Dispatch From Ukraine: Living as a Russian in Ukraine
March 10, 2022 | Tags: foreign policy, REASON, Russia
Though she was born in Ukraine, Nataliya Myslo is of half-Russian and half-Ukrainian descent. By attending Russian schools and speaking exclusively in Russian with her friends and family, her world in Ukraine is largely Russian. But since Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine, Myslo has been ashamed of her Russian background.
Myslo spoke, through a translator, with Reason's Nancy Rommelmann sitting in a station wagon in the parking lot of a supermarket in Lviv, Ukraine.
"It's very horrible seeing what's going on, and no other way to describe it. My mother is Russian and she is here and she's in deep shock. I have many relatives in Russia, and I want to explain to them the situation. They don't believe it, they don't want to listen to us. It's like a wall that you cannot shoot through. They get their information from the main governmental television channels in Russia. Their propaganda works. They are like zombies with that information, and then they don't hear anyone else.
"We try to explain to them that we don't have any Nazis or fascism here. Nobody harms us; nobody touches us. My mother was born in Russia and she has lived here [in Ukraine] since the 1960s. We have Russian-speaking friends.
"Our relatives in Russia haven't even called since the war started. They haven't asked, 'Are you okay?' or 'Should we help you or save you because you are Russians and maybe somebody's going to kill you there?' They are not worried. They are not aggressive toward Ukrainians but they have an aggressive attitude toward our authorities. They claim our authorities are Nazis. It's very funny. Zelenskyy is from central Ukraine, and he's Jewish and he's Russian speaking. So how can you call him Nazi if he speaks Russian and he is Jewish? They want to make him an enemy. They need to have this enemy.
"[Russians] live very poor lives. If they have sanctions, nothing is going to change in their lives because they already have nothing. They have natural gas they are selling to many countries, but many of them don't have gas at home. Our living conditions are much better here in Ukraine, and maybe that's the reason why they want to destroy everything here, because Ukraine makes Russia look bad; they don't want us to develop.
"I have many Russian friends living abroad and they say, it's a shame that they have Russian blood, and I also can say now, it is a shame for me. I never could imagine saying that.
"I am more than shocked with what Putin is doing. We were all hoping he was pretending, threatening, bargaining to get better conditions in negotiations and so on, and we didn't believe he could do this. Everyone was shocked. We have a community of people that speak Russian, and we decided to change. We now speak to each other in Ukrainian because we want to protest that we don't agree with Russia. We decided to change our native language because of the crazy one.
"We found a contact for the mothers of Russian soldiers. They have a community, a union of mothers of Russian soldiers, and we send them information, explaining the situation, that their sons are coming here and they are not going to only kill military but also civilian people, children. We explain to them that it is craziness. The mothers are very stressed with that information and they do whatever they can do to not let their sons go.
"There were also some other ways to fight information in this field. We spread information through Google Maps. First of all, we look at the documents of soldiers; we have many documents for soldiers and we have their home addresses. We look on Google Maps for some restaurant or other place in the area and we write a review. In this review we say, 'People from your city come and kill our civilians. Have a look at these documents; he is imprisoned,' or 'He has already died here on our land.' It's real. It's not fake information. This is how we are spreading the information to Russians because you cannot delete this review in Google maps. But now Russia has blocked Google. We were doing the same thing on Instagram too, we were sharing stories with pictures and documents and putting their location with a hashtag, with the name of the city where this soldier is from so somebody would recognize him. But recently Instagram divided Russian and Ukrainian users; Russians cannot see our information and we cannot see Russia's information. They have blocked Facebook and Google. They have switched off VPN [virtual private networks], but we find a way to get this information out to people.
"We have videos of people from Russia where they were interviewed about whether they support Putin or not. And they really do support him; 'Good job, well done,' and that's it. And we send this video to our relatives and say, 'What is your country doing?'"
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