On Moscow’s Ukrainsky or Ukrainian Boulevard, the statue of one of Ukraine’s most famous 19th century poets, Lesya Ukrainka, looks down benevolently across the open space towards the towering Hotel Ukraine.
This little piece of Moscow geography speaks to the integral way so many people in Russia view Ukraine – almost as a part of their identity. Certainly that appears to be the way Russia’s president sees it.
The nearby rail station, Kievskaya, was the direct rail route to Kyiv.
On the side of a bench, in white paint, there are the words ‘No to war’. That’s about all the visible opposition you’ll see on the street these days, the odd piece of graffiti.
Masha, walking her dog by the statue, wells up when I ask her about Ukraine. “I’m really, really sad.
“We’ve already cried about it so many times with our friends.
“I have friends living in Kyiv and I’m always checking in on them.”
She’s part way through explaining how brainwashed many Russians are when a fellow dog-walker Olga interrupts.
“Don’t ask us what we think,” Olga tells me.
“Ukraine has been blown up, Russia has been blown up.”
It’s a confused jumble of complaints and accusations, where the US, EU and, surprisingly Austria, are the main culprits. “We only feel that we are all being killed because in the main we are one people.”
Olga won’t believe that it was Russia who had just bombed cities across Ukraine until I assure her that President Putin had just declared as much, in response to the Kerch Bridge attack.
“This was his response to the bridge attack?” she asks, taking it in. “Okay. This is the right response.”
The tone on state TV and the main talkshows today was newsy, not celebratory. As though Russia was taking these strikes in their stride, the civilian casualties barely mentioned.
The focus here was that these were attacks on energy infrastructure and military objects; that for Russia, this was mission accomplished.
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“What’s being shown on state TV… it’s just insanity. Pure fanaticism,” says Dmitry, who we meet walking the boulevard with his brother who is about to leave for Kazakhstan.
“The Russian population is cut off from any alternative means of information and people like myself who use VPNs and browse outside of Russian media, we see absolutely different pictures, horrific pictures.”
I ask him why he thinks so many are prepared to follow everything their president says so blindly.
“Unfortunately I don’t think I know my countrymen as well as I thought I did,” he replies.