao and what hardship they had been through. But most of all, they remember the better things— the sunset, the freedom, the warmth of the Filipinos, and strength demonstrated by their people. Photo by Olga Valcoff

Former White Russian refugees and their children and grandchildren are forever grateful for the Philippines' hospitality. Photo by Larissa Krassovsky


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