The covid-19 outbreak changed the City of Helsinki’s communications specialist Liudmila Helanterä’s job description overnight, when she became a part of the crisis communications team at the City Hall, working long days to keep city residents informed.
“I said I was available to help with Russian-language coronavirus communications because I believe everything on the city’s website should be made accessible to as many people as possible,” she says.
Public authorities have a responsibility to publish official information, Helanterä believes, especially when there is so much disinformation swirling around. Russian speakers are the third largest language group in Helsinki, after Finnish and Swedish. There are over 18,000 native speakers in the city, and many more thousands who speak Russian as a second language. This second group includes Helanterä herself, who is a member of Russia’s Chuvash minority living near the Volga River.
“At home here in Helsinki, I speak Russian with my Finnish husband and children,” she says. “But I fell in love with Finnish when I was learning it. It has some qualities that are quite close to my native language.”
Alongside her translation work, Helanterä has continued the work she has done since 2009 for InfoFinland, a ‘Handbook for Living in Finland’ with comprehensive information on Finland in 12 languages.
“InfoFinland reacted to the covid-19 situation very quickly, compiling all of the information in different languages that we could find from various public authorities on our website,” she says.
Helanterä feels her team’s work is about more than just producing information, however, as getting it out to the target audiences is also an essential service.
“Crises always lay bare deficiencies when it comes to special groups. Now we see our shortcomings much more clearly, so we can make changes where they are due. I see this as both a challenge and an opportunity,” she says.
Text by Pamela Kaskinen
Photo Antti Helanterä