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Spiegeloog 419: HarmonyThe Corridor

The Corridor: (Im)possible harmony?

By June 10, 2022No Comments

The Corridor is a column that usually introduces two students including their name and picture. However, the current column will be different as we will keep the identity of both students anonymous by not displaying their photos or their real names. You might ask why, and the reason is that they are Russian students discussing their experience of the last three months and their take on harmony between Ukrainians and Russians. While the current column focuses on two Russian students, we would like to ask Ukrainian students to share their experience or their response to the current column. Therefore, if you are a Ukrainian student interested in contributing to the next column, please contact us on spiegeloog-fmg@uva.nl

The Corridor is a column that usually introduces two students including their name and picture. However, the current column will be different as we will keep the identity of both students anonymous by not displaying their photos or their real names. You might ask why, and the reason is that they are Russian students discussing their experience of the last three months and their take on harmony between Ukrainians and Russians. While the current column focuses on two Russian students, we would like to ask Ukrainian students to share their experience or their response to the current column. Therefore, if you are a Ukrainian student interested in contributing to the next column, please contact us on spiegeloog-fmg@uva.nl. 

Sam (Russian student)

Could you briefly explain what is happening between Ukraine and Russia?

‘I know that according to Russian media and propaganda, a special operation is taking place. And I completely disagree with this term. It is a full-scale war.’

Do you think the war is taking place between Russians and Ukrainians or Putin and the rest?

‘I think it depends on the people we talk about. There are Russians who are unjustifiably patriotic and do not want to understand the reasons and goals of the war. But there are also Ukrainians that do not differentiate between Russians that support the ‘special operation’ and those that are against the war and protesting. So, in that sense, you can say that the war can be between Russians and Ukrainians but it’s mostly between Putin and everybody else.’

How has the war affected your relationship to Ukrainians?

‘For simplicity, I can divide Ukrainians I know into three groups. One group is made up of my Ukrainian friend who attended the same international high school as me. When she fled from Kiev to Dublin in February, she stayed at my place in Amsterdam for two nights. Of course, we discussed the current situation but also had fun together. So, her attitude towards me has not changed.

Another group is made up of my Ukrainian-Russian friend group that meets up almost every week. In this group, I had a disagreement with one of my Russian friends. He wrote a post about Russian protesters and insulted their inadequate actions. While our friend group normally makes the distinction between reasonable and unreasonable Russians, that was lacking in his post. He insulted all Russians, those in favour of the war and Putin, and ordinary civilians. I told him that this was not an effective way to motivate his Russian followers. We are friendly but there is some tension between us. Interestingly, my Ukrainian friend told me to not take his words to heart and that his post is an expression of his emotions which cannot be incorrect or correct.

And the last group is my Ukrainian boyfriend. In the beginning, we talked about the misinformation my family in Russia got exposed to and he was on the phone with them, trying to explain the situation properly. But after three months, he stopped and is focusing his efforts on those who are willing to listen. One major change is his attitude towards my mother. She claims that we all receive limited information and can only pass judgement after the war. She believes more in Russian than non-Russian media, so my boyfriend is not on good terms with her anymore. Regarding the relationship between my boyfriend and I, I would say I am more supportive of his actions now. And we interestingly make more jokes based on our nationality. The war has made us more aware of our nationalities which was not the case before.’

How has the war affected you personally?

‘I know there was some news on Russian students being treated badly in the first months or being unable to pay tuition fees. However, I luckily never experienced any kind of hate and my parents were always able to support me financially. I am aware that this is not the norm since I have an acquaintance whose mother needed to open a bank account in Kazakhstan to transfer money to her.

However, the war did negatively affect my mental health and grades. I joined the first protests on Dam Square which took place before our exam week. Since I got little sleep and was worried and anxious about the war, I could not focus on the exam at all. I even experienced my first panic attack which I did not expect. I knew the war affected my mental health but I thought I was dealing better with the situation than I actually was.’

How is your mental health doing now?

‘I think we are slowly returning to our usual mode of living; I can see that in myself and even my boyfriend. Initially, he could not focus on his studies as he was monitoring the news all the time. But he can now finally focus on this thesis again. Sometimes, I am shocked and surprised about us going back to normal, but I feel like that is only natural, right? No matter how bad something is, you get used to it and go back to your baseline.’

Do you think harmony can still exist between Russians and Ukrainians?

‘Yes, I think so, but it depends on the pre-existing relationship. As I said, my Ukrainian-Russian friend group continues to gather weekly and the relationship with my Ukrainian boyfriend is still going strong. However, speaking of harmony between Russian and Ukrainian in general, I suppose it will be undermined for the next 10 to 20 years. Similarly to the relationship between German and Jewish, there will be long-lasting hatred towards aggressors which is going to be part of their burden.’

How do you think harmony between Russians and Ukrainians can be improved? 

‘Russians and Ukrainians that have the same attitude towards the war could exchange views and be in contact. That should make it clear that not all Russians are horrible and in favour of the war. And this could help to improve relationships between neighbours once the war is over. Also, it would be ideal if there would be a type of revolution in Russia, a change of Putin’s regime. Getting rid of Putin is not enough, an entire change in power is necessary. However, people nowadays are obviously more concerned about their personal well-being than engaging in a revolution. So, in that sense, I don’t think a revolution is likely, which is very unfortunate.’

Chris (Russian student)

Could you briefly explain what is happening between Ukraine and Russia?

‘‘My family and I never watched Russian TV so neither of us believes in the ‘special operation’. We all share the same opinion that Putin is leading a full-scale war. He is an incredibly spoiled man who has surrounded himself with people who are too afraid to speak up. And he just got this idea: Oh, I want the Soviet Union back, I want to create a legacy because I am entitled to the land and resources. Sometimes, hearing him talk makes we wonder if he is actually insane. But not everybody views Putin in this light. Russian propaganda is incredibly powerful and all-encompassing. It is so well done, and they have been doing it for years. Those people who have been brainwashed are unlikely to realise the atrocities he is committing.’

How has the war affected your family and friends?

‘My family’s situation is not the situation that an average Russian family is facing. My family’s income comes from international companies, so they were always able to support me financially. Also, we are incredibly lucky and privileged to have roots in other countries. Thus, my family is now trying to get other citizenships and leave Russia.

Regarding my friends, those I have left in Russia do not support the war and neither do the Russian friends I have in the Netherlands. Some of my Russian friends in Europe did experience backlash, not systematic but people insulted or spit at them. However, most of my Russian friends did well, all things considered. Still, one friend lost all of her Ukrainian friends, but she understands their actions. Her Ukrainian friends did lose relatives in a war led by Russians. And while there are Russians who are against the war and who protest, what does this actually change for Ukrainains and Ukraine? It is not enough, and Ukrainians are still dying every day. We can sit here and talk about our good intentions but nothing substantial is happening. She still loves her Ukrainian friends and hopes they might be able to be friends again one day, but she understands their actions and so do I.’

How has the war affected you personally?

‘Well, it has been hard, especially emotionally. I want to say the war was unexpected but that feels wrong. There was continued escalation, but I was holding on to the idea that Putin is not that insane. But then the war started which crashed my worldview for quite a while. Rationally, I knew I had to continue with my everyday life. I don’t have a home to go back to as I don’t plan to return to Russia. Thus, I need to do well at university to be able to stay in the Netherlands. However, while I was doing my readings, people were dying which made me feel incredibly guilty. Luckily, my study advisors were supportive of my situation. They scheduled a meeting with me to talk about my finances, the possibility of delaying my studies, and told me to notify them in case I experienced aggression toward me, which luckily did not happen.

So, despite everything, I was able to navigate the first months quite well. However, this realisation shocked me as I grew accustomed to this new normal. I still think about the war on a daily basis but I have also come to terms with the fact that I cannot do much. I won’t volunteer at the front so I can only support Ukraine from the Netherlands. I went to the first protests in the Hague and most of the following ones. But there is also this duality, I personally need to go to those protests because I can’t sleep well at night if I don’t, however, do we change anything by protesting? I went to so many protests in Russia from middle school up until I left for my bachelor’s degree, and it is always frustrating, realising how you don’t really accomplish anything in the end.’

Do you think harmony can still exist between Ukraine and Russia?

‘I have attended an information evening organised by my university. One expert was a Ukrainian PhD candidate in the economics department who said that peace and harmony between Ukraine and Russia will not happen in the foreseeable future. Maybe in a couple of generations, but not this generation. If the war stopped today, of course I would hope we could foster the connection between both nations again. I do want to believe in the harmony between Ukraine and Russia, but I genuinely don’t think it’s realistic. Because, while in theory it is true that Putin is the main perpetrator of this war, it is the Russian army who goes there and executes these atrocities. They are told to attack but they pillage, rape and murder civilians on their own accord.’

How do you think harmony could be improved between Russians and Ukrainians in the future? 

‘I think, if the entire Russian nation would organise a coup and show that they are against the war, this could foster the relationship between Russians and Ukrainians. But that is nearly impossible since Russia is quite divided and exposed to misinformation about Ukraine. Additionally, the current system has benefited a lot of wealthy people.’

Sam (Russian student)

Could you briefly explain what is happening between Ukraine and Russia?

‘I know that according to Russian media and propaganda, a special operation is taking place. And I completely disagree with this term. It is a full-scale war.’

Do you think the war is taking place between Russians and Ukrainians or Putin and the rest?

‘I think it depends on the people we talk about. There are Russians who are unjustifiably patriotic and do not want to understand the reasons and goals of the war. But there are also Ukrainians that do not differentiate between Russians that support the ‘special operation’ and those that are against the war and protesting. So, in that sense, you can say that the war can be between Russians and Ukrainians but it’s mostly between Putin and everybody else.’

How has the war affected your relationship to Ukrainians?

‘For simplicity, I can divide Ukrainians I know into three groups. One group is made up of my Ukrainian friend who attended the same international high school as me. When she fled from Kiev to Dublin in February, she stayed at my place in Amsterdam for two nights. Of course, we discussed the current situation but also had fun together. So, her attitude towards me has not changed.

Another group is made up of my Ukrainian-Russian friend group that meets up almost every week. In this group, I had a disagreement with one of my Russian friends. He wrote a post about Russian protesters and insulted their inadequate actions. While our friend group normally makes the distinction between reasonable and unreasonable Russians, that was lacking in his post. He insulted all Russians, those in favour of the war and Putin, and ordinary civilians. I told him that this was not an effective way to motivate his Russian followers. We are friendly but there is some tension between us. Interestingly, my Ukrainian friend told me to not take his words to heart and that his post is an expression of his emotions which cannot be incorrect or correct.

And the last group is my Ukrainian boyfriend. In the beginning, we talked about the misinformation my family in Russia got exposed to and he was on the phone with them, trying to explain the situation properly. But after three months, he stopped and is focusing his efforts on those who are willing to listen. One major change is his attitude towards my mother. She claims that we all receive limited information and can only pass judgement after the war. She believes more in Russian than non-Russian media, so my boyfriend is not on good terms with her anymore. Regarding the relationship between my boyfriend and I, I would say I am more supportive of his actions now. And we interestingly make more jokes based on our nationality. The war has made us more aware of our nationalities which was not the case before.’

How has the war affected you personally?

‘I know there was some news on Russian students being treated badly in the first months or being unable to pay tuition fees. However, I luckily never experienced any kind of hate and my parents were always able to support me financially. I am aware that this is not the norm since I have an acquaintance whose mother needed to open a bank account in Kazakhstan to transfer money to her.

However, the war did negatively affect my mental health and grades. I joined the first protests on Dam Square which took place before our exam week. Since I got little sleep and was worried and anxious about the war, I could not focus on the exam at all. I even experienced my first panic attack which I did not expect. I knew the war affected my mental health but I thought I was dealing better with the situation than I actually was.’

How is your mental health doing now?

‘I think we are slowly returning to our usual mode of living; I can see that in myself and even my boyfriend. Initially, he could not focus on his studies as he was monitoring the news all the time. But he can now finally focus on this thesis again. Sometimes, I am shocked and surprised about us going back to normal, but I feel like that is only natural, right? No matter how bad something is, you get used to it and go back to your baseline.’

Do you think harmony can still exist between Russians and Ukrainians?

‘Yes, I think so, but it depends on the pre-existing relationship. As I said, my Ukrainian-Russian friend group continues to gather weekly and the relationship with my Ukrainian boyfriend is still going strong. However, speaking of harmony between Russian and Ukrainian in general, I suppose it will be undermined for the next 10 to 20 years. Similarly to the relationship between German and Jewish, there will be long-lasting hatred towards aggressors which is going to be part of their burden.’

How do you think harmony between Russians and Ukrainians can be improved? 

‘Russians and Ukrainians that have the same attitude towards the war could exchange views and be in contact. That should make it clear that not all Russians are horrible and in favour of the war. And this could help to improve relationships between neighbours once the war is over. Also, it would be ideal if there would be a type of revolution in Russia, a change of Putin’s regime. Getting rid of Putin is not enough, an entire change in power is necessary. However, people nowadays are obviously more concerned about their personal well-being than engaging in a revolution. So, in that sense, I don’t think a revolution is likely, which is very unfortunate.’

Chris (Russian student)

Could you briefly explain what is happening between Ukraine and Russia?

‘‘My family and I never watched Russian TV so neither of us believes in the ‘special operation’. We all share the same opinion that Putin is leading a full-scale war. He is an incredibly spoiled man who has surrounded himself with people who are too afraid to speak up. And he just got this idea: Oh, I want the Soviet Union back, I want to create a legacy because I am entitled to the land and resources. Sometimes, hearing him talk makes we wonder if he is actually insane. But not everybody views Putin in this light. Russian propaganda is incredibly powerful and all-encompassing. It is so well done, and they have been doing it for years. Those people who have been brainwashed are unlikely to realise the atrocities he is committing.’

How has the war affected your family and friends?

‘My family’s situation is not the situation that an average Russian family is facing. My family’s income comes from international companies, so they were always able to support me financially. Also, we are incredibly lucky and privileged to have roots in other countries. Thus, my family is now trying to get other citizenships and leave Russia.

Regarding my friends, those I have left in Russia do not support the war and neither do the Russian friends I have in the Netherlands. Some of my Russian friends in Europe did experience backlash, not systematic but people insulted or spit at them. However, most of my Russian friends did well, all things considered. Still, one friend lost all of her Ukrainian friends, but she understands their actions. Her Ukrainian friends did lose relatives in a war led by Russians. And while there are Russians who are against the war and who protest, what does this actually change for Ukrainains and Ukraine? It is not enough, and Ukrainians are still dying every day. We can sit here and talk about our good intentions but nothing substantial is happening. She still loves her Ukrainian friends and hopes they might be able to be friends again one day, but she understands their actions and so do I.’

How has the war affected you personally?

‘Well, it has been hard, especially emotionally. I want to say the war was unexpected but that feels wrong. There was continued escalation, but I was holding on to the idea that Putin is not that insane. But then the war started which crashed my worldview for quite a while. Rationally, I knew I had to continue with my everyday life. I don’t have a home to go back to as I don’t plan to return to Russia. Thus, I need to do well at university to be able to stay in the Netherlands. However, while I was doing my readings, people were dying which made me feel incredibly guilty. Luckily, my study advisors were supportive of my situation. They scheduled a meeting with me to talk about my finances, the possibility of delaying my studies, and told me to notify them in case I experienced aggression toward me, which luckily did not happen.

So, despite everything, I was able to navigate the first months quite well. However, this realisation shocked me as I grew accustomed to this new normal. I still think about the war on a daily basis but I have also come to terms with the fact that I cannot do much. I won’t volunteer at the front so I can only support Ukraine from the Netherlands. I went to the first protests in the Hague and most of the following ones. But there is also this duality, I personally need to go to those protests because I can’t sleep well at night if I don’t, however, do we change anything by protesting? I went to so many protests in Russia from middle school up until I left for my bachelor’s degree, and it is always frustrating, realising how you don’t really accomplish anything in the end.’

Do you think harmony can still exist between Ukraine and Russia?

‘I have attended an information evening organised by my university. One expert was a Ukrainian PhD candidate in the economics department who said that peace and harmony between Ukraine and Russia will not happen in the foreseeable future. Maybe in a couple of generations, but not this generation. If the war stopped today, of course I would hope we could foster the connection between both nations again. I do want to believe in the harmony between Ukraine and Russia, but I genuinely don’t think it’s realistic. Because, while in theory it is true that Putin is the main perpetrator of this war, it is the Russian army who goes there and executes these atrocities. They are told to attack but they pillage, rape and murder civilians on their own accord.’

How do you think harmony could be improved between Russians and Ukrainians in the future? 

‘I think, if the entire Russian nation would organise a coup and show that they are against the war, this could foster the relationship between Russians and Ukrainians. But that is nearly impossible since Russia is quite divided and exposed to misinformation about Ukraine. Additionally, the current system has benefited a lot of wealthy people.’

Laura Springer

Author Laura Springer

Laura Springer (1999) is a second-year Research Master's student. She is interested in cultural, political and environmental matters and never leaves the house without a tote bag.

More posts by Laura Springer