What are your thoughts on this war?
“It’s awful, and it shouldn’t be happening. There’s the shame that it’s my country invading. On the other hand, I’ve never voted for Putin. Neither did my family or any of my close friends. But I also worry for my family being there while I’m here. I know most European countries say they won’t kick Russians out, but that is a thought that goes through your mind now and then. I still grew up there and have friends there, but I won’t be going there anytime soon myself. So it’s a huge mix of emotions, stress, shame, worry, and you just don’t know where to put yourself.”
What do you worry about the most regarding your family?
“Not being able to see them. Will they be able to escape if everything becomes worse? What will happen with the Russian economy, my family’s finances, and Russia’s position in the world? What opportunities will they have? Those are the questions that I worry about daily. I can’t really say that I worry about their safety yet, but we can’t predict the future.”
Since Friday, new laws were implemented in Russia to crack down on free speech. To protect her family in Russia, Polina didn’t want her last name or her picture published in this article.
Your parents oppose Putin as well. Are they able to speak out against him in Saint Petersburg?
“They see the world the same as I do. They’re also against this government, against Putin, against war. Against everything that is happening right now. And they’re able to speak out, but there’s two ways to look at it. Yes, my mom and dad can speak openly about politics with their friends. But my dad can’t really go to a protest, because he’s the only one working and has a family of five to support. And he also has responsibilities for his employees and business. He can’t risk being arrested, because a lot of people will feel the consequence. He does try to change people’s minds around him if he gets the chance. He’s kind of like me, we speak up a lot. And speaking up is already very important to help people learn the truth.”
There’s a risk involved for you in speaking out against the war as a Russian. Why do you do it anyway?
“I don’t see a threat to me personally, and even if I did, I don’t really have a road back at this point. I’ve been studying communication my whole life, and I wrote an insane number of articles on how corrupt and awful my government is. If they want to find something on me, it’s already out there. A new law in Russia now says that if you support Ukraine, especially financially, it’s considered treason. And treason in Russia equals to twenty years of prison. So if they want to say that I’m a traitor, they would already have all the information for that. One more article, I don’t see it having any impact.”
Doesn’t that worry you, though?
“It does, of course it’s on the top of my mind. With the new rules and laws that are introduced daily in Russia I’m worried for myself, and my family. Originally, I didn’t want to anonymise my name. However, now the laws are getting worse and worse, speaking out too much or too directly can make it complicated for me to come back to Russia, be a risk to my parents or even condemn me to prison. It is, of course, easier to speak out in the Netherlands than in Russia, as I’m somewhat safer here. However, I have people that can be affected by my speaking out, which makes me consider what I say and where twice. The Russian government doesn’t care about their people. All they care about is imprisoning us and killing us. And while speaking out is one of the ways to kill the regime, safety of people I love is also important for me.”
Do you run into prejudice about Russians?
“Yes, all the time. I don’t remember that a person didn’t ask me if I supported Putin after I told them I was from Russia. That’s a common joke, just like that we would love vodka. Which is fine, as long as people say it as a joke. But now, prejudice is something that I feel from more people. Even though I go to protests – I went to all the ones I could – people assume that I won’t go to any. But in general, I don’t feel hate aimed at myself right now, but I do feel it aimed at the people in Russia. And I can associate myself with that, because although I live here, I have a Russian passport, I was born in Russia, and I am Russian. So if you hate on people there, you’re kind of talking about all Russians as well.”
How do you feel about the sanctions? Do they hurt your family and friends in Russia?
“They’re ruining the economy, so of course. But I think the sanctions are great, they’re helping. I can see some people changing their opinions, because although they don’t care about politics, they do care about getting the latest iPhone and now they can’t. A lot of sanctions are targeting the elite, and I strongly believe there’s a chance it will end the war if the elite turns against Putin – which won’t happen soon because they are the ones that benefit the most.
“On the other hand, I hate the sanctions, because I can’t see my parents for now. I was meant to meet them in Europe but they cannot get there. I hate that, and I hate that I need to spend less money because I don’t know how long my parents are able to support me with the ruble devaluating so badly. I worry about my father’s business. I’m also worried for my little brother and the risk that he will be drafted to the war that he doesn’t support. With these sanctions, moving abroad could be his only chance for a successful future. Will he be able to go abroad?So I think the EU is doing this right, maybe not even enough, but in a way I am on the receiving end of the measures.”
What does this war mean for your feeling about being a Russian?
“Shame. Because I love Russian culture, it’s beautiful, the nature there is beautiful. Russian people can be beautiful too, they are often very welcoming and heart-warming. But now everyone is being seen as evil, with good reason. And the people that support this regime and this war are evil. They think that killing people is okay. But I notice myself being quieter. It’s in small details. For example, I was planning on baking, and then didn’t say that I was baking a Russian pie, I said I was baking a pie. It’s just something I unconsciously started doing.”
Do you talk to Ukrainians about the war?
“Yes, I have a lot of Ukrainian friends. But I didn’t have discussions about it. Because they don’t hate all Russians, they hate the people that support this. They hate that their people are being killed. And that’s very fair. I’m supporting them, my sister is hosting refugees from Ukraine, we donate what we have and stand with people from Ukraine in protests. Even if Ukrainians would say something negative against me at this point, they kind of have the right. Because they see my culture and my country attacking them. So it’s justified if they hate Russians. They’re suffering a lot more than any of us. Words of hate do hurt a lot more when it comes from Europeans that are not involved. There are so many people who didn’t even educate themselves on the topic and try to blame me personally. I’m always open for the discussion. But they need to study first and then come to me.
“I hope for a quick resolution and everything going back to reasonably normal soon. And I just really hope he’s going to be punished and overthrown, so that we all have freedom and a life.”