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Sangat at gurdwara in Moscow (Express photo)

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Moscow to Odessa: A common thread of peace, love and harmony — via Afghanistan

Divya Goyal

From the capital city Moscow of Russia to the port city Odessa of Ukraine— there’s a common thread of peace, love and harmony— that binds both countries, currently at loggerheads and engaged in a war with each other.

For a handful members of Sikh community settled in these two countries, there’s just one gurdwara in each country. But, the irony: Both these gurdwaras have been established by the Afghan Sikh community who too were forced to leave their homeland due to unrest and war in Afghanistan and then made different countries of the world their ‘home’, nearly three decades back.

On Thursday as Russia announced a military attack on Ukraine— the echoes of worry and concern were similar from the members of Sikh community settled in both countries- mostly Afghan Sikhs- who have already been there and done that. For them, living through the trauma of a war is nothing new, but the worst fear in their minds— will they have to abandon their new homeland once again?
In the port city Odessa of Ukraine from where the Russian troops crossed over today as the border areas were rocked by multiple explosions, nestled a few kilometers away from the main city is Gurdwara Nanak Darbar– the only gurdwara in Ukraine, the country having less than 500 persons from Sikh community including some students. The local Afghan and Indian Sikh community had pooled in funds to open this gurdwara in 2014. Due to less number of sangat who can visit the gurdwara or perform sewa, it opens only once a week (on Saturdays) when kirtan and langar sewa is performed. The local Hindu community also visits gurdwara.

Speaking to The Indian Express over phone from Odessa, the gurdwara caretaker Baljit Singh said: “We heard the sound of a few explosions in the morning from army godowns. City is safe as of now and everything is peaceful. There is water and electricity and hospitals and roads are accessible. As of now, we are safe here.”

Baljit Singh, an importer of Indian grocery and ayurveda goods, said that there were just 15-20 Sikh and Hindu families in Odessa and some other Indian students and they had opened the gurdwara in 2014 because Sikh community felt need for a place where they could celebrate their festivals and teach children about their faith and culture. “Earlier we had to booked banquet halls to celebrate our festivals. So we decided to buy a piece of land and have a gurdwara here,” said Baljit, settled in Odessa for more than 28 years now.
Amarjit Singh, a businessman from Odessa who had shifted from Kabul of Afghanistan nearly 30 years back and is one of the founding members of the gurdwara, said that the situation in Ukraine was currently bad and there were long queues outside grocery stores and fuel filling stations. “Afghan and Indian Sikhs had opened this gurdwara collectively in 2014. There’s no figure of number of Sikhs and Hindus settled in Ukraine but in Odessa they are not more than a thousand including Hindu families and students who visit gurdwara. We just want peace to be restored. However, the doors of gurdwara will always be open for anyone in need– for shelter, food etc.”

In Moscow, the capital of Russia, the Sikh Culture Centre cum Gurdwara Nanak Darbar located in Varshavskoe, was also opened by Afghan Sikh community nearly 17 years back in 2005 after many of them fled war-torn Afghanistan and got settled in Russia.

Gurmeet Singh, the head of Moscow gurdwara, who fled Kabul 25 years back, said: Ours is the only gurdwara in Russia. There are just 300-400 Sikhs in Moscow. Hindu and Sikh community live in harmony here. Till now everything is fine in Moscow city but we want peace. Doors of our gurdwara are open for sangat irrespective of their religion whenever they need any help.” 
[Courtesy: The Indian Express]

February 25, 2022 

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