15 March 2022
by Aleksandr Podrabinek
Moscow life has changed noticeably in the past few weeks. It started back on 24 February, the day the war with Ukraine began. That afternoon, lines formed at ATMs of people wanting to withdraw money from their accounts. No one had announced crushing sanctions yet, no one was talking about the economy’s collapse yet, but everyone understood instantly that it was time to expect trouble.
Everyone knows, of course, that in situations like this the distance between your money and the state’s pocket, including private banks, has to be the maximum possible. That’s why everyone ran from one ATM to another, raking up the last banknotes from the unfortunate machines.
Outwardly, Moscow has changed little. So far only the signs of brands that have ceased trading in Russia have disappeared from the walls of a few shopping centres. Many concerts and athletics events have been canceled. It’s not only foreign performers, but the country’s performers as well, that they don’t want to gather a crowd for entertainments. Some do this silently; others, like Boris Grebenshchikov, explain: “For totally understandable reasons, all Aquarium concerts have been canceled until better times.”
People are displaying not exactly nervousness but a certain concentration. The very fact of a war, even if it is being waged far away, is having a depressing effect on many. I know middle-class people who have little interest in politics but who due to the war find themselves ‘out of their element’, ranging from incomprehension and bewilderment to outrage and readiness to take to the streets.
True, very few are taking to the streets in Moscow, but they are doing so persistently and systematically. Every week, hundreds of detainees are taken away to police vans and police stations. Understandably, these protests aren’t going to change anything, but their conscience won’t let these people do nothing. They’re doing what they can.
STAY OFF THE TOPIC SO WE DON’T RIP EACH OTHER’S THROATS OUT
People aren’t discussing the war with Ukraine in stores, the metro, buses, and other public places. Nor is there that super-patriotism a certain part of society had eight years ago during the Crimea annexation. Apparently, a consensus has taken shape spontaneously in society: stay off the sensitive topic so we don’t rip each other’s throats out. Arguments have shifted to homes and the company of friends and family. Here the confrontation sometimes reaches the limit. As a rule, this comes out of generational conflict. Young people sitting on the Internet raise objections to old people sitting by the television.
Some people I know told me about an army lieutenant and his wife who argued with their parents until they were hoarse. When the argument nearly came to blows, the young people packed their things and left the house. Their parents are praying for Putin, but the officer faced fighting in Ukraine. He was looking for a way to dodge service, and thank God he did find an opportunity.
Everyone shares city news: offices and manufacturers are closing, the number of unemployed is growing, there are no spare auto parts, prices in stores have risen drastically. Yesterday I met a friend returning from the store who joked bitterly: “I went to the store for bread and came back without my pants.”
Prices for some foods and goods rose several-fold all at once. Today an asthmatic friend searched the pharmacies for a long time for the inhaler he needs and complained to me: the inhalers are made in Russia, but the reactant is imported, which means soon there’ll be no treatment for this. Now he’s thinking about leaving Russia. Here there’s literally not going to be anything for him to breathe.
A COUNTRY WHERE THERE’S NOTHING LEFT TO DO
Many are trying to leave Russia now, especially those who had long been considering this before. The war with Ukraine has spurred them all on. At the Israeli consulate in Moscow, the waiting list for an interview is now many months long. People say that in connection with the huge increase in applicants, they’ve even simplified the repatriation procedure there.
My archivist friend, who works gathering documents for repatriants to Israel, talks about the unprecedented lines at the marriage registry offices to obtain the necessary documents and apostilles. At the registry office of just one district in Petersburg (where there are eighteen!) they’re seeing 500-600 people every day. Previously they used to see 15-20.
Apparently, a large segment of Russian society has become aware of the total absence of a future to life in Russia. There is neither the determination nor the strength to break the current regime. Tens of thousands of people are trying to leave a country where there’s nothing left for them do.
Translated by Marian Schwartz