A UCL student reflects on the fear felt by Russians who oppose the invasion of Ukraine.
I am a Russian student, studying at UCL. Understandably, I haven’t been able to concentrate on my studies in the last few weeks, as all my attention was focused on the horrible news from Ukraine. I am a private person, who is not used to sharing her thoughts and feelings with the public, but today I feel differently – I seek the opportunity to speak up, to use my voice and be heard.
What is taking place these days in Ukraine is pure evil, there can be no justification for this invasion, to bombing cities, killing innocent people, driving them away from their homes in despair and panic. I applaud the Ukrainians for uniting against the invaders, for fighting back, because they fight for their homes, for their families, because they know the truth is on their side.
We have been going out in the streets for all those years
You will be right to ask, if Russians are against this war, where are they!? Why don’t they go in the streets, why are they so silent in these terrible days? And that would be the most important question to answer. My friends and friends of friends have been going out in the streets to protest for all those long years, we wanted our voices to be heard. We voted against, we denounced the regime on social media, we fought in the kitchens with old friends turned into zombies by propaganda. We cried over Boris Nemtsov’s assassination, whose last interview was about Putin fuelling and sponsoring the unrest in Donetsk and Lugansk, blowing on the fire of hatred. We supported Alexey Navalny, we voted for him in those long-gone times, when he was allowed to run for Mayor of Moscow. I saw the result of this vote with my own eyes – our entire building of flats voted for Navalny, all as one, he was winning all over in Moscow, yet the results were rigged again.
Those who dared to protest were cruelly beaten and arrested. We went underground again – we shared the all-revealing videos of corruption and lies of the government on YouTube, young students made newspapers telling the truth to their mates – as a result, the students were brought to “justice” and imprisoned, Navalny was poisoned, but survived, and after returning to Russia, cruelly put behind the bars with false accusations. Those who wanted freedom of speech and democracy for Russia and dared to speak up – were proclaimed “foreign agents”, or “spies, sponsored by the enemy in order to deceive” and then silenced or forced to leave Russia in fear for their lives. Those who understood what was going on, including me, my friends and family, learnt the lesson well and learnt to speak freely only to our kin, otherwise keeping our heads low and mouths shut.
Meanwhile, all those years, ordinary Russian people have been constantly brainwashed by the official propaganda machine, well paid and heartless, coming out from all TV channels and other media with the aim to fool people into believing Russia was surrounded by enemies again, enemies who wanted to reinstall fascism. Why did official propaganda want Russians to have a distorted reality? For obvious reasons – if people are blinded with madness, they don’t see the roots of their real problems, they don’t question their government about the overwhelming corruption and poverty – they get ready to fight the fictional offender, instead of the real one.
We started seeing the enormity of the problem when brainwashed children and their brainwashed parents found it patriotic to wear mock war uniforms as party costumes, when our Victory days turned from solemn remembrance into a “We can repeat again” farce. Who is to blame for that? Was there anything we could do about changing it? Now I think we should have done more, we should have gone out of our ways to shout at every corner how wrong this was. We would have found ourselves in prisons, for sure. But nothing is worse than what we must go through now as a nation. Russians will be blamed for the war that was started in their names by politicians, who they never voted for, who they never authorized to do so.
Most Russians stand with Ukraine
You ask where the Russians are now, why they don’t protest. Most Russian people stand with Ukraine. Our hearts break and bleed because we are powerless to stop this madness and because we are afraid. Even the rich oligarchs, who are about to lose a lot of their wealth due to sanctions, they are afraid to say anything against the war, because they know they will not be spared. I am afraid to publish my protesting photos on my Facebook page, because they will arrest my son, who is in Moscow with my husband. My Ukrainian-born friend, whose family is sheltering from bombs in the cellars in Kyiv, is silent, because she lives and works in Moscow and does not want to lose her job. My other friend, whose mother is in Kharkiv right now, with no connection and no news – keeps silence, because she does not believe it can change anything if she goes to prison in Moscow. My Russian friend calls me up at night in tears, promising to burn herself alive in her apartment, because she does not see any other way to show she is against this war. One of the exiled leaders of our opposition, Mikhail Khodorkovsky begs people to go out in the streets and protest – millions of views, thousands of texts – and nothing. Until we all go out, as one, there will be no effect, but how do we do it if Russian TV shows a parallel reality, where Russians are being attacked by fascists and asked to stay strong.
I have a feeling it will get much worse before it gets better. And I pray, as there is nothing else I alone can do.
The author is a student at UCL.
Note: The views expressed in this post are those of the author, and not of the UCL European Institute, nor of UCL.