Liza Shulyayeva

Sympathy is difficult

When Putin announced a “partial” (right…) mobilization and news of protests in Russia spread, I tried really hard to sympathize with Russian people and not to be cynical.

I failed. Chants of “Putin to the trenches” made very clear what it is that the Russian people were really “protesting” against: not their genocide, their war, but who has to get their hands dirty.

A crowd gathered this evening on Arbat, Moscow's main pedestrian street, shouts "Send Putin to the trenches!"

— Francis Scarr (@francis_scarr) September 21, 2022

As soon as the mobilization was announced, Russian men rushed to the airports to get out of Dodge. They also flocked to bordering countries like Georgia by car. Some, having forgotten to remove the “Z"s from their vehicles and been turned away, showed their true colors by threatening Georgia with yet another invasion:

"Hi all. We were deployed at the border because of the letter Z on the car. Georgians need to remember how on August 8, 2008 we drove to them in tanks".

— Adam Gazdiev (@Gazdiev) September 23, 2022

The position of countries like Lithuania is understandable.

Lithuania will not be granting asylum to those who are simply running from responsibility. Russians should stay and fight. Against Putin.

— Gabrielius Landsbergis🇱🇹 (@GLandsbergis) September 23, 2022

Who would want Russians running to their country en-masse when Russia could very well be using Russian presence as pretext for invading them next, just like it did Ukraine? How do countries tell which Russians coming now are guilty of support for or complacency in their nation’s genocide, and which ones are outliers?

Yesterday I saw a post about a 63 year old man with chronic illnesses being conscripted. I felt a pang of sympathy for him: an old man being sent to go die in a foreign country.

Then I thought about my own elderly grandfather, who right now is living through yet another war, having experienced constant shelling in his home of Mykolaiv.

I wish the men of Russia were a fraction as courageous as the women of Iran. Their choices right now are to stand up against their government’s actions, or go die in Ukraine, committing a genocide. Some of the ones who are going are gleeful about the atrocities they’re about to take part in:

I have tried to keep in perspective that this is not all Russians. That there are Russians who speak and act out against their country’s invasion. But all of the decent Russians I know spoke out long ago. I have Russian friends who have been vocal, have volunteered, have attended rallies, since the beginning.

Russian soldiers have raped and tortured children as young as 4 years old in Ukraine, a UN-appointed panel of independent legal experts said in a damning statement on Friday that concluded war crimes had been committed in the conflict.

— The New York Times (@nytimes) September 23, 2022

It is too late now. I find it impossible to have any faith or trust in those who have waited so long, claimed to be “apolitical” as their country commits atrocities, and did nothing until they became directly affected as part of this mobilization.

I wish I was a bigger person, but right now sympathy for the plight of conscripted Russians trying to escape is out of reach for me.

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