Cause for Optimism

From left to right, the Trinity (Izmailovsky) Cathedral, Kazan Cathedral, and Singer House, in central Petersburg,
as photographed by Alexander Petrosyan

Yesterday I met a neighbor lady from our floor whom I hadn’t seen for a long time. She was in high spirits, and we talked for a minute about the current realities. I asked her how she managed to maintain such enviable optimism, and her answer amazed me.

“Why be sad?” she said. “We live in the heart of the city, and if they fire a nuclear missile, we would automatically find ourselves in the very epicenter. We would be instantly transformed into elementary particles. Isn’t that what many people can only dream of?”

Source: Alexander Petrosyan, Facebook, 30 September 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader. Our beloved Petersburg neighbor lady Ludmila Borisovna said something strikingly similar during the “tensions” in 2014.

Alexander Zamyatin: Emigration Is Reactionary, Not Revolutionary

At first glance, massive emigration reduces the potential for political change, because it mechanically subtracts from society the part of society that is critical of the authorities. To a large extent, of course, this is true, but we shouldn’t overestimate this factor.

My subjective observations tell me that one of the leading motives for emigration (let’s put the existential threat of mobilization aside for now) has been the loss of hope for a “normal” life. People have been fleeing because they felt things would only get worse, and that their former relatively prosperous (and sometimes quite lovely and promising) lives were collapsing, along with all their plans.

If you think about it, there is no potential for political change in this worldview. You can’t be a gravedigger of the old regime at the same time as you grieve for the opportunities lost in it.

Let’s take a hypothetical employee of the progressive wing of the Moscow Department of Transport (or any other corporation, bank, etc.) with liberal views, who remembers what a cool project he worked on in 2018 (or even in 2022), but now is leaving the country, because such projects will definitely not happen in the future. He went to protest rallies, voted for the opposition, watched [Maxim] Katz’s YouTube channel, and donated to OVD Info, so his departure is a loss for the opposition. But it’s not a loss for the revolution, because “I want everything to be the way it was before, only with no war and crackdowns, but with fair courts and honest elections” is essentially a reactionary demand. It’s about preserving things, not changing them..

It would be a mistake to think that revolution leaves us along with the emigration: resentment over the supposedly lost prospect of a prosperous Russia, which was stolen from us, is unsuitable fuel for revolution. The political emigration has no political program, because there is no bridge to the “normality” that supposedly existed before 2022 (or 2020, 2018, 2014, 2011, etc.). The emigration’s picture of the world completely excludes the social, economic and political contradictions that have brought us to the present moment and are leading us further, so now it contains nothing but shock, fear, and individual salvation.

Revolution cannot emerge from the failure of an evolutionary project. It will emerge as an alternative to the brutal dictatorship at a fatal crossroads in the country’s history, prompted by the need to radically solve the pressing issues of our coexistence. But the remnants of failed evolutionary trends will surely still play their own reactionary role.

Source: Alexander Zamyatin, Facebook, 29 September 2022. Mr. Zamyatin is a popularly elected member of the Zyuzino Municipal District Council in Moscow and the editor-in-chief of the website Zerkalo. Translated by the Russian Reader

“No Future”: Popular Reactions to Putin’s Mobilization

Outside Gostiny Dvor [metro station and shopping center, in downtown Petersburg]. The police are plucking out the protesters one by one and dragging them away.

Passersby ask, “What happened?”

Most either don’t read the news or support the mobilization.

They look at us like we’re idiots.

I asked a middle-aged woman whether she had any children.

“Two sons, so what?” she answered me defiantly.

Today I thought for the first time that there is no future.

[Comments]

Natalia Vvedenskaya

Just for balance. Today, in the supermarket, I quietly eavesdropped on the conversations among the saleswomen (these were two different conversations). Irritated and indignant, these middle-aged women said that the members of parliament [who quickly passed laws enforcing Putin’s mobilization] should go to war themselves.

Source: Galina Artemenko, Facebook, 21 September 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader


On the bus. A middle-aged woman in the front seat yells into the phone, not mincing her words. She says that there is a panic at work, that they have seven days to keep the guys from getting drafted. This was followed by instructions for direct action. The young fellow sitting with his back to her listened attentively, while the girls opposite him could not have cared less.

Source: Friends-only post on Facebook by a trusted source and occasional contributor to this website, identified here as “AR” for future reference. Translated by the Russian Reader


This hurts a lot. I console myself with the fact that, as in private life, the most vital and beautiful thing is the process itself, when you are initially in a hole, but you fight to make things better. But can I please go back to the time when I have to confront myself, and not a crazy autocrat with a nuclear button?

I try to shift my focus from irritation towards Russians who support the war, and the collective Europe playing along [sic], to endless love. First of all, to people who are in Russia and are not afraid to speak out against the war. I am glad that I am living at the same time as you. Of course, we are far from being Iran, where people take deadly risks for their beliefs. But we’re cool, too. We’re doing what we can. If everyone in Russia were like us, the war would have ended today. Now, when it is important to support myself, I console myself with this thought, and I advise you to do the same.

Source: Friends-only post on Facebook by a grassroots activist in Petersburg, identified here as “JA” for future reference. Translated by the Russian Reader


On the evening of September 21, in Petersburg, as in other cities, a protest was held against the mobilization of Russians for the war in Ukraine. The protest was called by the Vesna Movement. The protesters gathered at 7 p.m. on St. Isaac’s Square.

Riot police vigorously detained protesters, beat them with batons, dragged them on the ground, and put them on their knees. According to OVD Info, at least 444 people were detained in St. Petersburg.

Bumaga has put together a photo chronicle of the first popular protest in the city in the last six months.

Source: “How an anti-mobilization rally — the first mass protest in six months — took place in Petersburg,” Bumaga, 21 September 2022. There are several more photographs of the protest rally at the link, including photos from a second, separate protest the same evening outside Gostiny Dvor (as described by Galina Artemenko, above). Translated by the Russian Reader


Conscription Notice Russia. This channel was created to inform the residents of Russia about the delivery of conscription notices in our city! [sic] Write here with information about which addresses conscription notices in Russia are being sent — @maks_ge

“Prospect Mira. A conscription notice was just served to a man approximately 40-45 years of age. He was strolling with his wife and dog. Then they [the police?] went up to some young guys sitting on a bench and had a chat with them.”

“They’ve already started handing out conscription notices at the factories in the town of Gatchina in Leningrad Region.”

“The Gazpromneft filling station at Amurskaya 15A. Two men got into a scrap, and the attendant called the police. The cops came and gave them tickets. They threatened the men, saying that tomorrow, other people in uniform would come visit them at home — I think they meant the military conscription office.”

Source: Screenshot of the Telegram channel Where Draft Papers Are Being Handed Out — Russia. The channel was created on August 13, but only started posting on September 21. It already has over ten thousand subscribers. Thanks to VL for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader


Well, my prognosis was mistaken. I underestimated the regime’s vileness and meanness. As the supreme ruler declared a partial mobilization, the local military enlistment offices issued decrees concerning all reservists without exception.

This is totally fucked up. For example, “temporary residents must depart for their legal place of residence.” Accordingly, millions of unregistered men or men registered at their temporary residences in large cities must leave for their hometowns or home regions. Accordingly, all these millions of men are “lawbreakers” — they can be seized in dragnets, blackmailed with prison terms, locked up, beaten up, and anything else that our cops do with our citizens. When [the cops] are faced with passive resistance, they will indiscriminately rake in whomever they catch.

These people will certainly “engage in combat,” but that will happen later. What matters now is filling the quotas.

Source: George Losev, Facebook, 21 September 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader


Putin has announced a “partial mobilization.” Only time will tell how “partial” it is, but it is already clear that the mobilization will affect many people. What options do those whom the Kremlin wants to mobilize have?

  1. Become cannon fodder.
  2. Go to jail.
  3. Illegally flee the country. If you fail, you go to jail.
  4. Go underground. If you fail, you go to jail.
  5. Go underground and become a guerrilla. You could also go to jail.

I do not consider legal ways to avoid mobilization, since the rules of the game can change at any moment, and those who were not subject to mobilization yesterday will be subject to it tomorrow.

The choice isn’t great, but there is a choice.

Source: Ivan Astashin, Facebook, 21 September. Mr. Astashin is a former political prisoner and human rights activist who now seems to be living in exile in Berlin. Translated by the Russian Reader


In the kitchen of a communal flat:

— Soooo, you live closer to the front door, don’t open it to anyone. If they come, tell them there are no men living here.

— I’ve been dodging the draft for so long I don’t even remember how to do it anymore. I’ve had so many chronic illnesses since then. Do you think it will help?

— At my work, a friend of a friend of a friend of a colleague is offering to drive [men] to Finland for 50 thousand rubles [approx. 855 euros]. Any takers?

— He’s definitely going to Finland? That’s too cheap somehow. What if he takes you to the military enlistment office?

— My pop says that he would volunteer himself, but he’s already sixty-seven, they won’t take him. But he’s weird that way. He never goes to the welfare office, because he believes you have to have pride: he didn’t work all his life to ask the state for something in his old age! His pension is 25 thousand rubles a month [approx. 440 euros].

— Maybe he is also one of those people who have nothing, and who donates money to buy socks for soldiers?

— No, he believes that we have the strongest army and does not give them a kopeck. He says the people asking for that money are scammers.

Source: Friends-only post on Facebook by a veteran human rights activist in Petersburg, identified here as “NN” for future reference. Translated by the Russian Reader

Mobilization: Mission Possible

The same day that President Putin announced a call-up of reservists to send off to continue his unprovoked invasion of Russia, Russian mega online retailer Ozon informed its customers that it was now selling the new Apple iPhone 14. Source: Ozon.ru

I have been extremely troubled by arguments that a mobilization in Russia is impossible. People are saying that everyone will run off, nothing will come of it, there is no logistics or anything else. This is all true, of course, but the stated goal of calling up 300 thousand reservists is quite realistic, in my unprofessional opinion.

I really don’t see any earth-shattering problems to it. There are military enlistment offices, there is transport. The uniforms will be fetched from Afghan War-era stockpiles. You know, those sand-colored uniforms, star-embossed belt buckles, and Kirza boots — there is probably a lot more of this stuff in the warehouses. The “mobilizees” will look, however, more like mobs of POWS than like an army, what with all of them wearing different uniforms, some sporting Kirza boots, and some in ankle-high combat boots purchased on the side from a cunning ensign. But still.

I have no doubt that our state will cope with the task of mobilizing men and delivering them to Ukraine. It will be done shabbily — five hundred men will lose fingers to frostbite while traveling in unheated train cars, and fifteen hundred will escape somewhere along the way — but that doesn’t mean that no one will get there.

So, I listened with some bewilderment to arguments that no mobilization would be declared. And now a mobilization has been announced, to the delight of Strelkov.

To make the figures clearer, I should explain that about 400 thousand people live in our district in Petersburg, the Frunzensky District, which means that 600 men should be called up (taking into account the fact that our population is older than the average for Russia). In reality, it will most likely be even fewer, since the powers that be will probably decide to throw residents of the ethnic republics into the furnace again.

Over the past few months, our district authorities have just barely recruited about forty volunteers, since they were unable to use any of the state’s usual enforcement mechanisms. Now they will have all the tools of the military enlistment officer at their disposal.

I’m sorry, but I believe in the success of the mobilization at this stage and that the stated quantities are doable. I don’t believe in the success of Putin’s war. Unmotivated poorly armed cannon fodder is needed in this war, but the benefit from it is not so great, and it will arrive [in Ukraine] only in winter, by the time the front stabilizes somewhere near Henichesk.

It’s not enough to mobilize men. The powers that be still have to somehow mobilize industry. Here I see much less chance of success.

I feel a certain shameful schadenfreude. When I adopted the slogan “Putin = war” as my profile pice in 2014, readers of the Kupchino News made fun of me. The people then were solidly in the “Crimea is ours” camp. Now, for the sake of this selfsame Crimea, a place where, until 2014, Russians could go on holiday with no problems, your brothers and your children will have to go off and die. Not me. I left Russia after police searched my home for a second time and a criminal case was launched against me. When something really could still be done [to oppose the Putin regime] with minimal risks, you were extremely smart to stay at home. Well, now you will be extremely smart in thinking of ways to dodge the draft. What counts is keeping a low profile, isn’t it? The president knows what he’s doing!

However, after this schadenfreude, I immediately feel ashamed. After all, it was I who lost my fight for a Russia free of autocracy, fascism and militarism. By the way, in 2014 I had another profile pic: “Putin = hunger.”

Source: Deputy Volokhonsky (Vladimir Volokhonsky), Telegram, 21 September 2022. Mr. Volokhonsky is a well-known Petersburg grassroots pro-democracy activist and municipal district councilor, currently living in exile in Belgrade. He is also the editor-in-chief of the neighborhood news website Novosti Kupchino (“The Kupchino News”). Translated by the Russian Reader

Belly Dance

Source: Vit Ivanov, “Belly dance performed in camouflage Z-suits in Kurgan,” YouTube, 20 July 2022
“A video appeared a Kurgan community social media page, showing on which four women performing a belly dance with the letter Z on their backs. The footage was published on the community page ‘Oh, Kurgan’ on the VKontakte social network.”

I was alerted to this video by the Facebook feed of 7 x 7, an independent Russian media outlet that focuses on grassroots regional news, who described it as follows:

Kurgan residents perform belly dance in camouflage Z-suits

The students of the Roksolana Belly Dance Studio, along with their coach Tatiana Bikbova, performed a number at Museum Night. They even received a letter of thanks from the Kurgan Museum Association for their performance.

Video courtesy of Tatiana Bikbova’s social media page


100% of my female friends are feminists and activists. A significant portion of my friends are involved in social theater. And it would be great if everyone [in Russia] was like that. But it is obvious that this would be a false extrapolation.

When I say that the Russian people don’t give a shit about the war, a murmur of indignation arises: “But here, on Facebook, they do give a shit!” But if we look closely at Facebook, we see that it has only 9 million users in the Russian Federation. And we definitely filter our friends in terms of their views.

You know who gives a shit? Georgians give a shit. I visit a pediatrician, and she has children’s drawings hanging above her desk. [One of them featured] a yellow field, a blue sky, and the slogan “Stop Russia” [in English]. A female friend of mine goes to see a a fifty-year-old female GP, and she outlines a plan for an armed uprising to my friend. Over the last six months in Georgia, I have not met a single person who would say “I have nothing to do with politics” or “Where have you been for eight years?” Young Georgians understand Russian history better than Russians do and can tell you what kind of education one or another Russian political spin doctor had. These have been random [encounters], not friends from FB.

When I [was] going to Russia, the highway in the south [of the country] was full of military vehicles marked with the Z. The vehicles going in both directions had black license plates [indicating they belonged to the Russian military]. They slept in the parking lot next to me. Then I got to Petersburg, which has always been my home. And there [were] 5 million people walking around as if nothing [was] happening at all. Nothing had changed at all.

Nothing changed when elections were abolished. Nor when people were jailed [for protests and other political crimes]. Nor when Crimea was hijacked. And especially now.

And a hundred of our friends do not affect the result in any way.

Source: Leda Garina, Facebook, 10 September 2022. Ms. Garina is a theater director and feminist activist from Petersburg, currently living in Tbilisi, who recently traveled back home to regain custody of her teenaged daughter. Translated by the Russian Reader

A Bill of Goods

“Commander [watch]. Death to spies: commissioned by the GRU of the USSR.”
Source: Kitenhome, where the watch is identified as a “vintage men’s wrist watch” from 1990. It is priced to sell at $29.99.

Only the blind can claim that Vladimir Putin wants to revive the Soviet Union. On the contrary, he has built one of the most Darwinian and irresponsible capitalist systems on the planet. Only its imperial ambitions and the normalization of permanent theft bear any relation to the late Soviet state. Only the fear of the return of a totalitarian regime, which struck several generations in Russia, has delayed a left turn among the young. But the war has finally started it.

After February 24, the protest against the Putin regime, amplified by antiwar sentiment, was embodied in a digital resistance movement. The global media has been largely silent about this fact, but military commissariats in Russia burn down every few days, freight trains with weapons or raw materials for military factories derail, and the walls of houses and fences are covered with huge pro-Ukrainian graffiti at night. Volunteers take care of Ukrainians forcibly displaced to Russia and help them flow to Europe. This resistance is horizontal and egalitarian, and it is mainly engaged in by twenty- to thirty-year-olds. What values drive them?

[…]

The range of the views of this new left is wide — from anarcho-federalism to social liberalism — but at its heart is a clear demand for equality and a restart of the state with an economy focused on personal self-realization, the satisfaction of basic needs, and the protection of rights. As Russians come to accept responsibility for the terror inflicted on Ukraine, we can expect turbulence to last for decades. But one reason for optimism is the likely fact that any new Russia — or several Russias — will be leftist.

Source: Nikolay V. Kononov, “The Russian Left Is Standing Against Putin’s War in Ukraine,” Jacobin, 4 September 2022. Thanks to Charles Keener and Marxmail for the heads-up. This same article was published in Tribune on 29 August 2022.


Mr. Kononov is identified by Tribune as the “editor-in-chief of Teplitsa Journal, a Russian-language media outlet about activism.” I had trouble finding this “journal” online until my boon companion suggested it might have something to do with the so-called Teplitsa sotsial’nykh teknologii (“Greenhouse of Social Technologies”), an organization that describes itself as a “support system for NGOs and activists.” Teplitsa Journal is only referred to as such in Mr. Kononov’s Anglophonic ventures outside the “hothouse” of Russia’s overhyped (and in fact mostly nonexistent) “anti-war movement.” Teplitsa Journal is not a “Russian-language media outlet,” but a section on Teplitsa’s website.

Among other things, Mr. Kononov recently published an interview there with the philosopher Artemy Magun. This passage in particular struck me as another “bill of goods,” this one intended not for wobbly-kneed western leftists, but for Russian “dissidents” eager to blame anyone else but the Russian regime and an overwhelmingly compliant Russian society for the brutal, utterly unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

— What is the source of the war?

— A mutual misunderstanding among three countries and cultures: Ukraine, Russia, or rather its leadership, and the West, by which I mean Europe and the US plus Japan and South Korea. Imperial chauvinism comes from Russia, nationalism comes from Ukraine. And on the third hand, there is the as it were universal imperialism of the United States, infused with their special version of civic nationalism.

US relations with other countries are based on soft power, hegemony. This involves not only the dominance of the dollar and financial institutions, not only technological innovations, but also the assertion of national democratic and humanistic values.

As for Russia, it is not only the collapse of one ideology and the misunderstanding of another, but also economic dependence. Russia does not have high-tech products, not only due to backwardness and corruption, but also because many markets have not been opened to it. The free trade space turned out to be not entirely free. For example, Russia was not admitted into the European Union, by and large, except for its energy resources. Do you remember the conversation with Ukraine in 2013–2014 about the common customs zone? Ukraine then refused to join the Russian-Belarusian customs union and was going to sign an association agreement with the European Union, and the Russian elites argued that the loss of its partners in production chains would be economically painful — and it really would have been. Why am I saying this? Imperialism as political economic rivalry among capitalist powers — this situation exists, it is not contrived. And until 2022, everything really did resemble the beginning of the twentieth century, before the First World War. But that’s why it seems to me that the economic factors that led to the war cannot be considered the main ones. Ideological and political [factors], in my opinion, were more important.

— And what are these factors?

— [After the collapse of the USSR and a sharp decline in its influence in the world], the rejection of communism or socialism as a kind of humanistic perspective became a framework factor. Instead, a liberal democratic ideology was proposed that is contradictory. It asserts a universal order of human rights, and at the same time electoral democracy, which is based on national sovereignty. Plus neoliberalism, which asserts the autonomy of economic entities and total competition among [them].

Now there is pressure from the West under the auspices of the universalist empire, aimed at building global liberal democratic institutions. The trick is that this global program and policy is not entirely global. The West, arriving [in the former Soviet bloc] with the universal idea of democracy, did not fully implement its program. They entered undemocratic countries, tried to build democracies there, but they were in no hurry to spend money — nothing like the Marshall Plan was offered anywhere else. Instead of strong support for these countries, a neoliberal political economy was devised, which played a disastrous role by turning their populace away from America.

Source: “In Russia, activism is an existential, heroic choice,” Teplitsa sotsial’nykh tekhnologii, 15 August 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader


The most discussed session at the congress was the session featuring spokespeople from grassroots anti-war initiatives, who were allotted the standard hour and a half for six presentations. Vika Fas of Feminist Anti-War Resistance (FAS) boasted that the movement, founded by activists on February 25, already had sixty cells in Russia and thirty abroad.

“If you don’t know about FAS yet, you should read about us on Wikipedia. I think it’s interesting to observe a grassroots initiative that has become so popular in six months… Feminism was not taken seriously until we gained media weight, but we need international support for our communities and assistance in the form of grants,” she said in a passive-aggressive manner.

Alexander Belik, a spokesperson for the Movement of Conscientious Objectors to Military Service, said that after February 24, they had fielded a good number of requests for assistance from military personnel already deployed in Ukraine.

“Everything is happening quite successfully: you can still refuse conscription and even from serving if you’re already serving there. Everything is possible with due perseverance,” he said.

The recorded live stream of the Congress of Free Russia (Vilnius, 31 August 2022).
The panel discussed by Ilya Azar begins at the 2:54:00 mark.

Maria Novikova thanked [the organizers] for maintaining gender balance at the session and explained that the NITKA project had tried out different formats, but had settled on an “unusual and creative” TikTok account.

“Our audience is not intellectuals who get everything as it is, but ordinary people who need enlightenment. Not only cringeworthy videos about Putin’s battalions are popular [on our account], but also serious videos about various aspects of the war in Ukraine and the crackdown in Russia,” she said.

NITKA, Novikova says, has already garnered more than nine thousand subscribers, and one video has been clicked more than two million times.

The project Media Partisans, according to Olga Demidova, arose when it became clear that due to the fact that large numbers of protesters were being detained by police during protests, “it [was] pointless to take to the streets in Russia.”

“At first, everyone [sic] wanted to stop the war and Putin, but it takes time.”

“Many saw that their protest did not bring results, and they were disappointed, so you need to choose small goals and set realistic tasks,” she explained.

Media Partisans has seven projects: for example, a Telegram channel featuring anti-war artwork and instructions on how to safely distribute leaflets and stickers, as well as the Brave Partisans bot (@bravepartizanbot), where you can get an assignment for a performance or posting leaflets.

Timofey Martynenko of the Vesna Movement boasted that the anti-war rallies and marches in late February and early March were held at the behest of his movement, and talked about other projects, in particular a service for sending appeals to State Duma deputies.

“The same people are seated in the State Duma, and it is vital to show them that a huge number of people oppose the war,” said the activist.

At the end of his talk, Martynenko said that Vesna does not believe that Russians have a “slave mentality” or that there is a “bloodthirsty ‘deep folk’ who love Putin.”

“It is vital to talk about the depoliticization of Russian society, about civic involvement, about how democratic institutions and the media have been destroyed.”

“The problem is not that we are monstrous imperialists at the genetic level, but the monstrous centralization of Russia and the destruction of local self-government,” Martynenko tried to persuade the audience.

Against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine, conversations about TikTok and a service for sending appeals to Russian MPs seemed frankly lightweight, but the young people were clearly pleased with themselves. After the session, I asked the chairman of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People, Refat Chubarov, who had traveled [to the congress] from Kyiv, what he thought about the anti-war movement in Russia.

“I would thank them for what they are doing, and it would be sincere. But it’s all very childish. And they also have to be very careful, because an incorrect diagnosis can lead to incorrect treatment,” Chubarov replied.

The head of the Mejlis said that he had gone up and talked to Martynenko because he strongly disagreed with his “pompous claims that Russians do not suffer from imperialism and servility.”

“About a million Russian nationals [sic] pulled up stakes and settled in occupied Crimea without any remorse. What the fuck? That’s what imperialism is. When we [Crimean Tatars] returned [to Crimea] in the late [19]80s, we didn’t evict a single [Russian] family. I personally purchased the rooms where my mom had been born. When we return to Crimea again, none of those who settled there after 2014 will [be allowed to] live in Crimea. No servility? But what is it when a mother says that her son is being held [as a POW in Ukraine], but immediately adds that he is defending Russian interests? What Russian interests?” said Chubarov.

Source: Ilya Azar, “On the threshold of great achievements: a congress of the Russian emigration took place in Vilnius,” Novaya Gazeta Europe, 4 September 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader


[…]

The ballrooms of the Grand Vilnius Resort, set on a golf course on the outskirts of the Lithuanian capital, were a universe away from the front lines in the Ukrainian regions of Kherson and Donbas. And while the motto of the Congress of Free Russia was “Be Brave Like Ukraine,” this was a gathering of Russians who have fled their country out of fear of what Mr. Putin’s regime might do to them.

Hanging over the three-day gathering was the knowledge that — while Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has been hailed as a hero for refusing to flee Kyiv — many Russian dissidents who have stood their ground are either dead, or jailed by their government.

[…]

Source: Mark Mackinnon, “Russian dissidents squabble over how to ensure Putin’s defeat,” The Globe and Mail, 2 September 2022

I Want a Story

On August 28, 1946, the amazing Lev Shcheglov was born in Petersburg. Alas, in December 2020, the damn covid took him away. We remember him. How could we forget him? He was the only one like him.

A quote from Dmitry Bykov’s conversation with Lev Shcheglov in 2018: “But look at the faces everyone makes when they look at each other — on public transport, behind the wheel, just walking down street! Look at what a weighty mass of irritation hangs over every city: Moscow and Petersburg in this sense are no better than any impoverished provincial town. This mass of malice — which is completely gratuitous, by the way — puts pressure on everyone and demands to be let out.”

Source: Marina Varchenko, Facebook, 28 August 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader


Source: Zhenya Oliinyk (@evilpinkpics), Instagram, 15 April 2022. Thanks to Bosla Arts for the heads-up. I took the liberty of cropping the seven panels of Ms. Oliinyk’s original message (which I very much took to heart) and stacking them into a single image/text.


Diana and Lena

The group Ranetki, moving to Argentina and the birth of a child — everything about this news story is terrific.

The series Ranetki provided the soundtrack to our youth, but that is a thing of the past. The news is that From the new: Lena Tretyakova (who played the bass guitarist [in the show’s eponymous pop-rock band]) has left Russia for Argentina and become a mother.

Lena recently told her subscribers that she had legalized her relationship with her girlfriend Diana. They got married in Argentina, where their son Lionel was born.

Now Lena is joking about motherhood on her Instagram and sharing photos of her family, and this is such a sweet thing, we tell you!

Source: Side by Side LGBT Film Festival, Facebook, 24 August 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader


In the six months since Russia invaded, the state media’s emphasis in reporting the war has gradually shifted. Gone are predictions of a lightning offensive that would obliterate Ukraine. There is less talk of being embraced as liberators who must “denazify” and demilitarize Ukraine, though the “fascist” label is still flung about with abandon.

Instead, in the Kremlin version — the only one most Russians see, with all others outlawed — the battlefields of Ukraine are one facet of a wider civilizational war being waged against Russia.

The reporting is less about Ukraine than “about opposing Western plans to get control of Mother Russia,” said Stanislav Kucher, a veteran Russian television host now consulting on a project to get Russians better access to banned news outlets.

On state media, Russia is a pillar of traditional values, bound to prevail over the moral swamp that is the West. But the extent of Russia’s staggering casualties in Ukraine remains veiled; only the Ukrainian military suffers extensive losses.

State television has played down the mounting Ukrainian attacks on the strategically and symbolically important Crimean peninsula, but the images on social media of antiaircraft fire erupting over Crimea began to put domestic political pressure on the Kremlin.

The visceral reality of the war, especially the fact that Russian-claimed territory was not immune, was brought home both by the strikes on Crimea and by what investigators called a premeditated assassination in Moscow.

[…]

Glimpses of the war’s cost, however, remain the exception, as news and talk shows have branched into myriad economic and social topics to try to hammer home the idea that Russia is locked in a broad conflict with the West.

Lev Gudkov, the research director at the Levada Center, an independent polling organization, said the government explains European and American hostility by saying that “Russia is getting stronger and that is why the West is trying to get in Russia’s way,” part of a general rhetorical line he described as “blatant lies and demagogy.”

As state television stokes confrontation, the talk show warriors are getting “angrier and more aggressive,” said Ilya Shepelin, who broadcasts a Russian press review on YouTube for the opposition organization founded by the imprisoned Kremlin critic Aleksei A. Navalny.

Source: Neil McFarquhar, “Russian news media covers the war with ‘blatant lies and demagogy,'” New York Times, 26 August 2022


Rediscovering Russia
We have prepared a great guide to our country. We introduce you to amazing people who are not afraid to make discoveries, launch small-scale manufacturing companies, and fly airplanes. We tell success stories and inspire you to travel.

A female pilot of a Boeing 777 aircraft about her work
Pilot Svetlana Slegtina told us about her path to the profession and the difficulties she has had to face during her studies and work.
Read the interview

Who makes cool shoes in Russia
From leather shoes to sneakers made from eco-friendly materials.
Discover

What to show children in Moscow: rare places
We have compiled a list of interesting and free places
Show

Quilted jackets from Russian manufacturers
We selected 10 different models.
Look

Source: Excerpt from a 29 August 2022 email advertising circular from Ozon, a major Russian online retailer. Translated by the Russian Reader


Photographer Dmitry Markov’s friend Alexei, aka Lyosha, aka Lyokha

I have a friend named Lyosha. He lives an ordinary inconspicuous life, but his past terrifies not only the respectable citizens, but also the petty criminals in our glorious city. Lech has managed to gain a bad reputation even among the Narcotics Anonymous community, which preaches open-mindedness as one of its principles. I can’t remember how many times they have stopped me on the street or taken me aside at a meeting and said: “Do you even know who Lyokha is and what he’s capable of? Do you know the things he’s done?”

Yes, I knew what Lyokha had done and how he had done it — mostly from Lyokha himself. We had often sat in my kitchen (not very sober, but very cheerful), and Alexei had entertained me with yet another tall tale about how he had gone visiting and left in someone else’s expensive sneakers. I was won over by the fact that Lyosha did not allow himself to do anything like that to me, and even if I was no pushover myself, Alexei’s skill in duping those around him reached heights only the snow caps of the seven mountain peaks exceeded. Once he was taken to rehab, and the cops came after him and tried to reason with the management of the place. “Do you have any clue who you taken in?” they said. “He’s a stone-cold crook who will burgle your entire place in a single evening.”

Basically, despite his past, I have remained very close to Lyosha. Moreover, when a fucking ugly overdose happened, and an ordinary junkie would most likely have walked away from his dormant co-user, Alexei belabored himself with my body, keeping me as conscious as possible until the ambulance arrived, after which he lay down for the night in the next room and every half hour pounded on the wall shouting, “Dimarik, are you alive in there?”

So, he is my friend, and I feel a certain obligation towards him. And it has nothing to do with that fucking “a life for a life” romanticism and all that stuff… Lyokha is my friend because by his example he shows me that changes happen. That you can become a different person, even if previously your own mother said to her only son: “Lord, would that you’d make it snappy and die! You’d stop tormenting me, and you’d suffer less yourself.”

Nevertheless, years of prison and severe drug addiction take their toll even on the hardiest. Therefore, it is especially important to me that Lyokha is alive and stays close. After all, if he succeeded, maybe sooner or later, I will succeed…

P.S. I forgot to explain the context: Lyosha saved me from an overdose last week.

Source: Dmitry Markov, Facebook, 27 August 2022. Dmitry Markov is a world-renowned photographer who lives in Pskov. Translated by the Russian Reader

Calcium Carbonate

Two women are talking on a bus. One is going to Kyiv, the other to Riga.

— Why are you going back?

— Oh that. I have to bury the husband, at last. He’s been lying in the crematorium for four months. They’ve finally cleared the cemetery of mines.

— …

Source: Anastasia Magazova, Facebook, 10 August 2022. In the original, the dialogue between the two women is in Russian, while the two introductory sentences are in Ukrainian. Translated by the Russian Reader


The grille of the railing on Singers Bridge (Pevcheskii most) in central Petersburg. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

We were cruising the Moika by boat and came upon three military men standing on the hump of Singers Bridge — an infantry officer, a naval officer, and an aviator in the Syrian Army. They smiled at us and waved. At the last moment the sailor also shouted, nearly without an accent, “Glory to Russia!” FML

Source: Nikolay Konashenok, Facebook, 11 August 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader


A Russian National Guard special rapid deployment force unit in Petersburg. Photo courtesy of Militaryimages.net

while I was feeding the baby, the culture channel showed the culture news. a priest said, but our parish’s residents (we heard “rapists”) defended Russia in Chechnya and other wars. images of icons featuring saints in military uniforms flashed on the screen. such are the culture news in the russian federation.

Source: Roman Osminkin, Twitter, 11 August 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader


While waiting for a friend in Kuzminki, I overheard a conversation between two old men. (Chemists?)

— Do you mean to say, Mikhail Innokentyevich, that collective responsibility doesn’t exist?

— Why not? It does exist. But you can’t dissolve in it or engage in handwringing. You have to be firm whenever you can.

— But the proportion of such a solution is what matters to me. When should one dissolve, and when should one remain a solid substance with one’s own interests?

— Well, let’s suppose it’s CaCO3.

— And what do we use to dissolve it? Water? Or hydrochloric acid?

— Hmm, hydrochloric acid, probably. But what do we do now? Can’t we even precipitate?

Source: Zhanna Chernenko, Facebook, 12 August 2022. In Russian, the set phrase vypast’ v’ osadok, aside from its literal, “chemical,” meaning — “(to) precipitate (out of a solution)” — can also mean 1) (to) be very surprised; 2) (to) break with one’s circle; and 3) (to) get very drunk. Translated by the Russian Reader

The Hegemony of the Mop

Almost a fifth of households in Moscow and St. Petersburg, even those with average incomes, regularly resort to the services of female domestic workers. Most often they need help around the house, as well as looking after the elderly and children. In most cases, Russians from the region where the employers reside are hired to do this work. A study by researchers at HSE and RANEPA shows that hired female household labor, which is considered a non-essential form of employment, is a vital part of urban economies.

Photo: Yevgeny Pavlenko/Kommersant

Almost one fifth of households in Moscow and St. Petersburg, having mainly an average income, employ female labor. This is the conclusion reached by Yulia Florinskaya, Nikita Mkrtchyan and Marina Kartseva (researchers at the Higher School of Economics and RANEPA) in the article “Women as hired workers in the households of Moscow and St. Petersburg,” published in the scholarly journal Woman in Russian Society (No. 2, 2022).

The first attempt in Russia to define the scale of wage labor in households in Russia’s megalopolises, the research study was based on a survey of residents of those cities who over the past three years have employed other people to do work usually performed by family members. Three thousand eight hundred people took part in the survey; their phone numbers were selected using systematic stratified random sampling. The results of the survey are unusual: although Russians generally believe that housekeepers, domestic help, and hired staff in a household involves a high family income and migrant labor and is a rare thing, it is, in reality, a fairly common practice among middle-income households in Moscow and St. Petersburg, and it is residents of the two capitals who are mainly hired to do such work.

First of all, hiring third parties to perform work in the household is a widespread practice in Russia’s two largest cities.

According to the survey results, female workers were employed by seventeen percent of households. Formally, men are employed by households much more. In fact, respondents were asking about paid employment in the household, including for such types of work as renovations and repairs, where men predominated. (Twenty-eight percent of the households surveyed had hired male hands.) Among “household chores,” “female” specializations were also discovered that would ordinarily not be thought of as “domestic help” — tutoring, primarily. In any case, seventeen percent of Moscow and Petersburg families employed female labor in households, a figure that dropped to around seven to eight percent when tutoring and repairs were factored out. Even with this proviso, however, the phenomenon goes beyond “elite consumption for the wealthy few.”

This also shows that, according to the survey data, most of the households (61%) who employed female workers estimated their incomes as average. When answering the standard question about their income (used, among others, by Rosstat in its questionnaires), they indicated that they had enough money for food, clothing, and household appliances. Twenty-three percent of respondents rated their incomes as high (in particular, as sufficient to buy a car or more) while sixteen percent rated them as low, since they were only enough to buy food. Thus, hired domestic workers are the preserve of the middle class rather than the income elite.

The prevalence of foreign nationals or, at least, migrant workers from other regions of Russia, among domestic workers has also been greatly exaggerated. According to the survey, almost two thirds (64%) of households that purchase women’s services [sic] in the household give jobs to women permanently residing in Moscow or St. Petersburg, where they themselves live.

Only in fourteen percent of households in the two cities was the employed woman a Russian national from another region, and in sixteen percent, a foreign national. (No breakdown by nationality is given.)

However, this fact is well known within the households and is clearly discussed by them. Only six percent of respondents who had dealings with female domestic workers were not aware whether she was a Muscovite [sic], a nonresident, or a foreign national.

Of course, households most often hired residents of their own region as tutors. Among domestic migrants this type of employment was two and a half times less common, while it was practically nonexistent among foreign women. At the same time, foreign women were twice as likely to be hired to do housework as Russian women, both local and migrant. However, domestic workers in the strict sense of the term — that is, those doing “housework” (cleaning, laundry, cooking, caring, and looking after children)— are still Muscovites and Petersburgers in most cases; residents of Krasnoyarsk and Samarkand [that is, domestic and foreign migrant workers, respectively] are in the minority. The authors of the study suggest that children are a “sensitive” area for households, and local women have in this instance an advantage over migrants: households are less likely to “trust” the latter. (The authors of the study avoid reaching an alternative conclusion: that this choice is a consequence of the phobias experienced by a significant part of the middle class towards migrants — phobias that are commonly denied in the middle-class milieu, as least in Moscow.)

Residents of other regions and countries are preferred only as caregivers, and the share of this type of employment among foreign women is three times higher than among women from the same region as their employers.

Florinskaya, Mkrtchyan and Kartseva describe a rather vital social phenomenon: migrant caregivers ask for their work, which is in demand among all strata of society, significantly less pay than do Russian nationals, and for most relatively poor households there is no alternative to hiring them, as they simply cannot afford a nurse from Moscow. But to carry out repair work, local women and migrants were hired with approximately the same frequency: the wallpaper pasted by a Ukrainian woman cannot be distinguished from the wallpaper pasted by a Petersburg woman, even by a specialist.

Finally, wage labor in households is extremely informal. Most often households hired female employees using recommendations from their acquaintances or relatives (63%), and more than two thirds of the households draw up written contracts when hiring female employees. The xenophobia of Muscovites has been exaggerated: female foreign workers lived in the household in a third of cases. (By contrast, 2.4% of households provided housing to residents of their own region, and 18.8% to migrants from within Russian Federation.)

The cautious attitude of Russians to hiring female employees to work in their households is, rather, a late Soviet legacy. After the tradition of employing “servants,” which was relatively common in large Soviet cities among the middle class, disappeared in the late 1940s and early 1950s, the term sounded somewhat insulting from the 1960s until today, and was replaced by euphemisms like “a woman who comes over.” The restoration of the practice is expected, and yet, as the study shows, this phenomenon (if only by virtue of its magnitude) is a vital albeit understated part of the modern urban economy of Russia’s megalopolises.

Source: Anastasia Manuilova and Dmitry Butrin, “Hegemony of the mop: domestic workers discovered in every fifth Moscow household,” Kommersant, 15 August 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader


Up to two-thirds of Russians do not have any savings. Two-thirds of Russians can only afford food and clothes while buying durable consumer goods for them is extremely difficult. Russia is a very poor country, and now, on top of that, we have sanctions that will destroy the lives of ordinary people even further.

Source: “Russian socialist Ilya Matveev: ‘Putin’s war on Ukraine is not about security, it is about imperialist interests,'” Links: International Journal of Socialist Renewal, 17 July 2022

Hellbent

Hellbent on having fun in the midst of a terrible war — a frightening panorama of Petersburg by virtuoso photographer Alexander Petrosyan. Source: Alexander Petrosyan, Facebook, 7 August 2022


As Russia’s war in Ukraine grinds into its fifth month, Moscow is a city doing everything it can to turn a blind eye to the conflict. It is a champagne-soaked summer like any other in the Russian capital, despite the thousands of dead and many more wounded in a war increasingly marked by acts of savage brutality.

In Gorky Park, outdoor festivals, cinemas and bars were all jammed on a recent evening, with young couples twirling to ballroom dance music as others stopped for selfies along the Moscow river nearby.

“Yes, we are having a party,” said Anna Mitrokhina, one of the dancers at an outdoor dance platform on the Moscow river, wearing a blue-sequin dress and heavy eye-makeup. “We are outside of politics, we want to dance, to feel and have fun. I can’t worry any more and this helps me forget.”

Walk through the city or switch on a VPN to scroll through Instagram or Facebook and you might not even know the country’s at war, a word that the Russian censors have banned from local media and that, even among many friends, has become taboo.

A lifestyle Instagram blogger with more than 100,000 followers who was opposed to the war said that she had consciously decided to stop speaking about the topic — because of the official restrictions but also the backlash she received from subscribers.

“Nobody wants to hear about the war, the special military operation, any more, they tell me to stop talking about this and get back to normal topics like beauty and fitness,” she said, asking that her name not be used. “Every time I mentioned it I would get so much hate in my messages. It hurts me, it hurts my business. I stopped mentioning it. It just doesn’t exist for many people.”

“What hurts the most is it is not really [because of the law], there is just no desire to talk about this,” she said. “People are turning off.”

[…]

Source: Andrew Roth, “‘People are turning off’: Muscovites put the war aside and enjoy summer,” The Guardian, 30 July 2022