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Russians reflect on the Russia-Ukraine war and the consequences at home

Demonstrators march with a banner that reads: "Ukraine - Peace, Russia - Freedom," in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Feb. 24. (Dmitry Serebryakov/AP Photo)
Demonstrators march with a banner that reads: "Ukraine - Peace, Russia - Freedom," in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Feb. 24. (Dmitry Serebryakov/AP Photo)

Apollinaria Oleinikova is 18-years-old. For most of her life, she was a carefree Muscovite.

“But you know this war, what happened on the 24th of February, it changed everything,” she says.

She says Russia has nothing to gain, and everything to lose. So she’s publicly protesting, along with other Russians, in Moscow.

“It’s ridiculous. I’m speaking up. I’m telling the truth.”

In just the past week, Oleinikova’s been arrested multiple times by Russian police. Still, she remains undeterred.

“And what do I need to do? Like, shut up about it? I can’t.”

Today, On Point: Russians on the war being waged in their name.

Guests

Nina Khrushcheva, professor of international affairs at the New School in New York. Great-granddaughter of Nikita Khrushchev, first Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1953 to 1964. Author of several books, including In Putin’s Footsteps. (@ninakhrushcheva)

Andrei Soldatov, senior fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis. (@AndreiSoldatov)

Also Featured

Apollinaria Oleinikova, Russian anti-war activist. (@sonoapollinaria)

Arshak Makichyan, Russian anti-war activist. (@MakichyanA)

Anna Shanley, Russian-American listener.

Transcript: Our Interview With Russian Anti-War Activists

On Point spoke with several young Russians, earlier this week. Below is part of our conversation with 27-year-old Arshak Makichyan and 18-year-old Apollinaria Oleinikova.

ARSHAK MAKICHYAN: There is a feeling that there is a silence. … People continuing their lives as usual, even though there are protests almost every day, police detaining people just for walking on the streets, different signs of protest. And yeah, but there are some people [who] continue their life as usual, and they don’t understand what is happening.

MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI: Arshak was a professional violinist. He told us he gave up that career three years ago to become an activist against Putin’s government.

MAKICHYAN: If you’re doing activism, you’re putting in danger everything that you involve. So that’s why people mostly cannot afford doing activism, because you have to choose like your family, or like your duty to fight against these evil things.

CHAKRABARTI: Now, Arshak is not the only one in his family whose life trajectory has been drastically altered by Putin’s leadership. His wife, 18-year-old Apollinaria Oleinikova, graduated from high school just last spring, and her family imagined her future would be abroad.

APOLLINARIA OLEINIKOVA: I studied in one of the best STEM schools in [Russia] and then apply to American universities. And my parents thought I would become a chemistry scientist. And right now, I’m very actively engaging in activism. And they see all of this, and for them [it’s a very radical thing, something that is very unconventional. They cannot understand this. And they’re like, very afraid. Because also, like my parents, they’re old people and they were born in Soviet Union. And for them like to criticize the government, to be against it, it’s very scary.

CHAKRABARTI: The couple just got married last week. In fact, on February 24th, the day Russian troops invaded Ukraine.

OLEINIKOVA: We just woke up and saw like this news. … And we were devastated because like the wedding day is supposed to be your luckiest day in your life. But I was just crying all morning.

CHAKRABARTI: Apollinaria and Arshak have been involved in protests before, mostly on environmental issues. Last month, Apollinaria said she was planning a peaceful protest in Moscow when police showed up at her door. She had to change her plans, but was not arrested. And then:

OLEINIKOVA: One week later, they just somehow, they track me. And they just kidnapped me in the center of Moscow, and I was just having a cup of coffee. And yeah, I had to sleep in this cell … in this police department.

CHAKRABARTI: Despite her family’s fears for her safety, though, she says she is not scared.

OLEINIKOVA: Right now, I feel like I do not have nothing to lose and I really need to protest. And right now, I’m not afraid because I understand that it’s just, it’s ridiculous. I’m speaking up. I’m like telling the truth that, for example, I don’t know, Russian soldiers are being killed there, like in Ukraine, like for no reason. I am seeing that and they say we will give you like 15 years for that. What I need to do, like, shut up about that? I can’t. I can’t. So we just keep going.

CHAKRABARTI: As for the unavoidable fact that something major in this world is happening, due to the economic sanctions that are being imposed on Russia, Arshak says that Russians are feeling that pain.

MAKICHYAN: We do understand why the world is doing that, that Russian people should feel this pain, and do more protest to change this terrible regime in Russia. Yeah, we can understand that. But yeah, we feel kind of isolated from the world, and it’s kind of scary to be alone with Putin.

CHAKRABARTI: That’s 27-year-old Arshak Makichyan. You also heard from his wife, 18-year-old Apollinaria Oleinikova, over there in Moscow.

Transcript: An Interview With Russian-American

MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI: We heard from some several On Point listeners who have strong ties still to Russia. One of them is listener Anna Shanley.

ANNA SHANLEY: I live in the Boston area. Originally, I’m from Russia and also have relatives in Ukraine. My grandmother was Ukrainian, so I used to spend time there, as well, when I was younger.

CHAKRABARTI: Now, Anna Shanley told us she grew up in St. Petersburg. She moved to the United States when she was 11. She still has strong ties to St. Petersburg, in particular, and has been hearing from friends still in the city.

SHANLEY: They have been telling me about some disinformation campaigns, of course, and all of the propaganda that is being distributed and shown on television. You also discussed the sentiment of the population. Who is divided, there are people who are supporting this invasion. And of course, as we all have seen on TV, so many people who are demonstrating against that.

CHAKRABARTI: Now, Anna, from her view in Boston, says she does see generational divides in who supports the Ukrainian invasion and who does not.

SHANLEY: I think population that is my generation, which is, you know, close to 40 who is familiar with the time when Soviet Union fell apart, and all of the implications of that, are primarily on the side of anti-war. But the older population, who grew up in the Soviet Union, I think that there is a very large sentiment who is in support of this. Which is, you know, as my friends, as the term has used over and over again, as people are nearly like zombies, just repeating this propaganda, repeating the lies that they have been said.

CHAKRABARTI: Now, of course, a little earlier in the show, we heard Professor Nina Khrushcheva have a very different opinion about that, reminding us that many older Russians may be afraid to speak out, just like many younger Russians are. And they have a very strong memory of not just the Soviet Union, but Russia’s experience in the Second World War. But back to Anna Shanley. She does say that despite feeling hopeless in watching what’s happening in Ukraine right now, nevertheless, she thinks that this could be a moment of major change, of possible major change in Russia.

SHANLEY: I think that this is an opportunity for Russian people to stand up, to unite, to gather, to galvanize them, to make these changes. Otherwise that’s never going to happen. This is the time for people to do that. The likelihood of whether that’s going to happen … we will see, but this is the time.

Related Reading

Foreign Affairs: “The Man Behind Putin’s Military” — “On February 25, barely 24 hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Russian forces reached Kyiv.”

The Independent: “Khrushchev’s granddaughter ‘embarrassed’ by Putin invasion and says Soviet leader would find attack ‘despicable’” — “A granddaughter of Nikita Khrushchev says she is ’embarrassed’ by Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, and believes the late Soviet leader would think it ‘despicable’ that a city he rebuilt after the Second World War was being attacked by Russian troops.”

The Guardian: “‘Ukrainians are our friends’: the young Russian anti-war protesters defying Putin – video” — “Thousands of people in cities across Russia have been defying police threats and staging protests against the invasion of Ukraine.”

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

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