According to estimates, there are between 300,000 and half-a-million Russians living in the UK. Amid the vitriolic political and media campaign against Moscow over the Skripal case, many have reported growing public distrust and apprehension toward themselves and their families.
A London-based businessman named Mikhail spoke about the souring attitude. "Recently in a store, a seller, hearing my accent, asked me where I was from. Learning that I was Russian, he literally threw my bread on the counter," he said. "A taxi driver asked me head-on 'what you Russians think you're doing in our country'. We have to face this constantly, and attitudes are getting worse. There are terrible rumors, for example, that skinheads are attacking Russians in Britain."
"It's important to mention that the media in Britain are highly trusted; if they say the Russians are evil, then in the public's mind, they're evil," Sergei explained. "Britons are presented with information in such a way as to suggest that Russia used chemical weapons against them in their own country. This aggressive propaganda is being spread among the public, and affects our compatriots," he added.
Sergei pointed out that authorities have shown concern about Russians' safety. During the Russian presidential election on Sunday, for example, plainclothes' police officers were deployed to the Russian Embassy in the UK, presumably to prevent any incidents.
"I cannot remember such a deterioration of relations between our countries or such intensely anti-Russian rhetoric. In the last few weeks I have been asked 'why are you Russians killing other Russians', and constantly reminded about the Litvinenko poisoning," the immigrant said.
'No, Putin's Not Out to Get Me'
In the wave of hysteria over Skripal, the British press honed in on Guildford, Surrey resident Valery Morozov, who reported receiving threats from someone out to threaten and scam him.
Last week, an email appeared in Morozov's inbox, warning him in broken Russian that "they got [sic] Sergei and now they're coming after you. Sir, better now to keep calm and be on alert. You'll toe the line for me." The sender, one 'Matteo Di Luca', demanded that Valery send him two bitcoins.
Authorities took the threat seriously, putting Valery under police protection. The businessman believes the threat was the work of some criminals or scammers. "I don't believe that this was all the work of the Russian security services acting on Putin's behalf," he joked.
Valery recalled once communicating with Skripal. The two men met casually, with Skripal leaving an ambiguous impression on him. "On the one hand, he was very sociable and open. On the other, he mentioned that he was working as a security advisor to a British-American firm, communicating with representatives of the special services and, possibly, intelligence services. I didn't like this, and decided not to cross paths with him again," he said.
Morozov believes London was too quick to blame Moscow for the attempted killing of the Skripals. In fact, he said, those making the accusations without studying the facts of the case have pulled the rug out from under both Prime Minister May and President Putin.
"Officials like Boris Johnson throw around charges without bothering with any evidence; people can't figure out what's going on, and the whole atmosphere of confrontation is becoming more and more worrying. People are afraid of a flare-up – in Syria, Ukraine, or other places where Russia may face off head-to-head against the UK and the US," the immigrant noted.
Keep Calm and…
Oksana Gully Francis, a representative of an association of Russians living in the UK, has a more optimistic view. At the moment, she said, much of the hostility on social media comes from other Russian-speakers, not Britons themselves.
"Britons are more tactful, and not everyone is prone to hysterics. Many really want to understand what happened and to be given evidence. Every day, the local police call me to confirm that everything is ok with me and the members of our association; they ask me to inform them immediately about even the slightest attempt to infringe on our rights here in the UK, and promise to protect us."
For her part, Julia Pliuuksta from the UK's Russian Heritage center said that she has yet to experience any problems. "I personally have yet to hear any insults in my direction. But one friend told me that someone recently joked with her, asking 'So, who are you Russians going to poison next?'"
Russian ex-military intelligence officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found unconscious outside a shopping center in the southern English city of Salisbury on March 4. Suspected of being exposed to a deadly nerve agent, the pair were sent to hospital, where they remain in critical condition. Moscow has vociferously denied any involvement in the case, and has proposed a joint investigation. London has refused, instead introducing a series of measures against Moscow, including the expulsion of nearly two dozen diplomats, and the suspension of high-level bilateral contacts.