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Anastasia has considered leaving her home in Moscow as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues. She feels trapped, cut off from the world, and the impact of her government war is now being felt throughout her daily life.
“You see all these policemen, you see all these new laws, and how they try to tell you how to live, how to breathe, what to say,” Anastasia said.
NPR is only using her first name because she is concerned about the potential consequences of speaking out. Hundreds of Russians who have dared to question the war have already been arrested.
“You’re removed from all of the world and you just need to live in this alternative universe,” Anastasia said. “And also you can’t help, and you can’t say anything about Ukraine … you can’t even transfer money because … if you do it, it will be announced that you sponsor some terrorist organization, even if it’s some charitable organization. “
While Ukraine suffers from the brutal invasion, those in Russia are impacted in different ways. Communications have been limited inside the country and those who speak frankly are punished and beaten, according to an independent Russian human rights group.
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Anastasia said it was better to use group chats in protected networks like Telegram for accurate, non-propaganda news because the radio and TV stations are often state-sponsored.
“We don’t have a big number of free media right now because some of them had to leave Russia, had to close their establishment,” she said.
Most of her friends and family make an effort to find accurate information, but Anastasia said a lot of Russians weren’t aware of what was actually happening in Ukraine or “they just decide to believe what they are told by our government.” In Anastasia’s experience, it is older Russians who are more likely to follow the government line.
It’s a belief backed up by an independent polling firm in Russia, the Levada Center, which surveyed citizens about their thoughts on the conflict with Ukraine. When asked if they personally supported the actions of the Russian military in Ukraine, 64% of respondents aged 55 and older said “definitely yes,” compared to 29% of those aged 18-24.
The Levada Center poll found that, overall, 81% of respondents of all ages said they supported Russian military in Ukraine to some degree. That leaves those who oppose the war in a difficult position, Anastasia said.
“You can speak about it with your friends, like in a room or something like that, but you can’t speak about it in the media. I mean, in the beginning, we tried and we did. But there are a few laws that now … make it almost impossible, or you just worry you can be arrested because of it. “
Anastasia said a friend of hers shared something on her personal social account and was arrested after being identified days later. The friend was ultimately charged and had to pay a fine.
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The widespread protests leveled against Russia are also starting to bite. The cost of living is higher now, Anastasia said, and it’s harder to access money or use credit cards unless a person is traveling abroad. Many companies are also leaving Russia, including Anastasia’s. She works for an international group that recently announced plans to sell its business in Russia, leaving her future work in limbo.
Then there is the simple mental toll, Anastasia said.
“You feel angry. You feel frustrated. You can’t work or you can’t focus on anything,” she said.
“It’s really essential to understand that a lot of people, they don’t support our government, and they also feel trapped from both sides. I mean, I feel like Russian people are not welcome in their country and also they’re not welcome in the outside world.
“And the idea of people separating from each other and not supporting each other, it’s also what drives me crazy. Because the Ukrainian people – there are a lot of our friends or relatives … it’s not like they’re total strangers.”