26 July 2022
Source: Witnesses Against War
Witnesses Against War is an anonymous international group of journalists, writers, historians and translators, who live in Moscow and London. For reasons of security, their project is anonymous. In addition to the above websiste, you can also find them on Instagram and Telegram.
The war for me did not start on February 24, but a few days before, when so-called President Putin convened his so-called “Security Council”. That was on February 21st. I was sitting in my favourite cafe overlooking the Kremlin and the Lenin Library, in the very centre of Moscow, watching the “live broadcast” of the meeting at which Russia “recognised the independence” of the DNR and LNR. I’m using this many quotation marks because in informational autocracies events lose their essence, and only official names are left.
Already for several weeks by that time, there had been an endless stream of news about the movement of Russian troops near the border with Ukraine, about some kind of “exercises” in Belarus. However, there was still hope that there would be no war, that all this was just the “great geo-strategist” playing on the nerves of world leaders. But on February 21, everything crumbled. As I looked at Naryshkin, the stuttering head of the SVR (Foreign Intelligence Service), I understood that the recognition of these quasi-states would be followed by a war.
I suddenly felt awful, my fingers went numb, my heart began beating at a frantic speed, there was a hum in my ears. I wanted to jump up from my chair and tell everyone in the cafe that the actual end of the world had come. Instead, I looked around the room while horror raged inside me from the realisation of the inevitable, and around me nothing happened at all. I felt even worse because of this dissonance. I gathered up my things, paid and went out into the February cold. Almost in auto-mode I wrote to my best friend, with whom I’d gone to dozens of opposition rallies and spent hundreds of hours talking about the Beautiful Russia of the Future. He confessed that he was already dead drunk, and I went home.
And then the war officially began. Literally in just a few hours, I was able to get a valid press card from the political media, and on the evening of February 24, I went out to work as a photo correspondent at an anti-war rally. Usually I work with texts, and only take photos from time to time, mostly at opposition rallies. This went on for several days. Sleep until noon, read the news, panic attacks, getting ready for a rally, work, selecting and editing photos until late at night. There were not many rallies, sometimes it seemed that there were more police than protesters.
March 6 was the last rally I attended. A few days before, my beloved proposed to me, I agreed to become his wife and be with him in sickness and health, war and peace, in prison and in freedom. I promised him to be “more careful” and not look for fights with the police. Ah, if only this was within my power. By some miracle I managed to avoid arrest for several days and even weeks, or being placed in a special detention centre. I have not seen this level of police violence and brutality towards protesters and journalists for a very long time. The street was literally cleared of the presence of any citizens, they seized everyone indiscriminately, including people who were not involved in the protest. The culmination of that day was that a paddy wagon full of people was in a terrible crash. It was clear that this would mark the end of active street protests.
The war has been going on for several months now, and I’m just living one day at a time. With each piece of news about a strike by Russian troops on civilians in Ukraine my heart aches with a dull pain. The further it goes on, the more it seems to me that sooner or later the war will begin to destroy my dear Moscow. I no longer have work I love, I am no longer talking to a lot of my friends; of my colleagues, some have emigrated, others are on benders. I have a box of supplies in case of famine, a box of basic medicines and no longer any hope that this hell will end.