Universul.net has spoken to an ordinary Russian woman to find out how life has changed since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.
She describes to us the fear that has seeped into people’s lives who do not believe the official Kremlin line, how sanctions are biting, and her fears for the future.
She says Russians still bear the collective trauma from the days of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine, almost 2,000 Russians who dared to protest the war have been arrested. Last weekend alone, some 1,000 from nearly 40 cities across Russia were detained.
Thousands of Russians have died. Ukraine claims Russian combat losses were almost 15,000, although these figures are likely too high.
Russian tabloid newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda published casualty figures on its website allegedly cited to the Russian Ministry of Defense that showed 9,861 Russian servicemen had died. The outlet deleted the report and said it had been hacked.
Russia’s crackdown on news coverage and the imposition of a new law criminalizing reporting that accurately characterizes the Ukrainian invasion, means it is increasingly difficult to get reliable news about what is going on.
The media blockade is an attempt to control the narrative around the invasion, which the Russian government and state media have insisted on referring to as a “special military operation.”
Russians do not see coverage of how their forces have bombed cities and killed civilians in Ukraine. They are not fully aware of the scope of international sanctions even if they are already feeling the effects.
Universul.net spoke to someone we will call ‘Alina’ which is not her real name. We have decided to protect her identity to shield her from possible reprisals.
Alina is about 40, is the mother of a teenage girl, has a career and looks forward to traveling abroad in the future.
She has relatives and business partners in Ukraine and friends in the ‘decadent’ west that Putin considers his enemy.
She is not a dissident nor a martyr like Alexei Navalny, bur neither does she believe the official Kremlin line repeated in the state media.
This is what she told us. Her comments have been slightly edited to read better.
„My mother’s cousin lives not far from Kyiv. She is still alive; her daughters and grandchildren have left the country and are now in Poland. I’m super worried about her, and we’re offering help but there’s little we can do.”
“She just wants all of this to stop.”
„I have a couple of people I know professionally and we were planning to do a project together, but that’s on hold for the foreseeable future.”
„From a non-emotional perspective, the Russian government’s actions have negatively impacted me.”
„If I add emotions to the mix, it starts to be very painful and sad.”
„If am thinking of all other consequences such as my daughter’s future or our economy, it looks bleak.”
„We discuss the situation every day at home.”
„We have to tell our daughter what’s happening as she exposed to the pro-government version at school. We explain to her that this is a point of view that the family doesn’t share. It’s not easy.”
“Most of our friends are also shocked by what’s happening, but there are a couple who are justifying what the government is doing. It’s super difficult to draw the line between what unites us as friends and what separates us.”
„At work we focus on discussing our work. This is our personal choice and one we share. We try at least. However, it’s getting more and more difficult as sanctions are negatively impacting our business, every day a little bit more.”
„I listen to the news on official radio station a couple of times a week to understand how they are relating the story for the wider population. I also read and watch alternative points of view on Telegram and YouTube.”
„My mother and my husband regularly share with me non-official links and videos. We can access alternative information, but you have to look for it.”
„The government quickly closed down ‘alternative media.’ You need a VPN to get Facebook/Instagram. Many bloggers left Russia and some of them stopped their channels. The influencers who have stayed need to be very careful with language so they don’t fall afoul of the new legislation.”
„In previous years, my mother, my brother and my husband took part in peaceful protests.”
This year when the assault began, my husband tried to go to a protest but couldn’t find a ‘safe spot.’ There was a large police presence and big buses there to pick up people and immediately take them into custody.
„There is a large presence of police and armed forces in places such as Pushkin Square (Moscow).”
„If you are caught, you will spend 15-30 days in a detention facility.”
„People are more fearful now. It’s strange for us to be afraid to share our political views with people outside of our close circle but this is what is happening now.”
„I think it’s because of ‘the memory of our genes.’ Under Stalin, if your neighbor informed on you to the police and you said something “wrong’ you risked going to prison,” she said.