How the War in Ukraine Has Caused Fights Within Many Russian-Speaking Families Including My Own

Yulia Rajeh, a student at UNR from Belarus with roots in Russia, explains how complicated family situations can become as a result of the invasion of Russian troops on the territory of Ukraine.

At a recent protest in Ukraine, there were Reno residents from Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, opposing war but with different nuances of how they viewed the conflict and its hoped for resolution.

With Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine well into its second week, there are clashes taking place not only in Kharkiv, Kyiv and other cities of Ukraine, but also in the kitchens of Russian-speaking families around Eastern Europe and in diaspora communities.

I am from Belarus myself, with family roots in Russia, and close friends in Ukraine.

Historically, the Ukrainian, Russian and Belarusian people have had very close relations. I was born and raised in Belarus, my mother was also born in Belarus, but her parents were Russian soldiers, and my father is Russian from the Urals. Many families have Ukrainian relatives. Now we are witnessing a sad trend that against the background of different opinions to what is happening, people break off family relations and begin to even hate each other.

A great contribution to this comes from media propaganda, which use many euphemisms in their rhetoric and practice the substitution of concepts, while manipulating people’s minds.

Now Russians, Belarussians and Ukrainian people have different points of view on the situation happening in Ukraine. Sometimes they try to convince each other on social media in a very mean way.

According to a poll by Belsat TV, a Polish free-to-air satellite television channel aimed at Belarus, up to 75% of Russia’s population supports the special operation of Russian troops in Ukraine.

Before the attack on Ukraine, a poll was conducted to support the recognition of the independence of the “DNR” and “LNR”, [The Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) and the Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) are two unrecognized quasi-states located in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine], and 73% supported the decision. Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitriy Peskov said that Russians support the “special operation” against Ukraine. “Judging by the polls, the Russians support the special operation to demilitarize Ukraine no less than the recognition of the DNR and LNR,” Peskov was recently quoted as saying.

Later, the results were published: 68% of Russians support Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine, 22% do not. And it seems that many Russians do support the war with Ukraine.

According to Andrey Suzdaltsev, a prominent Russian geopolitical analyst, one of the causes is a matter of general fatigue from the Ukrainian conflict. Refugees from Donbass have been present in Russia for a long time. Russia is sending humanitarian convoys to Donbass. Moreover, Russians are watching the shelling of cities in Donbass controlled by DNR and LNR militants on TV, and the death of civilians there.

The war in the Donbass has already lasted eight years. The polarization of opinions about it in Russia was very harsh. Affected by this propaganda, a lot of Russians were critical that “Russia can not protect people,” “eight years of extermination, genocide,” “Russian cities are being destroyed,” are the type of comments which could be heard and circulated among Russians.

So, “when Russia escalated, the boomerang of the war returned to where it began, to Kyiv, it was perceived as justice, the punishment of war criminals who destroyed the people of Donbass with impunity for eight years,” — Suzdaltsev recently said of the vision of the situation in Russia.

(timeline link: Watch my Powtoon: Timeline the Russian- Ukrainian History)

One of the reasons for this perception is Russian television, which works for the benefit of propaganda. Strong means had to be used to successfully manipulate public opinion. Among these means are purely linguistic ones.

It is no coincidence that Roskomnadzor, the Russian federal executive agency responsible for monitoring, controlling and censoring Russian mass media, has now banned the media from calling what is happening in Ukraine a war. The authorities have long used euphemisms to soften the idea of the real state of affairs. This allows to create in the minds of people a less dangerous picture than it really is.

Thus, the following rhetoric is used in the Russian media regarding the Ukrainian war: special military action, not invasion and war. A special military operation is not at all the same as a full-scale war. The operation has local tasks like some kind of pinpoint march. “It was shown that we will protect people in the “LNR” and “DNR” and return home,” is an example.

Moreover, Russia’s attack on Ukraine is called a peacekeeping operation, the purpose of which is to protect people living in Ukraine. That is, as Orwell already wrote, war is peace. Such a substitution of concepts is now taking place on the air of the Russian media.

Ukraine and Russia have a very deep and complicated historical relationship. Here are some main points that explain why Russia considers Ukraine its territory.

Historically, the lands of Ukraine, as well as modern Belarus, as a result of wars and civil strife, became part of the territories of large neighboring powers. In the Middle Ages, the lands of modern Ukraine belonged first to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, then to the Rzeсz Роspolita (Poland), and later became part of the Russian Empire.

However, in Ukraine there has always been a national minority (Cossacks) who aspired to the independence of their territory. Therefore, after the February revolution in Russia, when the Bolshevists overthrew the Russian King, the Ukrainians created their own independent republic (UNR), which was supposed to exist within Russia. It did not last long and after the First World War in 1919 it was annexed to the USSR as the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.

During the Second World War, the Ukrainians again tried to organize their own state. These attempts were led by Stepan Bandera, a Ukrainian politician, leader and organizer of the Ukrainian nationalist movement in Western Ukraine. To do this, he went to cooperate with Hitler and the Nazis, fought against the Soviet army. That is why this Ukrainian figure is perceived in Russia as an enemy. In Russian schools, history books portray Bandera as a traitor and fascist. As a result, many Russians today perceive Ukrainians as followers of Stepan Bandera, and therefore consider them enemies.

In fact, some nationalist movements in Ukraine really portray Bandera as a hero-liberator of Ukraine. However, these movements are far from being as popular in Ukraine as is often portrayed by the Russian media. Most people on the territory of modern Ukraine have Russian roots and speak Russian as native speakers, and maintain ties with their relatives in Russia.

However, after the start of the conflict in 2014 and the introduction of Russian troops into the territory of Donbass and the Luhansk region, relations between the peoples deteriorated.

According to a study conducted in Ukraine by the International Alert — Ukrainian Center for Independent Political Research in 2017, there was no division of people’s opinions on the principle of language. The participants of the study characterized the conflict in the east of Ukraine as a civilizational one, which leads to the destruction of pre-conflict traditional ideas and attitudes.

A clear link between language/ethnicity and the choice of side of the conflict was also denied. Respondents said that both Russians/Russian-speakers and Ukrainians/Ukrainian-speakers could end up on opposite sides of the front. Simply put, there are people who want Ukraine to return to Russia, and there are those who want its independence.

Many people lose their sense of security and stability in unexpected circumstances. Some go into denial that something disturbing is happening. Others begin to panic, which results in spontaneous actions. Still others, in anger, look for the guilty and attack everyone who raises a sore subject.

What is happening now with the inhabitants of three countries: Belarus, Ukraine and Russia, psychologists call “the trauma of the witness”, which means being in a situation of constant stress, even without being direct victims of the conflict.

Sadly, the war in Ukraine is even affecting immigrants in Reno. Katya is a Ukrainian born in St. Petersburg from Kherson, married to a Russian citizen, Vladimir. They have been living in Reno for several years. After the Russian attack on the territory of Ukraine, the couple is on the verge of a divorce due to inconsistencies in their views on the situation at home.

Also, by publicly expressing one’s position toward the war on Facebook, it is real to simply lose all contact with some relatives, as might happen to myself. I received a bunch of accusations against me that my grandfather probably turned over in his grave, just like my dad, because I support the hated Bandera and fascists in Ukraine.

The peoples of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia are usually called fraternal. Today, however, such rhetoric has become dangerous.

As Rostislav Khotin, a journalist for the Ukrainian service of Radio Liberty, says: “Neighbors, close, related to the centuries-old history of culture — understandable. But the concept of fraternity is dangerous, because fraternity implies seniors, middles, and juniors. It was traditionally believed earlier that the eldest is a Russian brother, the middle one is a Ukrainian, and the youngest is a Belarusian, purely taken by population and territory. The concept of brotherhood automatically assumes the participation of Ukrainians and Belarusians in some kind of imperial projects that are born in the Kremlin or earlier in the Winter Palace. This is a very dangerous concept for Ukrainians, and for Belarusians too. And the Poles are very close, the Lithuanians are connected by a long history, the Slovaks are close to the Ukrainians, the Orthodox in the Balkans, the Bulgarians. In the European home, all brothers, in a globalized world, Ukraine thinks in broader concepts. We want to be Ukrainians in a common European home.”

Therefore, the only thing I want to wish the entire Russian-speaking world now is to stop using hate speech and unite in the conviction that war is the worst solution to any problem.

Reynolds Sandbox Explainer Journalism by Yulia Rajeh

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