A Ukrainian American Woman Thinks of Me as Her Enemy

I am afraid that my family members in Chechnya will soon have nothing to eat, and I haven’t been able to wire them money because remittance companies have halted or limited transfers in and out of Russia. My mother is preparing a small plot in her backyard to plant tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, peppers, parsley and dill.

My colleagues and friends in Moscow go out to protest, and many of them are detained. Some have gone to Ukraine to cover the war. I cannot compare their sacrifice to what Ukrainians, whose lives will never be the same again, are enduring. Still, I feel a growing obligation to them.

Here in the United States, I listened to a podcast in which a journalist explained that the sanctions are working — because Russians have come out to protest against their leaders. That was painful to hear. People in Russian cities are protesting, yes, but from what I’ve seen and heard, it’s not because of sanctions. It’s because they’re against war, against killing innocent people. They have always been against it.

Yes, the sanctions are causing economic havoc, affecting the government and regular people. But the protesters are driven by their consciences. These are the eight people who came out on Red Square in Moscow in 1968, after the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. These are the thousands of people who came out against the war in my Chechnya in the 1990s and 2000s. Thousands came out in the 2010s against Mr. Putin, too.

Of course, some Russians support their country’s aggression against Ukraine, are indifferent to it or are too scared to voice their opposition. Those who do speak up sometimes find themselves estranged from their parents, brothers and sisters who believe the Kremlin’s propaganda. They lose their jobs; they flee the country. They don’t have Mr. Putin’s bombs dropping on them, but they know that if they oppose the war, they’ll likely be severely punished for their bravery.

A Chechen man I know, whose brother and another relative are among the soldiers who went to Ukraine, told me that during the day, he watches the news and supports Ukraine wholeheartedly. Then one evening he got a text saying that his brother might have been killed. (He wasn’t.) It’s a terrible feeling, he told me, to think of his family members at war. He prays that they’ll come back alive, without killing anybody.

In Phoenix, I am supported by my new friends and by the organization that invited me here. I get caring messages and letters every day.


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