For nearly a month, the world has watched on in horror as Russia has brought death and destruction to Ukraine following its invasion on Feb. 24.
For Ukrainians living in Canada, they see more and more of their homeland destroyed each day worried for loved ones still there. But for Russians firmly against the war living abroad, fear is growing of what Russian President Vladimir Putin’s actions in Ukraine will mean for their country, and themselves.
“These are really challenging times for me as someone who has lived all their life in Russia,” said Katerina Moiseeva, a current master’s student at Royal Roads University. “We just don’t know what to think, what to expect … we as Russians can’t be responsible for the leadership of our country because, for example, I did not choose this president (Putin), I did not vote for him.”
Moiseeva said she believes Russians will feel guilty for Putin’s actions, similar to how Germans felt guilty for the Nazi regime’s atrocities in the Second World War. But it will take years after the war eventually ends before every Russian feels such guilt and real healing will be possible.
Given Putin’s tight grip on information in Russia, Moiseeva said such healing will be slowed as much of the country is simply not aware of what is really happening in Ukraine, instead only hearing what Putin wants them to hear – that it is a “special military operation,” Russia is not killing civilians and their soldiers are being welcomed by Ukrainians with open arms and celebration.
While those living in major cities like Moscow and Saint Petersburg are able to access independent or outside media and realize what is truly going on in Ukraine, she said those living outside those cities are only able to access state-controlled media.
Moiseeva said while it is nothing compared to what Ukrainians are experiencing at home or abroad, she feels her homeland’s national identity is suffering, and it will only get worse as the war goes on. Even here in Canada, she is aware some people – especially those with ties to Ukraine – find it challenging to separate Putin’s actions from anyone or anything from Russia.
“How can we explain to our children that we started the war, that we started killing people,” she said. “I can say that I have never experienced any issues in Canada from me being a Russian … but I can feel people have this back thought equating Russians to aggressors. I think it will never disappear in their perceptions of Russians.”
The feelings many have about Russians now, even if they are subconscious, are understandable to Moiseeva. After all, she has seen it in her own family – her grandparents survived the Second World War and for years couldn’t help but associate anything German with “invaders” or the death of loved ones.
Unfortunately, she feels change from within Russia is not likely to happen. While there are plenty of Russians who oppose Putin and his war with Ukraine, she said recent crackdowns on dissent and independent media has led many Russians to flee the country for fears of repercussions should they speak out and call for change.