Russian living in Prague: I was not discriminated against, but I could understand it

Fenjo, we have known each other for a few years, but we have not yet had the opportunity to discuss the current situation in Russia and Ukraine. What comes to your mind when you say war in Ukraine?

From sadness, from anger to hatred of what is happening.

The Russians have long officially justified the war by saving Ukrainians from neo-Nazism. How do you perceive this rhetoric?

Unfortunately, this is typical fascist rhetoric. It is not new and it is not surprising.

Not much is known here about what Russia really looks like now with Putin’s war backing. Censorship in Russia is growing rapidly, authorities are blocking social media, banning independent media broadcasts, and there is a new censorship law that puts up to 15 years in prison for the word “war”. Can you imagine what information the Russians have now?

According to my friends who are still there, they don’t have much information. The information is shared by young people who have a VPN (VPN connection = internet connection via a virtual private network, where communication is encrypted, editor’s note), have a connection to certain world media and read information from them . But even though they are going to show videos, news and photos to old people, they still don’t believe it. They say it’s fake, anyone can make it on a computer, it’s like a movie.

How is your family, what information is it following?

My family is an older generation, they only have television and they don’t even want to receive other news, for example from me.

He is scared?

She’s scared, of course. It is such fear that destroys everything. When I talk to my grandmother, I say something to her and she says to me: “Shut up, shut up, don’t talk about it! And I ask her, “Grandma, is there someone sitting next to you, why don’t you speak out loud?” And she said, “You can believe whatever you want, you know that, I don’t want to talk about it!” I don’t know what she’s afraid of, grandma.

You try to send them videos and photos yourself. Don’t they even believe it?

No. Or they close the ties and say to me: “You are panicking, nothing is happening there. They are just destroying military installations, they are not killing any inhabitants there, they are safe.”

Doesn’t he even know that Russian soldiers are dying there?

I probably didn’t even tell them. I think only people who have someone in the family who can die there take this seriously. For example, if you have a man who went to war, or a son, a brother. Otherwise, people don’t take it seriously. Among my friends there are now people who are afraid of mobilization, now in April there is a new recruitment in the army.

I heard they wanted to mobilize about 130,000 troops.

Yes, about that. And people who fall under this recruitment are afraid to send them to Ukraine, where they do not want. So maybe they’ll do something, break their leg or their arm. Just so they can’t board.

How do you rate the actions of individuals who try to draw attention to Russian propaganda, such as the former editor-in-chief of Russian state television První Kanál, Marina Ovsyanikov, who broke into a live broadcast on March 14 with the banner “Stop the war. Don’t believe the propaganda. They are lying to you here.” Such events are important, isn’t it a useless bet for these individuals?

Of course, these actions make sense. First of all. Second, what’s behind it? Because Marina Ovsyanikova now writes everywhere on social networks that only Putin is a murderer. But that’s not true either. Because Putin doesn’t shoot, he doesn’t bomb, he gives orders. But then ordinary people shoot at people, at families with children, they shoot from tanks at cars with the inscriptions “Kids” on them. What is that?

Do you think they can resist?

Yes, of course, because it is a “transfer” command. I always thought the military shouldn’t execute a transfer order.

Do you mean a command against innocent civilians?

Yes. When they see there is no army, there is an old car with a grandmother and a grandfather. So what do they have in mind?

So you don’t believe that the soldiers, as some say in captivity, didn’t know what they were getting into?

At the very beginning, the first second or third day maybe. Because they had to hand over their cell phones, maybe they didn’t know. But it doesn’t work after a week of war. So I don’t believe it. There are also many conversations with soldiers captured in Ukraine, calling their mothers women. And what do they answer? “It’s okay. Are you in jail? Hmmm. Well, you have to, for the truth, for the Russian world, for the Russians.” So I don’t know, they probably have spare kids at home or something like that.

What about your friends in Russia. Do they stay there or do they go away?

Yes, they are leaving. But some have grandparents there, don’t have money or don’t know where to go. Now you can’t even fly outside of Istanbul.

What about the protests against the war in Russia. Are there any protests?

There are no big protests now. But every day, certain individuals, many of them, take action. In the subway, in the streets, in the parks. Oh yes.

Were you surprised by the way Ukrainians defended their country, how they fought?

And when I stop specifically in the eastern parts of Ukraine, pro-Russian Kharkov, Mariupol or Odessa in the south, where Russian is mostly spoken, Ukrainians would often leave from there to work in Russia. Were you surprised that he is fighting hard here too, and no one welcomes Putin’s soldiers as liberators?

Not that. Because Ukraine is a free country where you can live, speak any language, even Russian. Probably more Russian, but free people live there who can talk nonsense, work nonsense, and now everyone has defended their country.

You actively participated in the protests against Vladimir Putin in Russia. How did the protests unfold, was each protest suppressed, was it stopped?

There were no arrests at some protests. But they always wrote who was going out, how long he was talking and what he was saying. But they didn’t do anything long enough against ordinary people. Until 2012.

So you weren’t afraid to take to the streets. Weren’t you afraid of being arrested?

I was scared, but it wasn’t as bad as it is today. It didn’t affect your work or studies much.

Have you experienced an arrest?

Yes, but I don’t talk about it much, because my friends and others were much worse off.

But maybe show us how the police treated you in 2013.

Good. They kept saying, “We understand everything, I’m sorry. We do what we have to do. I am sorry. “They did no harm. But in 2014 when Crimea was annexed, it started to be bad. Because people spoke out against annexation. But there was also a protest for Putin back then, and again, people stopped the buses and they paid them to support annexation.

But even among my acquaintances there were people who liked Putin. They said Crimea is ours, it’s our country. We have been going there to the sea for so long. So they didn’t take it seriously.
I know that there are people who live in Crimea who may have wanted to go to Russia, that’s normal, but the referendum on the war, like that, shouldn’t take place.

How do you judge the attitude of the West? These sanctions packages. Is the reaction sufficient?

I think that to save the lives of Ukrainians is insufficient. We have to protect the lives of Ukrainians now, because the bombs are flying at people now. And the sanctions are starting to work slowly. And the people of Russia are taking the sanctions to unite them against the West. People say, “I’m living worse because the West won’t let us live normally.”

Have the sanctions ever really affected people? What do you know of your family?

Yes, you can see it in stores. They have no sugar at all or much more expensive, hygiene items are gone and no one can supply them. But these are not the sanctions most people in Russia have ever encountered. They mainly found that companies are leaving Russia because they don’t want to support Putin, they don’t want to support trade in a fascist country.

Do you see a mistake from the West after the annexation of Crimea in 2014?

Yes of course. This reaction to the annexation of Crimea was not enough. Because the West operates like a normal society, it talks to Putin like a normal person. But Putin is actually such a thief and has made Russia a country of terrorists. Because he trades in fear and power. He always says to the West, “I can hurt you!” and the West will give him everything, a wallet, earrings. All.

How do Russians live in the Czech Republic today? What is your experience ?

I live well. I am not subject to any discrimination or aggression. But I’m ready for it. It’s wrong to be German in 1943, just as wrong to be Russian in 2022. When someone discriminates against Russians, it’s wrong, but maybe I can understand that.

Even children in schools don’t have a bad experience?

One of my children heard a cry in the sense of “Russian”. But I wrote to the teacher and asked for an hour of tolerance and an explanation of the whole situation, because the children are not to blame. But otherwise nothing.

What can Russians do in this situation while living in the Czech Republic?

To help. In an informative way, with money, as we do we volunteers. Interpret or physically assist. For example, my son’s class is a Ukrainian from the Luhansk region. I found her a doctor, ordered her for collections, etc. It is simply the specific help that people who have fled need. What else can we do? It’s mentally demanding.

Is it important for Russians to show that they do not agree with Putin to go to various demonstrations?

Yes, for example, we have the Ukrainian flag on the balcony, so we show it. I would recommend something for the Russians to wear, an anti-war badge or something. But this, of course, mainly helps the Russians, who feel bad about not being able to do anything. Because each of us who lives here does not live in Russia, because we do not agree with what is being built there.

How else do you help?

Different. I found an apartment, furniture, things for a family. And I listen to them a lot because they fled Kharkov. The second wife fled Nikolaev, I brought things for children, books, etc.

What are their stories? Did they leave the couple there?

Yes, the couple is fighting. And they don’t know if they will meet again. Sometimes we just hug and shout out loud, it’s complicated. I can’t imagine the pain.

When do you think you can fly to Russia? That maybe you will go to your native St. Petersburg?

A difficult question. And painful. Because I don’t think I’ll ever see my family again. I think I will fly to Russia in maybe 15 years.

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