Expats despair of the Russian president and fear for their families and friends at home
Russian visual artist Stanislav, who does not want his surname revealed, says that if he were back home, he would be made to fight.
Given Vladimir Putin’s mobilisation order, he would be given a gun and forced to wear a uniform.
Instead the 31-year-old is in Dublin where, along with other Russians, he joins in condemning the blood that has been spilled — and defiantly refuses to be a part of the Kremlin’s war.
“To flee the war is to contest the war, by not participating in it,” he says, explaining that his friends and family in Irkutsk have been calling out Putin’s actions through protests and on social media.
Now Stanislav feels it is important to show his revulsion while in Ireland.
“We have to remain united against this war, regardless of our nationalities,” he says.
Even though they are living in Ireland, it is evident that while they feel they have to say something, many — like Dublin-based business coach Ksenia — fear the consequences of speaking out, requesting that only first names are used in this article.
“I don’t think people are scared of Putin: they are scared of the police, of the authorities, and of neighbours,” she says.
“For instance, my mum’s neighbour reported her for wearing blue and yellow clothes — and yet it’s not 1937, it’s 2022. My mum was arrested.”
What scares her the most is the very real possibility that her brother will be sent to the war.
“He is in professional military and so far he has refused the contract to go to war. ‘I’m not dumb enough to fight against Ukraine,’ were his words. But what if at some point he isn’t able to say that?” she says.
“It’s not just because he’s my brother. It’s also because I won’t be able to look at my friends and colleagues in Ukraine, knowing that my relative might be fighting against them.”
The Dublin-based Russian says she is “horrified” at the situation in Ukraine and feels “helpless”.
“My country is killing people but some people think I am the victim. It is very strange,” she says.
“Most people, when they see something horrible, they think: ‘What can I do?’ But it is not clear what we can do. We can protest here, but it won’t change anything. That’s not how Russia works.”
She thinks Putin will find a way to “back off” and sell the war to Russian people as some sort of victory.
“I don’t think it will be over soon, but hope I am wrong,” she says.
It’s difficult to understand the mentality of Putin, but Ksenia says the “strong connection to the motherland” is important to many Russians.
Last month Putin vowed to defend Russia’s “homeland and values” in a warped speech from the Kremlin, in which he announced Russia was annexing four regions of Ukraine. He said the West feared Russian culture.
Presenting a long list of grievances against the West, Putin accused the West of waging a “hybrid war” against Russia and the separatist administrations it backed in eastern Ukraine.
Ksenia offers an insight into the Russian mentality.
“When I talk to Irish people, they don’t associate themselves with the whole island, or the whole culture. They might have strong ties with their family, or the place they grew up in — but they wouldn’t die for it.
“In Russia, we grew up with this paradigm of protecting the motherland. It is a sacred thing, and because of that I feel enormous guilt about what is happening. Really, I feel physically nauseous.”
It is the same for Dublin-based Yulia, who feels “some kind of responsibility” for just being Russian.
“I feel ashamed to say I am from Russia. I am afraid I will meet someone from Ukraine in Ireland, because I would not know what to say to them,” she says.
Like others, she is concerned about her elderly parents, who still live in Russia, and wishes she could do more to help.
“But anything I say, anything we do, it is not enough. I feel sorry. If I could stop it, I would. If I could change what is going on, I would,” she says.
Oxana can’t even sleep, she says. She thinks about Ukraine and the family she left behind.
“I am just so sorry for the sh*t that is happening. If I could, I would change it,” she says.
Asked about her greatest fear about Russia today, she has a quick reply.
“I fear I might not be able to see my parents again.
“This war in Ukraine has ruined the lives of its people — even our lives here in Ireland. People are angry, and it is time our point of view was heard.”