'I'm in Russia Fighting Putin's Corruption—I Want Ukraine to Win'

The fact that Russia was preparing for war was evident even in late 2021. Troop movements towards the border with Ukraine were reported on Telegram channels by both journalists and local citizens near the border. Despite those fears, there was hope that the people running the country, evil and covetous as I believe them to be, were not stupid enough to make a political decision that would bring so much tragedy to Ukraine, and to Russia.

I have always opposed Vladimir Putin's policies by virtue of my profession. I worked as a journalism professor at a university in Russia 2001, and always told my students that no government or politician is a friend to them; they must be skeptical of all officials. I believe that is especially true of people from the Federal Security Service (FSB), formerly the KGB, an agency whose purpose is to stifle dissent and freedoms.

Later, I saw how Russia was reinforcing the "vertical of power"—how universities were being subdued one by one by representatives of the ruling United Russia party, and how students were forced to vote "in the correct way" and sent to pro-Putin demonstrations. I saw how college professors were silenced if their views didn't toe the party line or were critical of the government.

For three years, I was a local official in a government body of one of Russia's regions. While I supported neither Putin, nor any other party, that experience made me comprehend just how sturdy the government apparatus servicing this regime is.

I subsequently worked at a media outlet that dealt with corruption issues in lower-ranking government authorities, for example, in customs, where there is a lot of Putin's corruption. Later I moved to another media project, which focused on covering citizen activism in Russia.

Five years ago I joined a certain project that I cannot name as it is now being targeted by Russian authorities, but it was founded by Russians who left the country before the Russia-Ukraine War began. As the project's editor, I assign our reporters with stories, run the day-to-day operations, proofread and publish articles. We mostly write about grassroots activism. That includes ecological or political initiatives. Our media also covers anti-war actions, and in general we have slightly changed the format to talk about what is happening in Ukraine. We interview Ukrainian citizens who managed to escape from the war zone and get through Russia to European countries.

Our outlet has been blocked because we called this war a war, but it can still be accessed using a VPN. We get our information on what is happening on the ground in Ukraine from reporters on the ground, from the many Telegram channels covering the conflict and from Russian and Western independent media. They still exist here, but there is a smaller audience. In doing this work, we risk jail time and the possibility of physical and psychological repression from law enforcement officers.

One way or another, I have been firmly in the anti-Putin camp for the past 20 years.

On the morning of February 24 I felt pain, helplessness and hatred. That day, my wife, my partner's mother and I went out to protest the war. We were immediately detained and taken to a police station where we were held for several days. Then we were fined: 10,000 rubles for my mother and I, and 20,000 rubles for my wife. We can only speculate as to why the fines were distributed that way.

Gay marriages are not registered or accepted in Russia. I call my regular partner "wife." We have a family together, we own an apartment and a mortgage loan was given to us as civil partners. We are both bisexual and we live openly together. Officially, we do not have a registered marriage. But this does not negate the fact that we are each other's wives. We just lack certain privileges. For example, I may not be allowed into the hospital or jail to see my partner. But at the same time, we can manage a household together.

In the organizations where we work, everyone knows that we are a family. Our parents, my son and his girlfriend accept us as a couple. In general, society is ready for the legalization of marriages of people of the same sex. It is the state that is not ready for this. But it is ready for war.

I live in a metropolis, which from its foundation was a part of the Western European culture. So the only support for the "special operation" I see here is either from employees of the government sector, who are very dependent on the state, fear for their job and not finding a new one, or those who have very little education, or outright lunatics. I can't really estimate their numbers. But I feel that they are not a big proportion of the population. Perhaps in the south, in more remote regions, some romanticize the war. The more patriarchal the society, the less shame there is about talking about "greatness" or Russia's weaponry.

Among my acquaintances, only one friend openly supported the military invasion of Ukraine. Now she is a former friend. Only one other person among my fairly broad network of social acquaintances dared to even say that "things aren't so simple," let alone actively support this war. Others are simply staying silent. People who support or make excuses for this war make me angry. But the vast majority of my good, close friends are opposed to it.

Of course I see the "patriotic" rhetoric in social media comments. They usually materialize in a relatively basic viewpoint: "I support [it]. Because if we didn't attack, they would have attacked us first."

Those claims are not accompanied by any logical arguments, they just repeat what they hear from the media that they trust. Often, it's not even state media, but simply their acquaintances, sometimes from eastern Ukraine. It's important to understand that people in that region have been under heavy bombardment from Russian state propaganda since 2014.

I was always opposed to war. I am not a pacifist, but I am an antimilitarist. I believe that states should demilitarize and to learn to resolve conflicts through diplomatic means. I suffer when I see images and videos from Ukraine. They terrify me, but I need to persevere in order to know the truth and keep working.

Everyone is dispirited, both the liberal activists on the left, and folks on the streets and in shops. Everyone is down and dejected; some are also showing signs of aggression. Personally, I am working more now, going out less and there aren't really any happy occasions. My circle of friends has shrunk; many have left the country.

In cases when a state or corner of the world is experiencing such rot—which is how I see the Putin regime—it has to be opposed somehow. I was against war on February 24, 2022. But now, I am not just opposed to war, I am for Ukraine's victory. War brings out the worst in people. In my case, it has brought out a thirst for retribution against the aggressor: I want all involved in these atrocities to be brought to justice.

I want this—the invasion of Ukraine, the destruction of towns and cities and murder of civilians—to be felt on the deepest level as pain, shame and remorse by every Russian citizen.

'Anna' is a Russian writer, editor and activist living in Russia. Her identity, location and the editorial organization she works for are known to Newsweek.

All views expressed in this article are the author's own.

Translation from Russian provided by Yevgeny Kuklychev. Edited by Jenny Haward.