Russian-Bangladeshi friendship gives a new vibe to the vista

Russian officials of the Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant Project shopping during the Eid holiday. Green City, Notun Hat, Ishwardi, Pabna on 23 April 2023Hasan Mahmud

"The Russia nationals here have become so close to us. They can't pronounce 'bondhu' (friend), so they call us 'bondu'. In the beginning, we would call them 'bondhu', and that's how they caught on to the word."

Meat trader Rajab Ali of the small market Notun Hat in the village Diyar Sahapur of Sahapur union, Ishwardi upazila, Pabna, was talking about the friendship forged with the Russians there.

Rajab Ali does not know how to read or write. He says not only had he no idea of the Russian language, he did not know a country called Russia even existed. But now he interacts with them regularly and has even picked up a smattering of Russian. And the Russians too have picked up some of the local dialect.

This is not just the case in Notun Hat, but in the various marketplaces of the upazila. The nuclear power plant underway in Rooppur has brought about changes to the locale.

Omar Ali sells clothes at the mobile market in front of the residential area Green City of the city Diyar Saharpur. Next to his stall is Mehedi Hasan, a local fruit vendor. Both of them are Bangla speaking Bengalis, but almost all their customers are Russian nationals.

Reactor pressure vessel of the second unit of Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant in Ishwardi, Pabna
Prothom Alo

Although they are from two different countries and speak two different languages, there are no communication problems at all. The Bangladeshi vendors understand enough rudimentary Russian, and the Russians are picking up Bangla too. From buying food to taking part in various festivals, a growing friendship between the two people is visible everywhere.

Fruit trader Mehedi Hasan says, "The Russians are very patient. Initially we would communicate with gestures and signs. They would patiently try to understand what we wanted to say. Now we have learned quite a few useful words."

Work is going on at the under-construction nuclear power plant project on the banks of the river Padma in the village Rooppur of Ishwardi upazila. The residential area of the project, Green City, has been constructed in the nearby Diar Saharpur village. This new city comprises 17 20-storey buildings and a few more are underway.

These used to be paddy threshing grounds in the past and the people would be fed up of trucks constantly coming up and spreading a cloud of dust all over, says Ariful Islam, member of ward 6 of Saharpur union. Speaking to Prothom Alo, he says, "Our village has become a town now. The Russians go around visiting the villages, talking to the people. They join in various events. In fact, the behaviour of the local people of these villages has undergone a change too. Children have started going to school. There is a pleasant bond between the Russians and the locals. It feels good."

A Russian woman employed at Rooppur Nuclear Power Project is seen roaming around Green City with her kids on 22 April 2023
Prothom Alo

Speaking to the local people, it was learnt that during the British rule, this areas was a jungle. After the British constructed the Hardinge Bridge in 1915, settlements grew here and trade began. Construction of the Rooppur Nuclear Power Project was inaugurated on 2 October 2013. It was from then that the Russians began arriving in the area. They gave the locale a fresh lease of life.

The Russians are friendly and easily mix with everyone. They always say thank you and show respect. And emulating them, the people here have changed too
Shahriar Hossain, clothing store attendant

There are around 5500 Russian staff members working here at present, with around 2000 woman. But their families do not live here.

A recent visit to the area saw that shopping centres, supershops, hotels, restaurants, resorts, bars, hospital and recreation spots have opened up in the localities, catering to these foreign nationals. The signboards of these establishments are in Russian and Bangla. It looks that a little bit of Russia has sprouted up in the area.

The project's site in-charge Ruhul Kuddus, speaking to Prothom Alo, said, "Whether it is inside the project or outside, the Russians are very pleasant. They easily mix with the people of our country. This harmony between the Russians and Bangladeshis has given the Rooppur project an added impetus."

One reaches the village Diyar Saharpur, turning down a slope leading off the Pabna-Kushtia highway. There is a small market along the way called Notun Hat, where vegetables, fruit, fish and meat is sold. Russians are seen roaming around the marketplace.

Vegetable vendor Korban Ali says, "The Russians are quite careful about their spending and do not splurge like us. They buy in smaller portions. They like vegetables, but they don't like spicy food."

Green City is located after Notun Bazar. As you arrive in front of it, there are many modern shops, salons and restaurants. Everything is available here, from mobile phones to clothes, food and other essentials.

Shahriar Hossain works for a clothing store there. He says that the Russians are friendly and easily mix with everyone. They always say thank you and show respect. And emulating them, the people here have changed too.