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Inside Russia’s Secret Resistance Against Vladimir Putin’s War in Ukraine

Tens of thousands of refugees have fled Vladimir Putin’s brutal regime as outspoken critics and dissidents in Russia quietly sneak past border guards to escape severe repression. ever stricter of the Kremlin.

One of those migrants, who we will call Anna, arrived in Brussels just days after the invasion of Ukraine to seek shelter with her friend Elena, a young Russian who had moved to Belgium for several years. before.

It was a WhatsApp message from Anna telling Elena that their world had just been turned upside down.

Anna, who lives in Moscow, texted that she was going to the bank to withdraw all the money from her account. “The war has begun,” she wrote. Elena spent the rest of the day crying, unable to believe her country had actually invaded Ukraine.

Within days, Elena welcomed her friend into her apartment. As a Russian, she has no right of asylum in Europe, unlike Ukrainians fleeing Putin’s horrifying war.

The exact number is not known, but thousands of Russians have fled the country since the beginning of the war out of fear of persecution or because they feel they can no longer live in their country. They feel suffocated.

Elena does not believe that she will be able to return home until President Putin is gone.

Meanwhile, she helps her friend and also sees her other friends leaving Russia – some to Armenia, others to Turkey and Georgia. A community of Russian refugees is being formed.

Those who decide to stay – with the intention of challenging the regime or because they have no way to leave the country – report an atmosphere of fear and despair.

“Since February 24th, life has changed,” says Inna, a psychologist whose son, of military age, can be called up at any time to fight. She has trouble sleeping or concentrating on anything. “I try not to read the news anymore, but I just can’t close myself in the house like a snail and stop feeling and empathizing.”

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Police officers detain a woman during a botched protest about Putin’s invasion of Ukraine at Pushkinskaya Square on February 27 in Moscow.

Konstantin Zavrazhin / Getty

She said that she was worried her son might be drafted, but Inna also explained, “I don’t want our sons from the poor villages to go like cannon fodder and become soldiers.” killer.”

Like many Russians, she has friends in Ukraine. One of them lost his wife and 10-year-old daughter in Mariupol.

“We were raised in Soviet times, we grew up saying ‘if only there were no war’, and now I am shocked by how many of my compatriots support this war. Whenever possible, when ordinary people write to me from Ukraine, I ask my forgiveness. We are to blame for letting this happen.”

But there is still room for hope. Inna said, with a little excitement, that “some of my acquaintances who had previously supported Putin’s policies were starting to realize what was happening.”

Petersburg, Katya, an activist, said the day the war began “was a day of terror, fear and tears, the first message I wrote to my family and friends: “Russia has invaded. Ukraine, [the war] where’s the polyphony.’ I write this with tears in my eyes, calling myself a fascist, that night I went out into the street shouting ‘no war’ until my throat was hoarse.”

“My country is doing horrible things that cannot be justified.”

She went out several times to protest and challenge the regime until she was arrested and questioned by a federal security agency agent (the dreaded FSB) and a counterterrorism officer.

“They tortured me by brutally interrogating me, trying to get into my cell phone to find out what [Telegram] channels that I join. They said I was one of the organizers of the protest, but I did not organize anything. They said I was on their special list and threatened to sue me for spreading fake news, a domestic crime, if I opened my mouth to defend Ukraine,” Katya said.

She spent 24 hours in custody without even being able to contact a lawyer and said “it was a kind of horror”.

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Police blockade Red Square ahead of a planned unprovoked protest against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in central Moscow on February 24.

Alexander Nemenov / AFP via Getty

Via Telegram, Sophia, a camera operator from Moscow, explained to The Daily Beast that “actually things have changed” since the war started. In addition to the price increase, almost all foreign stores have closed.

Dozens, if not hundreds, of brands and companies have left Russia with no prospect of returning. Those who suffer the most are ordinary citizens. “This all sounds so apocalyptic,” Sophia exclaimed, also saying that “it feels like you have to get used to living with depression.”

She said she feels “deeply ashamed that my country is doing unjustifiable terrible things. It is a terrible crime that will not be easily forgiven or forgotten.”

It feels like “if a big part of you is dead, you keep doing your things on autopilot, but you see no purpose. You wake up to find you have no future, and at the same time you understand that you are not the one being attacked, that there are people much more suffering at this time,” she said.

And despite all the difficulties, Sophia opposes war and Putin says he destroyed two countries, Ukraine with bombs and the Russian economy, “and our future”.

Hiding in an undisclosed location, opposition politician Aleksei Miniailo spoke on the phone hurriedly. Nervously, he retyped what he had on his desk while frantically typing messages on his computer to friends and other activists.

Miniailo wanted his name published as “it’s a way to protect myself, I’m a public figure after all.” But it is difficult to know what protections he will have if caught by the police. As a historian from Moscow State University, he participated in a hunger strike organized by Lyubov Sobol, a lawyer and close supporter of Alexei Navalny in 2019. The same, Miniailo was jailed for two years. months for cheering protests.

Now, he works with a group of academics, researchers, activists, and experts on a project in which they critically analyze opinion polls.

“We survey public opinion in Russia and explain it,” he explains.

Miniailo’s daily life was one of efforts to prevent war. From his hideout, he talks to the people, trying to convince them to act and stop the war before the Russians face more dire consequences.

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An inscription “No war” is seen on a billboard as riot police officers stand guard nearby during a protest against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in central St.Petersburg on Jan. /3.

Olga Maltseva / AFP via Getty

Miniailo said: “Putin thinks he will win this war in Ukraine in the next few days, but he miscalculated. What I see now is like the war in Chechnya in 1994.”

For him, the main problem is that “Ukraine is the closest country to Russia, it is a brotherly people. 20 percent of Russians have relatives in Ukraine. And if we can’t talk to Ukraine, but love to launch missiles, how can we find common ground with any other country? ”

This is why he specializes in digging deeper into opinion polls. He believes that people are so scared, they can’t understand what’s going on.

In Reutov, a suburb of Moscow, journalist and human rights activist Evgeny Kurakin also demanded that his name be published. “I was persecuted for my professional activities for 11 years,” he said with a certain indifference, adding that he had been recognized as a prime prisoner by human rights group Memorial. regime — an organization that was forced to shut down during one of Putin’s latest crackdowns.

“After being excluded from the Council of Europe, we were deprived of the right to appeal Russian court decisions: The outlook in Russia has turned completely bleak,” Kurakin said.

Whispers were heard everywhere. Even if they cannot speak up, society still discusses the facts and is not satisfied. The consequences were very heavy, and the propaganda was blatant, so people began to lose confidence in the authorities.

“I can tell based on my friend, I give them alternative information, and today they have started asking questions and asking the right questions. All is not lost,” he said with undisguised joy.

Like Sophia, he looks at the situation with a bit of pessimism but believes that “the regime quickly collapsed” and that it won’t last forever.

https://www.thedailybeast.com/inside-russias-secret-resistance-against-vladimir-putins-war-in-ukraine?source=articles&via=rss Inside Russia’s Secret Resistance Against Vladimir Putin’s War in Ukraine

Russell Falcon

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