Even though Russian students condemn the war, they fear being associated with their government’s invasion of Ukraine. ‘It’s also hard for Russians who do care about this situation.’
‘I don’t support Putin’s politics, but I feel a lot of pressure because I’m Russian and I represent my country’, says Kirill, who is doing his PhD at the Faculty of Science and Engineering. Even though he hasn’t encountered direct aggression, he’s noticed that some people appear to treat him less friendly.
Although he’s ethnically half-Ukrainian, he feels embarrassed and ‘a little’ afraid to talk to Ukrainian people now because of his nationality. ‘If they’re angry at me, it’s completely understandable.’
Polina, who studies at the Faculty of Arts, was also scared to write anything online last week ‘because I’m technically a citizen of an aggressor country.’
She appreciated it when the UG sent out an email acknowledging both Ukrainian and Russian students, she says. ‘I definitely can’t really compare our situations, but it’s also quite hard for Russians who do care about all of this.’
What’s important is to separate the Russian government and Russian people, both students say. ‘A lot of Russian people condemn this unsensible war’, says Kirill.
And most people understand the difference, says Polina. ‘They didn’t try to make any assumptions. Maybe also because I definitely don’t support what the government is doing at the moment and don’t try to defend those things.’
Polina’s parents are also open to her views, but ‘the older generations’ often base their opinions on the Russian TV, she says. ‘If I try to say something that doesn’t really align with those views, they’ll just tell me that it’s a complex situation.’
Trying not to escalate the conflict, they mend fences by saying that ‘no one wants war’, she says. ‘They’re still my family, so I don’t want to ruin all connections.’
Even though Polina goes to protests in Groningen to condemn the invasion, she feels anxious that she can’t join her friends protesting the war in Moscow.
‘Now that so many more things are at stake, it’s not right to just stay home and watch it all go down. I’d definitely go to protest if I was back home, even though it is very scary’, she says. ‘I have friends who protest and I know some people who just get arrested.’
But Kirill doubts if protests in Russia help at all. ‘I really don’t remember any successful protest or demonstration, because they all were broken up by our government. For the past ten years, there has been no positive outcome’, he says. ‘Unfortunately, it looks like not everybody understands that we’re not in charge of our government.’
He feels bad for the people and for the future of both countries. ‘I’m afraid there will be really bad long-term consequences.’ He hopes that science will stay outside of politics, too. ‘Some of my academic friends in Russia told me that their agreements have been canceled.’
For Polina, the worst thing is that nobody knows what will happen next. But she still loves her country. ‘I still love the culture, the people, everything that doesn’t include the government. I’m not ashamed to be Russian, but I’m ashamed of the actions of the Russian government.’