A man in an orange jacket stands amongst rubble and buildings destroyed in a blast
A man looks at the gutted remains of Russian military vehicles on a road in the town of Bucha, close to the capital Kyiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, March 1, 2022. Russia on Tuesday stepped up shelling of Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city, pounding civilian targets there. Credit: Serhii Nuzhnenko / AP

As their country takes international condemnation for its invasion of Ukraine, many Russian-Mainers say their feelings toward their homeland are more complex than ever.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine is in its second week, with fighting intensifying in many of the country’s major cities on Tuesday. Ukrainians in Maine are almost unanimously united in their opposition to the invasion. Yet, the reverse is not true for the around 8,000 Mainers of Russian descent.

Few of them will unequivocally say they support the invasion, even if they have some understanding of why Russia did it. And several declined to comment on it, often saying they do not want to weigh in on contentious political matters.

Russian-Americans have played important roles in communities across Maine for over a century. Now, they are being forced to grapple with an invasion fiercely opposed by the United States and much of the world, even as they maintain familial and cultural connections with their homeland.

“It’s unfortunate the rest of the world might see Russia as some big enemy,” said Maxim Glover, 26, of Bangor, who was born in Russia but left at a young age. “I don’t want this to happen, but I can’t help it.”

To Glover, the attack was unjustified, as was Russian President Vladimir Putin’s assertion that Ukraine had no right to sovereignty.

Still, anti-Russian sentiments have long been common in the U.S. He hopes Americans can separate the Russian people from the actions of Putin’s government.

Glover is a more recent immigrant, but exchanges between Maine and Russia predate its 1820 statehood. One Russian-American even represented Maine in the U.S. Senate: former senator William Cohen’s father was a Russian-Jewish immigrant.

And more than a century ago, Russian diplomats signed the Treaty of Portsmouth at the Portsmouth Naval Yard in Kittery with their Japanese counterparts, ending the Russo-Japanese War.

In Richmond, Soviet refugees from Russia, Ukraine and other regions formed a community opposed to communism in the 1940s that swelled to more than 500 at one time.

Today, only around 30 Russians remain in Richmond, according to census data. Yet, the community still has a Russian Orthodox church that is frequented by those of Russian, Ukrainian, Belarusian, Polish and Bulgarian descent, among others, according to priest Nathan Williams.

“You would doubtless find multiple perspectives at our church,” Williams said. “Thank God, all care for each other deeply and have not allowed international politics to come between them.”

Williams said he and his wife, who has grandparents from Russia and Ukraine, had been “troubled” by the American coverage of the war, especially related to Ukrainian politics, the Donbas conflict and history of Ukraine’s national identity.

For many, the conflict is a clash between their Russian heritage and a war many of them see as unnecessary, one against a country that has several cultural similarities.

Some Mainers have connections with both Russia and Ukraine, only further complicating their feelings on the conflict. Irina Malayev, owner of Medeo European Food and Deli in Westbrook, has parents from Ukraine but is a Russian citizen who grew up near Volgograd.

“I’m seeing the Russian side, I’m seeing the Ukrainian side,” said Malayev. “Of course it is difficult.”

Calling the invasion “more complex than meets the eye,” Malayev said she is opposed to all wars, also noting her opposition to the American intervention in the Syrian Civil War.

She worries about straining relations within Maine. On Monday, a Ukrainian customer lashed out verbally at one of her employees, she said. That man was escorted out by another customer from Bulgaria.

“All those emotions are so high right now,” Malayev said. “Some people, unfortunately, will act on them.”