March 02, 2022

Coping with the New Reality


Coping with the New Reality
"We are sorry. No war!" Image by the author.

This post is a contribution from a friend of Russian Life who lives in St. Petersburg. They requested that their name remain anonymous, for fear of reprisals.

February 28, 2022

I went to the protest yesterday, and I didn’t tell my mother about it. On the fifth day of the “spetsoperatsya” (special operation) in Ukraine, I’m still shocked, angry, ashamed, sad, and gloomy. 

We went out on the street on Sunday with friends, which really helped me to see that we are not alone and not afraid. Any public meeting is illegal these days. Political parties still can hold them, but they must request a permit from the city government, and all are denied because of COVID-19 and the adverse pandemic situation. But still, there are some activists who encourage citizens to protest. 

Anti-war protests have been taking place in St. Peterburg daily, ever since February 24, when the “special operation” began. I call it this because it's the official name, but of course I understand that it is a war. Protests mainly start near the Gostiny Dvor metro station. It’s a busy area that is hard to block because of its public transit importance.

A protest at Gostiny Dvor, before the author's arrival. | Sergey Goorin

We came a bit late yesterday, so some detentions had already taken place, loud music was on, people stood around, bewildered. The main crowd went down Nevsky Prospect and moved spontaneously, as it was clear from the Telegram channel of organizers. They had just given the directions and names of the streets. But crowds were blocked by the police, detentions took place, and people changed directions. So it was a very long walk (about two hours); we didn’t have the opportunity to peacefully stand at some square and cry out. Some made it all the way to Smolny. But we soon turned back to Nevsky when a random cyclist warned us about police trucks ahead. 

It really helped to calm my nerves a bit. We walked and cried out “No war!” on the narrow streets of St. Petersburg. Some cars honked, some people opened their windows and looked on with astonishment. We had talks on the way with friends about current events and politics. 

But current life still looks surreal. I have relatives in Melitopol, a city in the southeast of Ukraine (536 kilometers from Kyiv and 265 kilometers from the border with Russia). We called my mother’s cousin on the 24th, and later on I chatted with her son (my second cousin). They were calm, blamed the Ukrainian government for the aggression, and welcomed the Russian army. “I hope that after the recognition of the DPR and the LPR [Donetsk and Luhansk Peoples' Republics], all this conflict situation will end, unfortunately not without losses. This situation was predictable,” my second cousin wrote.

The protest on Nevsky Prospect. | Sergey Goorin

On the same day, I wrote to an acquaintance in Kyiv, who is the widow of my relative. She answered: “We are at home. We heard explosions the whole night. We are afraid... I know that Russians are not our enemies. My kids are shocked, my blood pressure is jumping. I didn’t believe this could happen.” I wrote her yesterday after the protest and she thanked me for the support. 

I’m trying to read less news so as not to get mad. I also reached out to several friends who have relatives in Ukraine. Olga from St. Petersburg (originally from Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia) said that she lost all her illusions about the current regime, but her parents are safe. Oksana from Voronezh (a city in the south of Russia) wrote that her relatives are hiding in a shelter, and she cries every day.

A walking St. Petersburg protest. | Image by the author.

At the same time, I’m shocked by the fact that many Russians agree with the invasion. The saddest thing is that my own mother supports it. The narrative of supporters is similar: “The civil war started there in 2014. The Ukrainian government treated the eastern regions badly; there were restrictions on Russian language and culture. The Russian army attacks only military objects; we are bringing peace there. There was no other way to resolve this conflict."

My friend organized a protest on the pedestrian street of Vasilevskiy Island (it’s in the city center, but demonstrations rarely happen there). She and several friends stood with “No war” posters at a distance from each other. The reaction was mixed. From words of support, hugs, and chocolates to aggressive words, accusations, and hot disputes. 

Police break up a protest at Gostiny Dvor. | Sergey Goorin

Such debates happen almost in every family. And while the real war is happening now in Ukraine, a new wave of civil confrontation is taking place in Russia. Aggression causes only aggression. And although I’m not a religious person, I pray for peace every day. 

Anti-war graffiti: "No war!" | Image by the author.


 

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