Russian student in Prague on the anguish of witnessing his country’s aggression in Ukraine

Ukrainian servicemen walk at fragments of a downed aircraft seen in Kyiv, Ukraine, Feb. 25, 2022

Martina Kroa talks to Georgij, a Russian student at the Prague University of Economics, about how the invasion of Ukraine impacted his life, his relationship with family members back home – and even the likelihood of him returning to Russia one day.   

Emotions are running high in the Czech Republic in connection with the Ukrainian crisis. For many people the invasion of Ukraine is reminiscent of the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia and many feel the need to take an active stand to it, be it by taking to the streets to demonstrate their solidarity with the people of Ukraine or offering to accommodate Ukrainian war refugees.

There are also impulsive reactions such as that of a professor at the Prague University of Economics who responded to news of the Russian invasion by posting a statement on his social account to say he was no longer willing to teach, test or in any way cooperate with Russian students and called on others to follow his example. Following criticism that he was applying the principle of collective guilt he deleted the post.

Illustrative photo: René Volfík,  Czech Radio

However, the mood is tense among Russian students in the country many of whom fear that the actions of the Putin regime will inevitably worsen the already poor image of Russians in this country even though they may be highly critical of Putin’s policy.

Martina Kroa spoke with Georgij, a Russian student at the Prague University of Economics about how the invasion of Ukraine impacted his life, his relationship with family members back home – and even the likelihood of him returning to Russia one day.

Russia invaded Ukraine in the early hours of today, Thursday the 24th of February.

What are your feelings and thoughts regarding the invasion of Ukraine? How are you feeling about all this?

“Frankly speaking, I don’t have too much to say right now. I just feel very anxious, stressed, and exhausted. This must be one of the worst days in my entire life.”

Could you also tell us how the people around you (on your dorm etc.) are coping with the situation?

“Honestly, I can’t remember crying that much ever before. As well as seeing that many people crying around me, on the streets and in my own dormitory. So, I just tried my best to support my Ukrainian friends, but at the end of the day, we were crying all together. Actually, most of my Russian friends back in Moscow have already left Russia, and they will soon have to seek asylum.”

How do you and people around you perceive the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, and his actions?

“For me the invasion of Ukraine made by this person makes it very clear that this person is completely out of control, who completely lost his sense of reality. So, I cannot understand any of them: the president as well as all the government members playing by the rules that are actually more than sixty years old already. Let’s just admit that the world has completely changed since then. That’s why I can’t relate to any of them.”

And how do you as an individual feel in this situation?

“In my opinion, the invasion of Ukraine was one of the things I was sure would never happen to any of us. In the last years I didn’t ever support any of the steps made by the government of my home country, by the government made of people I did not choose at all. As well as I did not choose or have any opportunity to change these things. So, now it’s more about me and other Russians being totally powerless. Nonetheless, if there are any demonstrations or protests taking place in Prague today or tonight, I will definitely join them.”

And what about your family back in Moscow?

Mariupol,  Ukraine | Photo: Evgeniy Maloletka,  ČTK/AP

“We have kind of a different perception of what is happening between Russia and Ukraine in the last years. For example, my grandmother is Ukrainian and has been living in Moscow for almost her entire life. But still, she believes each and every word Russian propaganda says. That’s why we do not get along that well.”

Your grandmother lived in Ukraine, and you have relatives there. Do you have any information about the situation in Ukraine?

“Unfortunately, we lost contact with all of our relatives a few years ago and now all I know is information from the families of my Ukrainian friends that are now trying to escape somewhere to the west.”

And how does this all affect you personally?

“Actually, it’s been affecting me for the last few years. Russia had tense relations with the European Union, the United States, Canada and basically the whole world. First of all, it affects the exchange rates that determine the final cost of living for me while living in Europe. Of course, it’s also about the SWIFT payment system and my ability to pay here by card at all. And finally, the whole economic situation is harshly affecting my family and all the other Russian families that just try to afford something to eat.”

So how do you see your future? Can you see yourself coming back to Russia anytime soon?

“If you had asked me a few days before today, I would have answered clearly, but from now on, I am not sure about anything. And I am afraid that the perception of Russians here in Czech Republic will get even worse. So, at the moment, I just try to believe that everything will just go back to normal one day.”

As a young male, are you afraid of being recruited into the Russian army?

“As long as I live here in Europe, I wouldn’t be afraid of being recruited, but more of not being able to travel back home to see my family. Because of the invasion and all the possible bans on the citizens to leave Russia.”