TACLOBAN CITY – The Russian embassy and the Philippines celebrated recently the 70th anniversary of the unique ties forged between the two countries during the stay of about 6,000 “White Russian” refugees from China on Tubabao Island in 1949, a former American base during World War II.
Russian Ambassador to the Philippines Igor Khovaev visited the island in Guiuan, Eastern Samar on Friday, November 22, to personally express his gratitude to the people who showed them magnanimity.
“It’s natural for Russians to be grateful for every good thing that you have done for us, it is our task to preserve and cherish this unique fantastic memory of kindness,” he said during a program prepared by the islanders.
He added that with the initiatives of Guiuananons such as Kinna Mae Kwan, who did an extensive research on the White Russians’ stay on Tubabao Island for two years while they wait for other countries to grant them asylum in 1949, is a great contribution to the friendship and bilateral relationship between the two countries.
In their appeal to the international community, only the Philippines – through the administration of then-President Elpidio Quirino – replied to their request. The offer was made even if the country was still recovering from the devastation of WWII.
Kinna, with the support of the Quirino Foundation and the Philippine National Historical Society (PNHD), went to Australia and the United States of America to gather materials scattered in national archives because according to her, there were no books and written articles about the sojourn of the White Russian refugees on Tubabao, and the only source was the former refugees themselves. After their two-year stay on the island, the refugees were granted asylum to the US, Australia, France, and South American and European countries.
She has co-authored a book entitled “The Journal of History”, which contains papers presented during the 39th National Conference on Local and National History of the PNHS held in Catbalogan City.
For their part, the ambassador said that Russians should likewise know their history, that is why more Russians are visiting Guiuan in February next year to learn and also express their gratitude to the people of Tubabao.
Guiuan Mayor Annaliza Kwan said that in order to prepare for the surge of tourists who will make Tubabao a pilgrimage site, the Department of Public Works and Highways already approved a bridge from the mainland and road concreting project amounting to Php 160 million.
She also noted that kindness is deeply rooted among Filipinos because at that time, the Philippines has just survived from the 2nd world war, and it was not an easy decision to make.
“Today, we celebrate the kindness, magnanimity and hospitality of Filipinos, particularly Guiuananons. Let us remember the artistic contribution of the White Russians who taught us ballet, piano and arts,” she said. She urged all Guiuananons to embrace and be proud of their heritage of kindness from Ferdinand Magellan who first landed on Homonhon Island on March 17, 1521, a day after they anchored on the nearby Suluan Island also in Guiuan, to the white Russians. By Marie Tonette Marticio