‘We don’t want this’: Russians react to Ukraine invasion | Russia
A somber, somber mood filled the air in Moscow on Thursday morning as the Russians came to terms with the fact that their president had launched a major military offensive aimed at Ukraine.
“I am ashamed for my country. To be honest with you, I’m speechless. War is always scary. We don’t want that,” said Nikita Golubev, a 30-year-old teacher.
“Why are we doing this?” he added, expressing a sense of anger and despair shared by many people on their way to work on the central Arbat street.
At the Ukrainian Cultural Center just down the street, the mood was even darker.
The Ukrainian administrator said the center, which aims to promote the language, traditions and identity of a country whose legitimacy as a modern state Vladimir Putin denied in his speech on Monday, would be closed for the “future period”.
“We are bombarded as we speak. Of course we are closed! Jesus, what’s going on? shouted the administrator, who would not give his name.
Just a day earlier, Ukraine had advised its roughly 3 million citizens living in Russia to leave the country immediately, upending the lives of many Ukrainians in Moscow.
There were already signs that the Russians were uncomfortable with Putin’s initial decision to recognize the two self-declared republics of Donbass.
On Tuesday, Yuri Dudt, one of Russia’s most popular media personalities, said he “didn’t vote for this regime” and its need for empire and was ashamed, in a post that received almost a million likes in 24 hours.
A new poll by the independent Levada Center released on Thursday showed that only 45% of Russians favored the recognition decision that preceded the dramatic events of Thursday morning.
“I didn’t think Putin would be ready to go all the way. How to bomb Ukraine? Our countries have their disagreements, but this is no way to resolve them,” said Muscovite Ksenia.
But the cries of anger weren’t just felt on the streets of Moscow, where the Guardian found no support for the military onslaught.
Russia’s cultural and sporting elite, usually firmly behind Putin and often called upon by the president during election campaigns to garner popular support, have also expressed deep concern over the Russian invasion.
Valery Meladze, arguably the country’s most beloved singer, has released a moving video in which “begs” Russia to stop the war.
“Today something happened that should never have happened. History will be the judge of these events. But today I beg you, please stop the war.
Similarly, Russian football international Fyodor Smolov posted on his Instagram channel: “No to war!!!”
US intelligence services have warned for months that Russia would seek to fabricate a major pretext before launching an invasion of Ukraine.
In the end, no major false flags came, and experts now believe Putin decided to act without garnering support from his own electorate.
“Putin seems totally indifferent to approval on the street. He does not act like a politician who needs public support, but like a figure in the books of national history who only cares about the approval of future historians and readers,” tweeted Alexander Baunov, a political analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center.
The Russian leader also appears to have surprised some of Russia’s most prominent oligarchs, who have seen their wealth plummet as the country’s financial markets crash.
As recently as Monday, after Putin recognized the independence of the two Donbass territories, Oleg Deripaska, a Kremlin-friendly oligarch who once said that “he does not separate from the Russian state”, exclaimed on his Telegram channel that “the war had been averted”. ”. He has since deleted the post.
On Russian state television, the invasion was presented as a defensive mission aimed at saving Russian lives. “What’s the point of a major first strike? As weird or cynical as it sounds, it’s actually humane as it allows everyone around to prevent a great massacre. By immobilizing Ukraine, life is saved,” said expert Vladislav Shurygin on the Channel One program Vremya Pokazhet.
On another channel, introducing the news of the invasion, the presenter said that “Russia has launched a special military operation to protect people who over the past eight years have been victims of abuse and genocide by the Kiev regime”.
As news of the invasion settled, Moscow residents began posting messages online urging others to ‘take a walk’ on Thursday evening, a phrase used to describe protests that have been banned since the start of the pandemic.
But in a country where a single picket can land you in jail and which has seen an unprecedented crackdown on the opposition in recent years, it remains to be seen to what extent Russians will be able and willing to take to the streets to show their opposition to the bloody conflict. A notable police presence was seen in Red Square and Pushkin Square, places known to host protests.
For Ukrainians, the apparent public opposition to the war and messages of support will come too late. The country has said that at least 40 soldiers have already been killed and many more civilians injured, as it is threatened with being overrun by a much larger military force.
Still, sensing that a real full-scale pushback against the war might be Ukraine’s best bet, Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskiy on Thursday morning urged Russians to speak out.
“If the Russian authorities don’t want to sit down with us to discuss peace, maybe they will sit down with you.”