On Thursday, February 24, I woke up in Moscow to messages from people in different parts of the world, many of whom I had not heard from in a long time: they were worried about my safety. I was afraid to find out what had happened. When I checked the news and found out that the war (which most pundits, journalists, and ordinary people didn’t believe would happen) had started, I couldn’t hold back the tears.
At 5:30 am Moscow time, when everyone was asleep, Russian President Vladimir Putin launched “a special military operation” “to protect civilians” in Donbas, a region in southeastern Ukraine. He called it a “demilitarization” and “denazification” campaign. According to the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazetahis television speech was recorded in advance from Monday, the same day he announced that Russia would recognize the independence of the Lugansk and Donetsk districts in Donbas. The Russians are no longer surprised when Putin tries to pass off the pre-recorded messages by live, on-air events, so it’s probably not worth wasting your time guessing at their motives. The most important thing is that shortly after Putin’s order, Ukraine reported attacks not only in Donbas, but throughout the country, including the capital, Kiev.
My Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter profiles are full of posts from Russians who oppose the war. I had never seen so much solidarity on social media in my country. People who hadn’t posted anything in years broke their silence to voice their disagreement. This campaign, under the hashtag # янемолчу (“I am not silent”), began on February 21, before Putin delivered his speech on recognizing Donbas, and was launched by the Russian online magazine Kholod (The Cold ). “We decided to remember that each of us has a voice, and that we can say out loud what we think about the war. When you can’t do anything, it’s important to say you’re against it.” wrote Taisia Bekbulatova, editor-in-chief of Kholod.
The main sentiments of liberal Russians are concern for the Ukrainians – many of whom are our relatives and friends – shame for Putin, and helplessness. “This is a fratricidal and predatory war, unleashed by an insane tyrant. Sorry, Ukraine!” wrote on Facebook the Russian writer Dmitry Gluskhovsky. The editorial chief of Novaya Gazetawinner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2021, Dmitry Muratov, published in Youtube a message in which he said that he and his colleagues feel ashamed: “We are sorry. Our country started a war with Ukraine on the orders of Putin. And there is no one to stop it. That’s why we feel shame and pain at the same time… the next step would be a nuclear attack? Russian politician Yevgeny Roizman I call to Putin’s invasion “the betrayal of the Russians”. Even the host of a program on Russia’s state-run Channel One TV channel, Ivan Urgant, shared his frustration on Instagram: “Fear and pain. Not to the war”.
While few if any of those who commented on social media voted for Putin, they admit to feeling guilty for not stopping the president. “The thing is, we had 20 damn years to do something and we haven’t done it. This is our fault.” wrote Russian film director Roman Volobuev on Twitter. However, others recalled that the actions against Putin over the years did not bring any results. “I participated in my first protest against the Putin regime in 2011, and in the last one in 2021. It is a pity that it has not influenced anything and has not prevented my country from becoming THIS… It is surrealism and hell”, stressed Russian rapper Noize MC on Instagram.
Hundreds of Russian journalists covering international politics have signed an open letter in which they say: “We denounce the military operation that Russia has launched in Ukraine. War has never been a method of resolving conflicts, and it cannot be justified.”
Many people, including my friends and myself, are wondering what we can do to stop the war. In Russia, even one-person demonstrations end with arrests (although, according to the law, this form of protest is legal and does not need to be approved in advance by the authorities). According to OVD-Info, an independent Russian human rights project, more than a thousand activists who took to the streets of different Russian cities on Thursday with banners opposing the war were arrested. Moscow authorities reportedly blocked Red Square and Manezhnaya, where some activists planned to meet. On Wednesday, February 23, the PARNA opposition party and activists Dmitriy Tsorionov and Alexey Minyaylo they requested to the Moscow authorities permission to hold a “March for Peace” on March 5 with up to 150,000 participants. As of Thursday night Moscow time, the city administration had not responded. Considering that the authorities have not allowed any protests in the last two years, blaming the coronavirus, the chances of approval are not high, and March 5 may be too late, given the speed with which events unfold. .
Independent media outlets fear that the government will try to block them. The Russians have reported bugs on YouTube, Telegram, and Instagram. As I write this article, my internet is unstable.
Meanwhile, panic seizes the Russians. Eleven airports in the border regions with Ukraine have been closed until at least March 2, and hundreds of flights have been cancelled. In dozens of schools in southern Russia, discontinued the classes. If a week ago the majority thought that the conflict would be limited to an information war, now the Russians do not rule out any scenario and are afraid to hear the warnings of air strikes in Russia.
On Thursday, the Russian currency, the ruble, it fell to its lowest level against the dollar since 2016. Journalists have shared photos of the Long lines at ATMs. Many they tried obtain dollars, but they found themselves with a shortage of foreign currency due to the increase in demand. Others are withdrawing cash, not knowing how the sanctions imposed by the European Union and the United States could affect banks and their savings.
Another concern for Russians is the country’s isolation from the West. It is already a challenge to travel with a Russian passport: most of Europe does not recognize the Sputnik V vaccine and the United States stopped issuing visas in Russia since August. According to what I know reports On social media, Russians who had visa appointments scheduled at the US Embassy in Poland received a message on Thursday saying that interviews would be suspended until at least March 4, “due to exceptional circumstances.” ”. Czech Republic suspended today visa services for Russians. Polish President Andrzej Duda said he would support sanctions, banning russian travel. Belgium called on the European Union to stop issuing visas to all Russian citizens. “Russia’s irresponsible attack forces us to take precautions with Russians who want to come to Belgium. At the moment, the Russians are not welcome here,” Sammy Mahdi, Belgium’s minister for asylum and migration, was quoted as saying. Reuters.
It is not the first time that the Russians suffer for the decisions of their leaders. “For years, Europe accepted Russia’s dirty money and helped launder it. Now the European Union is discussing whether to ban Russians from coming to Europe, the only way to get away from Putin. Of course, the Russian army invades only after getting visas for the Schengen area in Europe”, it says one of the comments on Twitter.
The Russians have many limitations to safely express their disagreement with Putin. I hope it will be difficult for the Kremlin to ignore the important campaign against the war. However, I can’t shake the feeling that everything was decided without taking us into account. Support for the military operation by Russians, who mostly believe state propaganda or are simply passive, can always be exaggerated in government-funded polls. The state-funded pollster, VCIOM, reported that 73% approve Putin’s decision to recognize Lugansk and Donetsk. However, according to the Levada Center, an independent institution designated by the Russian authorities as a “foreign agent”, only 45% support the recognition of the Donbas region, and I think there are even fewer Russians who approve of war. It may seem pointless or scary, but the Russians still have a real chance to send a message to Putin and make a difference.
This article is part of Free Speech Projecta collaboration between Future Tense and the American University Washington College of Law Tech, Law, & Security Program, which looks at how technology is influencing how we think about expression.
We would like to give thanks to the writer of this post for this awesome web content
“Shame on the crazed tyrant”: Russian liberals’ reaction to Putin’s war with Ukraine | Free lyrics