Alina, student and cab driver, 35 years old, Moscow Oblast:
In the first hours of the war, I felt nothing — I just couldn’t believe it had really begun. I had a choice that day: either go to the rally or to my dance class. I didn’t choose the rally because of my cowardice, which at first I was very ashamed of. But when, in class, the instructor expressed a position that matched mine, I was relieved.
The events that followed aroused in me a hatred and fury that grew brighter with each passing day. With them came a feeling of helplessness. I have a very hard time with all these feelings. All through the spring of 2022, it seemed like at any minute it would all be over. And in the summer I had to take a long time to accept the fact that, apparently, the war would continue for a long time. Acceptance didn’t work out, and you have to somehow humble yourself. Although I hated the word “humility.” I am sick of being humbled by everything.
I once stopped reading the news for a week — this didn’t help my mental state at all. Besides, I didn’t want to run away from reality, I wanted to endure this life. I read the news regularly now. I cope with the news that a missile flew in somewhere and killed so many people, I’ve gotten used to it. But it is very hard for me to read something about a specific dead, wounded, or captured person. After texts like that, I’m wiped out for a couple hours. Sometimes I see a headline and intentionally skip an article — I realize I’m not in a state where I can cope with it right now.
Among my acquaintances there was only one person with the “not everything is so clear-cut” position. I voiced the rationale and broke off contact with him. I didn’t have the energy to communicate with him. I only talked about the war with my parents. They believe everything the government shows on TV. When I told my mom it was all a bunch of lies, she told me, “look at how many stars are performing there, do you think they’re all lying?” After that phrase, I truly hated all the artists who still appear on television. In my opinion, they are normalizing for the viewers everything that is shown on these TV channels, in turn they are contributing a lot to this war. I want them all to be “canceled” when it’s over.
I think I know why my dad supports the war — he has CPTSD after returning from Afghanistan where he and other young guys were used in a senseless war. Now the same type of young people are being used in the war, which seems to make sense—they say on TV that we are saving the Russian inhabitants of Donbass from the Ukrainian Nazis. And this returns to him a sense of meaning for his time in Afghanistan. Or maybe he’s just glad that someone is now hurting as much in this war as he was hurting in that one—such a banal force of evil.
I redirect my worries into creativity — usually sewing and knitting. I can even embroider anti-war symbols. I have a sweater on which I drew three and five stars in two rows, with a “й” in the middle of the second one [note. *** **й** is the slogan “Нет войне” or “No to War”, expressing protest and censorship over protest]. The last time I wore it was last fall, now I’m afraid to walk around in it. I also get relief by dancing and the guys I’ve met because of it. They’re very talented and supportive. Sometimes I leave practice and I feel happy—happy to know these people, to see their creativity up-close. Thanks to dance, I felt for the first time such a warm feeling of love in my chest instead of emptiness. They help me endure the ongoing horror—they keep me from ending it by committing suicide. And I also have a person with whom we “worry about each other”—we talk in difficult moments, support each other. Being together makes things a little bit easier.
It was scary during the June march. Our feelings were mixed, it was unclear what to do. We followed the events in the company of friends. Everyone just scrolled the feeds and waited. Many of us were disappointed when Prigozhin turned around in Rostov, perhaps I was too. On the one hand, I wanted him to make it to Moscow: the opposition might’ve advantage of it, and besides, I just wanted at least someone to have ousted Putin already. But on the other hand, given Prigozhin’s personality and the executions carried out by his soldiers…I have a long-standing negative attitude toward the military in general. I was in a close relationship with a man who retired from the Russian army with the rank of Lieutenant. I saw his classmates, the same officers of the Russian army. If I’m honest, they are very scary people.
Leaving Russia is not something I have thought about. I’m studying psychology full-time, and I’d be very sorry to leave my studies. It’s sad to realize that this war will probably go on for the rest of my life. I don’t see any good scenarios of its end for Russia. It has already reached Moscow, which is increasingly being attacked by drones. And I’m sometimes even glad they’re getting there. They remind people that we are all still living in a fucked up world.
Amra, undergraduate student, 19 years old, Krasnodar Krai:
I was born in Abkhazia, I study at a Russian university and live in both countries on and off. When the war started, the population of Abkhazia was divided into those for and against Putin’s actions in Ukraine. I’m among the opponents of this war. When it started, I was constantly following the news, non-stop texting acquaintances who were there. I was very scared for the people of Ukraine. Unfortunately, each of them lost someone or something important during that time. It’s scary to imagine the horror that Ukrainians feel to this day.
My friends hold the same views [as me]. Sometimes we discuss the latest news at Uni. Teachers try to forbid us from calling the war by its name, and advise us not to talk about our views on the internet. But for now, that doesn’t stop us from speaking out.
I also try to talk to my relatives about the war, but they don’t listen to me at all. I noticed that after the war started, my mother, who used to criticize Putin’s policies, began to support them. I’m sure it’s due to television propaganda. She only trusts them and considers news from other sources to be fake. I try not to argue with her — I just hope that one day I get to open her eyes to what’s going on.
Unfortunately, the government of our republic [Abkhazia] also supports Putin’s policy. It does not want to destroy friendly relations with Russia, because thanks to its support we do not have a growing conflict with Georgia. If the current Russian liberals end up in power after the war in Ukraine, they are most likely to support Georgia in its efforts to take Abkhazia for themselves. The Abkhazians are afraid of that.
Many of the events of the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict are now either silenced or heavily distorted, but the fact remains: In 1992 Georgian troops invaded the territory of the Republic of Abkhazia and until September 1993 they committed a true genocide of our people. They killed and raped not only Abkhazians, but also Armenians, Russians, and Ukrainians who lived on this territory. It is disgusting to the point of nausea that the people who made hell in my homeland are now talking about support for Ukraine and common peace with Abkhazia.
About a year ago, Vladimir Zelensky recorded an address to the Georgian people in which he promised them the “return” of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, comparing them to Donbass and Crimea annexed by Russia. He failed to take into account that these republics were never part of Georgia. More precisely, he does not know that because of external Georgian propaganda. It seems to me that if Zelensky knew the other side of the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict, he would realize how much these events are similar to the current situation in Ukraine. To this day Abkhazia, like Ukraine, is still fighting hard for its independence. And the support of Ukrainians by the Georgian people is just a way to impose on the world their idea that my country belongs to Georgia.
But people are willing to accept any point of view that suits them — everyone has their own truth, and it doesn’t matter if it’s backed up by facts. I am a photographer, and among my recent works there is this series of images: they depict a girl who blindfolds her eyes with a black ribbon, after which the world around her, as well as herself, gradually, frame by frame, disappears. This is how I want to show people that it is not possible to keep silent and turn a blind eye to what is happening around them. Man must not dwell in blissful ignorance. Otherwise, sooner or later, he will lose everything he holds dear.
Nikolai, journalist, 40 years old (the city is hidden at Nikolai’s request):
On the dreary morning of February 24, 2022, I thought back to my trip to Ukraine in 2008. At the time, my colleague and I spontaneously took off to the Ukrainian capital to relax and take a break from everyday life. During our three days in Kyiv we visited many sights, restaurants, and concerts, and met some fun young locals young. Fourteen years later, the phrase “Kyiv in three days” would take on a completely different meaning, and grown-up Ukrainian boys and girls would be declared enemies in Russia for their politicians’ anticipated desire to join NATO.
What happened [that day] was not surprising. Until the 24th, I read Western and Russian analysis, tracked troop movements on the news, and was in touch with eyewitnesses and participants of those military maneuvers. The last hopes for peace were dispelled by calls with a comrade from Mariupol, who later barely made it to Lviv, having come under fire in Zaporizhzhia on the way. And still, the phrase “we have crossed the border” felt like it referred to a history textbook or movies about the Great Patriotic War [WWII] — anything but today.
What was most alarming was the participation of our enlisted soldiers in the conflict. It already reeked Chechnya in nineties. I confess, I would not have believed that such a thing could recur in 2022, if not for the experience of personal communication: the enlisted son of an officer I know was in Ukraine. We argued while watching the border maneuvers of his distinguished division from the Moscow suburbs: I assured him that they would not be sent into battle, and his father answered: “they’ve thrown more than one of them into the fire.” However, these enlistees were soon returned to the unit.
Being the head of a regional newspaper, in the latest issue I planned to describe the situation near Kharkiv, based on the testimony of a young countryman who happened to be there. At the same time, amendments to the Criminal Code were adopted tightening sanctions for the so-called “discrediting of the Armed Forces.” The plans were dashed for fear that the issue might be our last.
After February last year, a dozen or two of my acquaintances, two of them quite close to me, left Russia. Among them were colleagues whose activities had become unsafe. However, one of them, who left last September for the near abroad [note: Refers to the former Soviet republics] has already returned. Within a year, he had set up an office there, assembled a team of like minded re-locatees [note: people who left Russia because of war but see themselves as temporary migrants without any intention to settle down in the country they now live] and registered a firm that does video production. But here’s the dilemma: you can easily earn more money by creating commercials and video ads in Russia. So now he’s living on two countries.
I haven’t had any thoughts of leaving. I’m still working quietly. There is no fear, there is responsibility — for the team, for the brand [of the newspaper I work for], and for family. I constantly hear words of appreciation for what I do and occasionally hear the opposite.
I began to notice that lately I am ready to forgive people not only some weaknesses of human character, which I used to forgive before, but also things that are extremely difficult to forgive in an ordinary, peaceful life. I began to see the opportunity to give a person a chance as an obligation for myself and a right for my opponent.
My circle’s view of what’s going on is mostly similar to mine, no one has “become a turncoat,” and even fewer acquaintances have started to keep neutral. But there are also people with the opposite stance — mostly early childhood friends. In this year and a half I had to argue with them, but without much desire to do so. None of them are in a hurry to sign up as volunteers, even though some of them have weapons permits — that is, they know how to use them. In general, I believe that the most heinous acts against humanity are usually contrived by educated people, but then are applauded by the ignorant who skipped history lessons, in this case about June 1941.
Some don’t change and even continue to be applauded decades later. Prigozhin’s march comes to mind — it is striking how easily Russians were willing to swear an oath to a gang of criminals. Was I fearful? I was fearfully curious. How will they justify to the audience the non-entry of these thugs, who supposedly opened their mouths in anticipation of bloody delights? There’s a cool late-Soviet movie called “The Cold Summer of 1953,” about an all-union amnesty announced three months after Stalin’s death. At that time, a lot of criminal scum was released along with political prisoners, and the ordinary people in villages and settlements were terrified. But now no one’s terrified. After all, the Makhno vibes are close to Russians — unbridled and unrelenting.
I think the military actions will not last more than a year. In the meantime, the only thing left to do is to watch the events and monitor the reports. Some, to keep their sanity, should read less about what’s going on at the front. And a journalist must constantly conduct a thoughtful analysis of a dozen or two sources and check the facts. That’s why I have to keep up with the news. And, at the same time, keep an eye on my sanity because even with time, the emotions don’t subside. Some draw the line for themselves by separating combatant and civilian casualties, as researchers of wars do. But for me it makes no difference whether soldiers are killed, officers or civilians. I worry about all the ruined souls.