Through a contact, The Local was able to speak last weekend with a 20-year-old student currently studying at a university in Russia. She needed to remain anonymous to avoid being targeted for arrest by Russian officials.
Having grown up in Russia, she expresses dismay at the direction her country’s politics have been taking as of late, resulting in the current invasion of Ukraine.
“In my view, Russia has been developing its politics in the wrong direction,” she says. “Now we are going even further from Europe. I don’t know how we will be able to communicate with other countries after such an event. I’m scared to be isolated from the rest of the world. I feel a lot of hatred right now toward my government.”
“Ukraine is an independent country,” she continues. “Independent from Russia, from everyone. They have their own direction to develop their country. Russia is invading a country that shouldn’t concern them at all.”
She mistrusts Vladimir Putin, and feels that part of his motivation for the attack is to make a big statement, to be remembered as a great ruler.
“He talked about it three years ago in an interview with a Russian journalist, (Vladimir) Pozner,” she says. “That he wanted to be remembered for doing something great. In my opinion Putin is definitely failing. Future generations will not agree with these current Russian policies.”
She describes the fear felt by her fellow students at the university.
“I saw some police and other armed men in many places just standing and waiting,” she says about a recent visit to the centre of her city. “I felt that if I had something written on my backpack saying I was against the war, that I would be arrested immediately. It’s happening all over Russia.”
Rumours began earlier this week that officials were beginning to use COVID restrictions as a pretext for arrests, as well. She sees it as another way for the Kremlin to control the message.
The student says the people who she has talked to are against the invasion, especially those around her age. Fear is keeping them from protesting openly, leading them to look for other ways to help, including donating to charitable organizations that are helping the people of Ukraine.
She tells The Local that her long-term plan after graduation is to leave the country.
“I wouldn’t say I was ever comfortable living in Russia,” she says. “I was never feeling safe, or truly comfortable. I support feminism, I support LGBTQ communities, I support people from other countries coming here. I see that Russian politics is against all of this. I’ve never felt safe here.”
Complicating matters for many throughout the country is the difficulty of trying to wade through the information they receive. Traditional Russian news sources continue to claim that there are no deaths in Kyiv, and that Putin’s objective is to merely ensure the safety of Ukraine.
She fears that Russians of a certain age, those perhaps with memories of the Cold War-era USSR, are buying into that propaganda. She says one of her relatives from Ukraine actually supports the war, suggesting that the influence from those sources has worked.
Meanwhile, younger people are turning to alternative sources online via social media and video blogs, getting the real story from people on the ground in Ukraine. But rumours are that the Kremlin is starting to put pressure on those sources and censoring many of them.
What she has seen so far has been extremely upsetting.
“Some of my friends have relatives there,” says the student. “One of my friends, his family was able to escape. I see this affecting people who are important to me. When I see all these people at the border waiting to leave, or hiding in the Metro station, I feel a lot of anger.”
Her fellow students also fear a coercion or possible future conscription into Russia’s military forces. Last week at the university a number of her male friends received calls from the same number that they suspected might have been the first step toward convincing them to contribute to the attack on Ukraine.
With all that’s going on, her studies at the university have fallen a bit to the wayside.
“My priorities have suddenly shifted,” she says. “Since it started on Thursday, I didn’t do any school work, Friday either. Most of my friends were the same. We just couldn’t do anything. And I see it everywhere.”
“The longer it goes on, it starts to feel normal,” she concludes. “You start to accept it. And that feels even worse.”