Witnesses Against War: ‘I’m not leaving my home to random criminals’ – why anti-war Russians are remaining in Russia (Part One)

26 April 2023

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.

‘I’m not leaving my home to random criminals.’

Why anti-war Russians are remaining in Russia (Part One)

“This is Russia’s war, not just Putin’s war. Putin made the decision to invade Ukraine. But other Russians, not Putin, are doing the killing in Ukraine. Other Russians, are paying taxes, to finance this killing. Some brave Russians protested against this war. Most have not.”

The tweet was posted by former US ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul. His logic is understandable. From the outside Russian society appears united around the war: independent media have been suppressed, foreign social networks are blocked, and in Russia one can end up in prison for the open expression of one’s opinion. However, this unity is only an illusion created by Putin’s informational autocracy.

‘Witnesses Against War’ spoke with many Russians who oppose the war. On condition of anonymity, these individuals, who continue their quiet resistance, explained why they remain in Russia and from where they draw hope. Part 1.

“I remain because there must be someone here for those who physically cannot leave. Most people have no relationship at all to what is going on in Ukraine. Russia has been taken over by criminals. I can see my future only a couple months ahead. I am afraid of arrest and aggression from ‘patriotically orientated’, pro-war citizens. I am also afraid that they will cut us off completely from the global internet, and introduce what we jokingly call the ‘cheburnet’ [after the Russian cartoon character cheburashka]. Of course, positive changes in Russia are possible, although unlikely. I would like the international community not to turn their backs on anti-war Russians: we need to be seen, and our anti-war projects need support.”

“I am fifty, I am not sure that I would be able to settle abroad and begin everything again. So, as long as there is no critical reason to leave, I stay. In Russia there are many people who have anti-war sentiments, and are against this regime. I am certain that positive changes are possible, and I hope that the international community understands this. As long as possible, I will continue to work to expedite the arrival of the ‘Beautiful Russia of the Future’. I am concerned that the authorities in Russia will manage to establish total control over social networks, and isolate us even more from the outside world.”

“This is my home, my homeland. If I leave, to whom am I leaving my home, to some criminals? I want to live here too, I want to stroll these streets, breathe this air; this evil is temporary. After all, a homeland is greater than the politicians of today. The war will end and they will leave, and we will remain. I can’t see the future clearly; the wait for changes will be long, a decade, I reckon. But changes are possible. I am afraid of prison, I am afraid that the GULAG will appear again (I would not survive it), and I am afraid that the war will reach my city. If that happens, well then it will be necessary to leave and it would be good to have that opportunity – the chance to live legally in a safe country.”

“It’s not enough just to want to leave. I am on in years, I do not know foreign languages, and I have no money to move. The moral burden of the war weighs on me. I have lost many friends, and I do not see a good future for the country. I am not even trying to divine how this situation will evolve. All the same, I still think that changes for the better are possible, even if I do not know how. I am worried that the war will bring increased criminality, poverty, deterioration, and that medicines will disappear.”

“I can be useful to my family, my child, who refuses to leave as long as I stay. And there is work too, that feeds me in Russia. If you are against the war, publicly it is hard to be yourself…and that is burdensome. You can’t make the jokes you want – and it seems that dangers are growing all around. You need to watch what you say, and where, or best of all, do to speak aloud on any controversial topics. I have stopped planning my future in Russia long-term, I stopped even thinking about buying real estate here: I am trying to organise my life so that, if necessary, it will be possible to leave. Overall, it has become very difficult to plan life. I am pessimistic. I do not see any changes ahead for 2-5 years. It seems that this state of affairs will grind on and on, and drag everyone into a dark bog. Silence is the main survival skill needed for the coming years. I am afraid of ‘enthusiastic’ people who consider my opinions, conduct or quotes on social networks as worthy of punishment. I am afraid of whistleblowers. If a year ago I was certain that the repressive apparatus had no resources available that were a danger to me personally, it is now clear that it is possible to fall victim to somebody’s chance ‘vigilance’.”

“I still want to do something to improve life in Russia. Not everyone who is against the war, is able or wants to leave. Some try to resist, create civil society, organise support groups – this is all still possible, and important. Of course, any planning these days is complicated, but one wants to hope that positive changes are possible, and they depend on us. I am afraid of criminal prosecution, police brutality, and isolation from the rest of the world. I wish that Russians could read and watch foreign media that are blocked in Russia. It is also important that in the wider world people know about and remember anti-war Russians. We are here – we exist.”

Part Two

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