One Question Quiz
A relative of the author is arrested  in Russia protesting against the war (Image: Supplied/Tina Tiller)
A relative of the author is arrested in Russia protesting against the war (Image: Supplied/Tina Tiller)

SocietyMarch 11, 2022

I am Russian. I am Ukrainian. This war has broken my heart

A relative of the author is arrested  in Russia protesting against the war (Image: Supplied/Tina Tiller)
A relative of the author is arrested in Russia protesting against the war (Image: Supplied/Tina Tiller)

Living in New Zealand, with family in both nations, Igor knows how Russia’s invasion is brutalising Ukraine – and how president Putin is ruining the lives of his own people.

I was born in 1985 in the USSR, or Soviet Union. At that time, Russia and Ukraine were a part of the USSR, and everyone could easily live and travel between all republics of the USSR. Ukraine was one of 15 republics. This is how my parents met. My mum is Ukrainian, and my dad is Russian. Russians and Ukrainians were always brothers and sisters, and we all felt like we were one people, because we were from the same country.

Then, when the USSR broke apart, Russia and Ukraine became two different countries, but the warmth and unity between people was still a thing. Ukraine got its independence by signing the Budapest memorandum where all parties agreed that Ukraine would drop nuclear research and Russia would protect the integrity of Ukraine.

Anyway, being a kid and having two significant parts of my family in both countries, I spent a lot of time in Moscow, the Russian capital, and Zaporizhzhia, a city in southeastern Ukraine. I had more friends in Ukraine than in Russia, and I liked spending my time in Zaporizhzhia. My background was far from unusual – having families in both Russia and Ukraine is very common.

Russian president Vladimir Putin posing with athletes from the 2018 Winter Olympics (Getty Images)

When Putin became the president of Russia in 2000 the relationship between Russia and Ukraine started to get worse. I was still spending a lot of time in Ukraine, and it seemed to me that Russian people were distinguishing themselves more and more from Ukrainian people and vice versa.

Every year the gap between the two nations grew bigger and bigger.

I was not too fond of the political situation in Russia. I didn’t like Putin and I hated the corruption that permeated everything in Russia. Leaving Russia was a matter of time for me, and I made my way to New Zealand in 2012. In 2018 I got my New Zealand citizenship, and I am very proud of it.

I was already in New Zealand when Russia annexed Crimea, a region of Ukraine, in 2014. I was shocked. After that, the Russian and Ukrainian people stopped being brothers and sisters, and the tension between our nations grew significantly. People of Russia were brainwashed by Russian propaganda, and most people thought that Putin did the right thing. The lives of Russian people have gotten much worse since then. Russia’s military actions in the eastern Ukraine regions of Donetsk and Luhansk only aggravated the situation.

Then, early this year, I heard on the news that Russia could set to invade Ukraine. Until the very last moment, I was 100% sure that this was not going to happen. I would never have believed that Putin would start a war with Ukraine. But he did. The situation went downhill for both countries very fast. Ukrainian and Russian people have been dying every day because of this.

Having families and friends in Russia and Ukraine and living in New Zealand, I get news from Russia, Ukraine and the world. Unfortunately, Russian propaganda works very well in Russia. According to independent surveys, many people (65%) genuinely believe that Putin is helping the Ukrainian people stand against neo Nazis who’ve taken control over the country. At the same time, the Ukrainian people have united like never before to protect their country from Russian invaders.

People look at the exterior of a damaged residential block hit by an early morning missile strike on February 25, 2022 in Kyiv, Ukraine (Photo: Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

Many people in Russia are still against the war, but they cannot even protest against it. All the protests are violently dispersed before they begin. More than 8,000 people have been arrested for demonstrating, and the number gets higher every day. People are still going out to protest, but with the help of Russian propaganda, as well as the fact that a vast number of intelligent people are leaving the country now, the majority of people in Russia continue to support this war.

There is no independent media in Russia any more. A new law makes it illegal to distribute “fake news” – actually the truth – about the war and you could go to prison for 15 years if you break that law. All independent media outlets closed at the same time when this law was enforced. They even introduced a new school lesson about the official Russian position on the war, to make sure kids don’t have a chance to think for themselves.

It is shocking and very, very sad.

My Ukrainian family moved from Zaporizhzhia to Kyiv a couple of years ago. One of my cousins bought a big house there where he was living with his wife, two kids and parents. My other cousin was also in Kyiv, residing with his wife.

When the war started, and the first Russian missile exploded next to my cousin’s house, they packed their stuff and, the same night, left Kyiv for the western part of Ukraine. Both cousins agreed to meet in Chernivtsi, where they had friends. On the way there, one of them had to go to Zhytomyr to pick up his wife’s mother and got stuck there as all roads were destroyed. Another one has made his path to Chernivtsi. They couldn’t meet till now.

Now they cannot leave Ukraine because men aged 18-60 are not allowed to leave the country. Many men do not want to leave: they want to protect their homeland. They want to protect their family and their people.

A woman with two children leaves Ukraine at the Slovak-Ukrainian border near Ubla, eastern Slovakia, on February 25, 2022 (Photo: PETER LAZAR/AFP via Getty Images)

One of my cousins and his family (five adults and two kids) now live in one tiny room provided by their friends in Chernivtsi, and their life is full of struggles. They live in fear. Many cities are devastated – not only military facilities but also residential complexes, hospitals and schools. Civilians are dying under destroyed buildings without water, electricity, internet connectivity or food.

I am still waiting to hear from a good friend who hasn’t been in touch in eight days.

At the same time, the life of Russian people has also gotten so much worse since the war started. The sanctions against Russia are brutal. What’s worse, the sanctions mostly hit people who are against the war: people who travel, who own businesses, people who could stand against Russian propaganda. More and more such people are leaving the country now. Russia is getting further away from the world, getting more and more closed, and I think soon it will be closed off completely.

Those of us who left Russia years ago are feeling ashamed now. I have been away from Russia for more than a decade, and I am ashamed to say that I am Russian now.

There have been so many good things in Russia that Russian people are proud of, but just one man crossed everything and brought so much pain and suffering to the world.

I hope nuclear war won’t start, but I am unsure now. Putin is unpredictable, and it looks like he doesn’t care about people’s lives. But all I can do here is hope and pray.

I want the Russian army to leave Ukraine. I want Ukraine to be a sovereign country. I want peace and happiness for the people of Ukraine. I want strength and honour for those who are staying in Russia now. I want this war to stop.

Keep going!