War and peace: these words are now banned in Russia | Elena Kostyuchenko

Every night I am back in Russia. Last night, Mom and I were walking in a damp, spring forest. We were going to bury the dead cat we were carrying in a box.

I haven’t been to Russia for two years. I went on a mission to Ukraine in February 2022, but I was unable to return: in the eyes of the Russian state, my work became a crime that put my life in danger. My Russia is nothing more than dreams and voices.

The last time I saw my mother was just before the New Year. She brought me a shawl – crimson, with asters and morning glories – and then she sang a song for my fiancée that said, “As long as there are no homosexuals and no wars.” She doesn’t want to come live with me in exile. “You may no longer be able to live in Russia,” she said, “but why should I give up my life? I want to live in my own country and speak Russian.

My mother leaves the TV on; she is afraid of silence. The television talks about the victories of the Russian army in Ukraine, about the antipatriots who obstruct these victories, about how the Ukrainian army is bombing its own cities and about the West, where life continues to deteriorate. She also watches WhatsApp videos: everyone in Russia is on WhatsApp. Mom sends me links to old Soviet songs. Prayers, horoscopes, interior decoration. There is no war against WhatsApp.

In Russia, we only talk about war with those close to us, those we love the most. New laws prohibit the dissemination of any information contrary to the official line (this can lead to up to 15 years of imprisonment) and the expression of negative feelings about the war (a fine for the first offense, then prison). Certain words are inherently prohibited: “war” (we should say “special military operation”, “occupation”, “aggression”, “peace”).

Information is commonplace: people denounce each other after a passing conversation, or the wrong media channel is seen on a phone screen, for wearing Ukrainian insignia or for posting messages on social networks. But more than informing, people fear hearing something that will make contact impossible. Some families no longer speak to each other; for others, topics of conversation have become forbidden.

When mom and I talk about war, we scream quickly. It’s easier with my sister. We both worked for Novaya Gazeta, Russia’s leading independent newspaper. Then Russia attacked Ukraine, Novaya had her license revoked and I resigned, but Sveta stayed and still works as a journalist, without any accreditation or salary, still living in Moscow. His reality seems like a fever dream to me. Once she was simultaneously looking for an air raid shelter (Ukrainian drones approaching Moscow) and an air conditioning unit (the summer was going to be hot). When the paper closed, she trained as a nurse and said: “Now I can always help, no one can stop me.” » Three times a week, she changes the dressings of the homeless.

Many turned to volunteering. Working for hospices, charities, hospitals and refugees – a collective drive for voluntary work. You can also go to one of the monasteries, weave camouflage nets and assemble trench candles. Everyone describes their motivation with the same words: “So as not to lose your mind”.

My mother said: “I was thinking of going to the monastery to make camouflage nets. » “You are participating in the war,” I told him. “Do you remember your teacher, Vera Grigorievna? she says. “His son was called. I don’t want Valera to be killed. Mom believes that nets tied by careful fingers will hide them from death.

My friend Denis’ son was kidnapped. The boy went to get his passport and disappeared. The police were waiting for him and took him to the army. “What if we kidnap him?” ” I say. “I’m afraid of ending up behind bars,” says Denis. “I also have a daughter to take care of.”

My friend Vika and her wife are also parents to a son, but families like theirs have been banned by Russia’s Supreme Court for being part of what it called an extremist “international LGBT public movement.” This month the first sentences were handed down: a fine of 1,000 rubles (£8.69); five days of administrative detention for wearing rainbow-colored earrings. The maximum sentence is 15 years in prison.

Vika’s son is now six years old. She tells me how difficult it is to convince a child that you have to lie. They only believe you if you believe it yourself, with all your heart. “So I convinced myself we had to do it,” she said. “And I forced my wife to believe too.” And now we think that families like ours shouldn’t exist and that’s why we have to hide.” The authorities are constantly on the lookout for internal enemies – those who can be accused, on television, of spoiling the victory. It is very difficult to explain to a six-year-old child what fascism is, says Vika. What is repression. What are prisons and orphanages.

I tell my mom all this. Do you remember Vika? A few days later, she called me and said: “I don’t understand what this war is for. ” I do not say anything. Mom says: “On TV they always say ‘victory, we need victory’, but what is victory? Even if we conquer Ukraine, we will only get a country in ruins and a people who hate us. Ukrainians know how to hate, we taught them that.” I do not say anything. Mom said, “Very good. So what should I do? And I say, “Mom, that’s a really good question. »

The next day, in a maximum security prison beyond the Arctic Circle, they assassinated Alexei Navalny – political prisoner, patriot, anti-corruption activist and, in the hopes of many, future president of a liberated Russia. The jailers declare that Navalny just dropped dead – “sudden death syndrome”, they say, while the television helpfully adds that it was a blood clot. They hide his body, refusing to hand him over to his family.

Across the country, people bring flowers to memorials of political prisoners – it was once possible to erect such memorials. The police and guards immediately remove the flowers, move people forward, take photos of them and sometimes arrest them. Four hundred mourners were detained in the first 24 hours, including 46 in St. Petersburg alone; some are incarcerated. Some memorials are closed off. They tell people there are mines; they cut off any approach. So people place their flowers in the snow. They leave each other notes: “Don’t be afraid. » People continue to come, day after day. The flowers briefly erase the snow.

  • Do you have an opinion on the issues raised in this article? If you would like to submit a response of up to 300 words by email to be considered for publication in our letters section, please click here.

Bir yanıt yazın

E-posta adresiniz yayınlanmayacak. Gerekli alanlar * ile işaretlenmişlerdir