Forgotten history: How White Russians found refuge in the Philippines

White Russians
White Russians arrive in the Philippines in 1949, and Russian Ambassador at a commemorative marker to the event.

The Russian ambassador to the Philippines has recalled how thousands of White Russians once found sanctuary in the Philippines.

About 6,000 Russians who had previously fled the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 were again forced to relocate after communism arrived in in 1949. 


After appealing to the international community, only the Philippines — under the administration of President Elpidio Quirino — replied to their request. The offer was made even though the country was still recovering from the devastation of World War Two.

Tubabao Island — an American base during the war — was was opened up for the White Russians to live while waiting for other countries to grant them asylum. 

In 1951, after two years on the island, the refugees were granted asylum to the US, Australia, France and other South American and European countries.


“Unfortunately, this story is little known in Russia. I think we should combine our effort to let all people know that. This can be a bridge of friendship, connecting Russia and all Filipinos,” Ambassador said.

“They deserve to know the story and I’m sure that many of them will have a desire to visit this place. Hopefully this can be our modest contribution for the social and economic development of this region.

“As far as the Russian Embassy in Manila, we will do our best. I hope that in the near future that Tubabao and Guiuan will become a destination of pilgrimage of Russian tourists because this is a very special story. A story that is very close to the heart of all Russian people. We will do our best to let as many people to know that.”


White Russians anniversary

Next year, will be the 70th anniversary of the arrival of the White Russians.

The ambassador said they wanted to work closely with the President Elpidio Quirino Foundation on this to ensure the milestone was properly marked.

In his visit to Guiuan, Eastern Samar, the ambassador went to Tubabao Island and offered prayers and flowers at a memorial there.

He also visited the old site of the Orthodox Cathedral of the Most Holy Theotokos (Orthodox Cathedral of the Holy Virgin Mary), where then Archbishop John Maximovich, who was later venerated into sainthood, served.

The archbishop, now known as Saint John of Shanghai and San Francisco, was also instrumental for the granting of asylum to the White Russians in Tubabao in the US.

Ambassador Khovaev also went to the Guiuan public cemetery to visit the graves of some of the Russians who died during their stay on the island.

The ambassador also expressed his gratitude to the former mayor of Guiuan, Annaliz Gonzalez-Kwan and her daughter Kinna Kwan for researching the largely forgotten historic event.

“I’m deeply impressed, touch and humbled,” he said. “I think this is a very meaningful story because despite that huge geographical distance there is something that connects our countries.”

He also described the Philippines as a “country of refuge, country of assistance and help, and country of care”.

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