Exclusive: Top Russian YouTuber Speaks Out Against Ukraine War

One of Russia's most popular YouTubers, Ruslan Usachev, has spoken out against Vladimir Putin and his decision to invade Ukraine.

Usachev is one of many Russian social media stars whose livelihoods have been affected by Google's decision to demonetize YouTube videos in Russia, but he believes even heavier sanctions may come from the Russian authorities themselves.

The 32-year-old Usachev has over 4 million followers across YouTube, Twitter and Instagram. Born and raised in Russia, he strongly opposes his home country's recent actions in Ukraine. Speaking exclusively to Newsweek, he called for countries and governments to settle their differences through "diplomacy, trade and the power of their culture — not with rockets and hate."

While Usachev broadcasts in the Russian language, the nature of his travel videos posted online means he hasn't been based in Russia since June 2021. Speaking to Newsweek from Dubai, he expressed his feelings on the Russia-Ukraine war, Google's suspension of ads on Russian YouTube, and how it affects influencers like him.

Usachev's Stance on the War

When Russia invaded Ukraine in late February, Usachev was in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, filming a blog. While he is aware of how attitudes toward Russian people may have "soured" as a result of the invasion, he says he personally hasn't encountered that.

"When this all kicked off I was in Rio and people there were quite sympathetic towards Russians who were hit hard by the U.S. sanctions for what our government did. So much depends on what part of the world you're in," Usachev said.

Russian YouTuber Ruslan Usachev
Russian YouTuber Ruslan Usachev shared an image on Instagram of himself at an airport recently (left) alongside his online persona's logo (top right) and a recent thumbnail posted on his YouTube channel (bottom right). Instagram @usachevruslan / YouTube

Confirming his stance against violence and Russia's actions in Ukraine, Usachev told Newsweek: "I am against any military action that leads to deaths of innocent people. If countries or governments have some geopolitical ambitions, they need to realize them through diplomacy, trade and the power of their culture. Not with rockets and hate."

"It is a naive attitude, I know, but they cannot ban me from dreaming."

Putin calls the invasion a "special military operation" to "demilitarize" and "de-nazify" Ukraine, a justification rejected by Ukraine and Western countries. Recent opinion polls have shown Putin's popularity has increased among Russians since the invasion.

Based on recent events, Usachev says he's unlikely to return to Russia any time soon. He was previously traveling around the world for his YouTube channel.

"I made videos and tried to figure out if that's the place I want to stay permanently. It seems that Vladimir Putin decided to speed up that decision for me," he said.

Usachev hopes the current conflict between Russia and Ukraine will come to an end soon, but he predicts the end result will remain unclear. "Now I suspect that everything will end in a week or two with some kind of peace deal or a freezing of the conflict.

"Each side will declare themselves a winner, but in reality both will have suffered huge casualties from these horrific events," he said.

Becoming a Russian YouTuber

Ruslan Usachev, or as he's known to his native followers, Руслан Усачев, joined YouTube in 2010 and has amassed 2.66 million subscribers and 444 million views in that time. His ambitious travel blogs and comedy videos have remained popular, and he regularly collaborates with the community of Russian bloggers ClickKlak.

He admits he originally joined YouTube because it proved to be a great "free platform where everyone can find their voice," despite the fact that it wasn't monetized in Russia at the time. He calls his own success on YouTube "a miracle."

His most popular video (seen below) is a 47-minute long adventure featuring him and his friends going on a $40,000 cruise to the North Pole. It's been viewed more than 8.5 million times online.

All of that success is under threat now though, according to Usachev. He thinks Russian authorities are likely to impose a full ban on YouTube because it can be deemed as a "tool of information warfare."

"It won't just hurt the bloggers, who many Russians see as parasites without real jobs," Usachev told Newsweek. "YouTube is the biggest online video platform in the country and such a move would mean that businesses cannot promote their services, people lose access to alternative information and opinions, and things will simply become boring."

Google's decision to suspend the monetization of ads in Russia isn't proving disastrous for business so far. Usachev says he and many other prominent bloggers rely more on brand partnerships for their main source of income.

"Perhaps canceling ads and monetization of YouTube in Russia is Google's way of distancing itself from the conflict [in Ukraine]," Usachev said.

"Now YouTube has blocked all the Russian government-linked channels, which previously successfully navigated the Western sanctions. It looks like any agreements between the Russian government and the [Alphabet] corporation have become nullified. So YouTube may well get blocked in the near future," predicted Usachev.

More recently Usachev's videos have seen him comment on global news stories, including Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

YouTube bloggers, social media influencers and internet celebrities have become such a mainstay in global culture that their actions and words now often have major political repercussions.

When Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine, Usachev made a joke on Twitter about the negative economic impact the move had on Russia. As a result, he was banned from entering Ukraine and included on a list of people who pose a threat to the national security of Ukraine. He said: "I think that this ban expired last summer, but I didn't get the opportunity to check. And now I've no desire to find out."

Ruslan Usachev was speaking in Russian and Newsweek translated his comments.

Russian YouTuber Ruslan Usachev screenshots
Russian internet celebrity Ruslan Usachev out to dinner in 2021 (left) and a screenshot from one of his recent videos posted on his YouTube channel. Twitter @RuslanUsachev / YouTube