I think like many people in the West, and around the world, I’ve been feeling a lot of anxiety about how the Russian war in Ukraine will affect our lives. I’ve already seen signs of it as gas prices have shot up to record highs, and after two long years of Covid, my patience to simply “wait it out” has all but evaporated.
And then I remembered that with our significantly sized global readership, we do have some power to influence change (possibly even outside if cycling circles) – even if it is simply by sharing information. I suspect I’m not alone in my feelings, so I went looking for people to talk to who are much closer to the conflict than me – both Ukrainians and Russians. I have been in contact with someone in Kyiv who’s connected through cycling, but while he’s sent me several photos from the city under attack, I have not yet been successful in connecting with him to chat.
I also sought to speak with someone in Russia, and found a person connected through cycling, who agreed to answer some questions. He asked to not be identified, as he explained that people are banned from speaking about the war, and risk reprisals from the police if they do.
However – while I do not know this source personally, he is known on the internet, and I believe his responses to my questions to be honest. I’ll let you make up your own mind.
Pez: What is the general feeling among the Russian people about the war in Ukraine? – Is it justified? Do people support it?
RUS: As we already wrote, propaganda works like clockwork. Many people support what is happening. But a lot – no. Publicly expressing disagreement is now practically impossible in Russia, since the adopted law effectively prohibits any criticism of the Russian army.
In different cities, people go to unsanctioned rallies. Many are detained and fined. These are very large fines. And you can go to jail – the laws allow it. But so far there have been no such cases. It is because of the new laws that you will hardly see any public criticism. Only those who have long lived in other countries can openly criticize the government.
In private conversations with us, our friends partially supported what was happening, but they were a minority. To understand their logic, remember that everything is presented as a struggle with Western countries that want to destroy Russia. Ukraine here acts only as an instrument.
Pez: Do the Russian people feel the Ukraine is an enemy?
RUS: As a continuation of the first question: Russians have no hate for Ukrainians. Nobody considers them enemies. Everyone thinks it’s just politics. This is from Russia side. Before, people did not consider them enemies and did not feel hatred. For the last 8 years it was possible to freely walk the streets with Ukrainian flags and no one paid attention to it.
Pez: Have you felt the impact of the international economic sanctions?
– How have they affected you?
RUS: People are more concerned about saving their own income. In general, people live their lives. A rather unpleasant moment is the termination of Visa and MasterCard – people cannot pay for some familiar services, purchases in foreign internet shops. The withdrawal of well-known companies from the market has not yet (namely “so far”) not affected in any way. There are quite a lot of different brands in the country that cover the needs of people in clothing, food, household items and the like. There are no problems with this. Of course, the prices in increased somewhat, especially for those items that were purchased abroad. But there is no shortage of them.
Many regret that now there is no way to use Apple Pay, Google Pay and Samsung Pay, because contactless payment for purchases is very common in Russia, including in small towns and villages. Now you have to carry plastic cards with you, which many have not done for a long time – everyone managed with smart watches and phones.
Pez: Has daily life changed for you since the war started? How?
RUS: Everyday life hasn’t changed at all. Only there are more political talk shows on television. This annoys many. As a rule, people did not delve into politics very much, but now it has become too much and it is on all channels.
Pez: How is the war in Ukraine being portrayed in the Russian media?
RUS: Journalists have a lot of information. Especially in Telegram channels. Millions of Russians use Telegram and there is no censorship there. State media report on the events in a favorable light – which settlements were captured, including shocking footage.
Pez: How is the West and NATO being portrayed in the Russian Media.
RUS: To simplify and generalize, them as enemies. But even before, the state press did not feel much love for either NATO or the United States. And people weren’t interested. Again, there is no hatred for Americans and Europeans. No one is calling for some way to fight everything American or European, as they do in the USA and Europe. It doesn’t exist now and never has. Everything is presented only as a struggle with the political leadership.
Pez: We have seen reports that the Russians are bombing hospitals in the Ukraine – is this being shown in Russain media?
RUS: They show a lot of things. But they say that Ukrainian soldiers are in civilian buildings. And these messages, unfortunately, are confirmed by numerous photos and videos, including in Telegram channels. Ukrainian military equipment is placed in schools, kindergartens, hospitals and in the yards of residential buildings. These are facts. Which, of course, does not negate the fact that shooting at the hospital is unacceptable. The media say that the attacks are only on military targets.
Pez: What is the feeling among the Russian people about Putin? Do people support him? Are they against him – how is he viewed by average Russian people?
RUS: Until recent weeks, everyone treated Putin differently. Many are tired of it. Others are supportive. Although there was a lot of criticism directed at him. Lots of criticism on economic policy. Recent polls show that his support has risen to 74% (before – 60%), but we do not know if this is actually the case.
Pez: Do the Russian people feel like they have any power to change their government?
RUS: People do not have such moods. The opposition is either not interested in its agenda, or people are rejected persons. But in many cities, the opposition is in the legislature and the executive branch. No one is in the mood to change power globally. Those oppositionists that exist, they can hardly cope with the task in the eyes of the people. But this is not the dominant opinion. Many, especially young people, are in favor of democracy and democratic changes.
Pez: Can you give me a general idea of your age, where you live, your socio-economic status?
RUS: There are several of us (we would not like to disclose details), who live in different parts of the country, and two live in Europe. Age – from 24 to 31 years. Each of us is a businessman who regularly visited European countries, with an income above the average.
Pez: A lot of people believe that sanctions can strangle the Russian economy and bring Putin to his knees. And that oligarchs and Russian people will rise up against him. Inside and on the ground, is there any evidence that this is realistic?
RUS: This is mistake. Not a single oligarch or big businessman has enough power and money to carry this out. This is very monolithic system and can (and will) be protected himself by various methods. Serious harm to the economy can and can be done, but the DPRK or Cuba, for example, have been living in such conditions for decades. People are very inert and will blame the countries of Europe and the USA for everything. And so far, unfortunately, they cannot be persuaded.