Russian students: ‘I’m technically a citizen of an aggressor country’

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.’



  1. Good! Russian colleagues need support like this at the moment. Like they say, the situation is not really comparable with Ukrainians, who also need full support, but it is so difficult for them. If overthrowing a dictator was an option, Stalin would not have ruled so long while killing, imprisoning and enslaving millions of his own people — similar power elements are in place today. Please do not blame your Russian colleagues, who are directly affected by these events. They and their families are facing untold hardships. Ukrainian colleagues also, who face displacement, attack, threats to life for their families… tremendous loss. Nobody is winning.
    I have had wonderful Ukrainian and Russian colleagues in my university time, since 2015. Both sides are victims of putin and the senseless violence. Together we can only wish for a quick cease fire and for putin to die, yesterday. Do not blame people who have no responsibility for this, please, be bigger than that

  2. Thanks for this article. Many of my colleagues in UG support me and it helps me to feel better. It is really hard to be blamed for something you didn’t commit and don’t support. Let’s be kind to each other in such a difficult time.

    • It’s inappropriate to play the victim card while your people are committing war crimes. Either actively resist your government – which was voted in by your people – or be silent.

      • It’s inappropriate to play a judge card when you don’t understand what Russian people are capable of doing and what consequences such bullying of a whole nation can cause. I already heard quite racists comments, and they cannot be justified. We, Russian, are double victims – of our government and of these sanctions. It is still not comparable with the unbearable terrifying situation Ukrainians face, and I personally supported their recent protest, supported helping organizations and I am very vocal on social media. Is it so hard to understand that if the whole world is afraid of Putin, Russians are too? Is it hard to understand that we are not superheros who can just fly over to Putin bunker and shot him? Is it impossible to get that Russian propaganda is one of the most effective in the world, causing many people believe them? If we could stop him, we would already succeeded. Btw, the whole Russian government system was build with support of many many many countries, including Europe. It is easy to judge from the side of European comfort how Russians should remove the most powerful dictator of 21st century, but it is either very naive or cruel belief. At the cost of saving one nation you just want to wipe out another. And again, it is not gonna help, because WE ARE NOT the ones in power, he and his community are.

      • It is possible for there to be more than one victim in a particular situation. In this case, the victims are both the Ukrainians and the Russians that were taken into this war. Neither group of people provided their consent, or want to be in this situation. One group of people is indeed part of the country that is causing this situation, but they have no control over what the leader of the country does. Then when it comes to choosing the leader of the country, there has been blatant corruption and unfairness for years with political opponents being killed, jailed, etc.
        You express this judgemental opinion of yours anonymously, though you tell someone else to stand up for their beliefs. How hypocritical is that?


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