Russian law imposes criminal charges on anyone who disagrees with the war, receives funding from the West or practices evangelism outside of the Russian Orthodox church. Here, our anonymous contributor, speaks about the realities of those living in the heavily controlled country.
What are your current thoughts and feelings about Russia and the Russian people? Through my job, leading a Christian charity in Russia, I have the privilege of insight into the reality and current mentality of many ordinary Russians. The aim of our charity is to empower and equip Russian Christians to respond to social needs in their local communities.
Ten years ago, a law was passed that meant anyone receiving funding from the West, and doing any work that was deemed to be political, could be labelled a “foreign agent”. This carried significant consequences for those affected, including a large fine. Unfortunately, the spectrum of things deemed to be political is very broad and can include commenting on Russian laws, like I am doing in writing this article. For the last decade our partners have risked their safety to maintain their relationship with us. So that they can continue to care for orphans and adults in crisis in their communities.
It’s a challenge not to make “political” statements about Russia, when the legal systems control and punish its citizens. It’s hard to quash my emotions and keep my thoughts to myself in light of actions like Putin decriminalising domestic violence in 2017. In order to best serve and protect our partners, we provide funding using cash couriers, don’t name the people we work with online and don’t comment on risky topics. That’s why this article is published anonymously.
The Yarovaya laws that were modified in 2016 to restrict the expression of any faith that isn’t Russian Orthodox.
We also face the Yarovaya laws that were modified in 2016 to restrict the expression of any faith that isn’t Russian Orthodox. This places strict regulations on evangelism and “missionary activities” outside of official churches. The legislation is written in such a way that almost anything can be deemed as unlawful, this has led to fines, criminal charges and deportation for some Christians.
So, as you can imagine, life in Russia has been controlled for many years… but recently, the situation deteriorated further. It is now a criminal offense to oppose the war, and there are three to ten year prison sentences for men who refuse mobilization. Russians have been drip-fed state propaganda for years, sometimes subtly and sometimes explicitly. For example, the new school curriculum teaches children the “official perspective” on the Ukraine war. While we know that, in the UK, our own media and news outlets are biased, it’s hard to fully comprehend the impact a lifetime of this propaganda has on someone’s mind, even if they feel that they are open to different perspectives.
In Russia one woman is killed due to domestic violence every 40 minutes and one in ten 30-34 year olds is an alcoholic.
As our partners are well connected to those outside Russia, they are more progressive than many and strongly believe the war is wrong. In fact, one partner has said he will choose a prison sentence over mobilisation. Another fled the country. One friend estimates that around 30 per cent of Russians have this view, but that those who watch a lot of TV are stirred up by the propaganda they see and hear, so naturally take the view that defence of their country is necessary. Even the well-educated and internationally experienced are susceptible to the lies they are fed. The main one being that the whole world hates Russian people.
Russia is a country full of desperation and darkness. Minimum wage sits at £220 a month and the cost of living is only marginally less than in the UK. One woman is killed due to domestic violence every 40 minutes and one in ten 30-34 year olds is an alcoholic. Life for many revolves around survival. When you are in this state, there is almost no capacity left for questioning what you are told by the media. For some, the promise of a “good” salary for joining the army, feels like a way to earn a decent wage for their families. The thought of being able to lift your children out of the poverty you’ve lived in for so long, is a bribe that many can’t turn down. For those in mental turmoil due to addiction or cycles of violence, the thought of having something to fight for, to be given a purpose for your life, can appear as a glimmer of hope.
There are some Russians out there who are doing unspeakably evil things, but there are also some Russians who are totally against the war and who can’t express that.
There is so much I could say about this country, about the Russians that I know; The people who show such hospitality and kindness to me on my visits, our partners who work tirelessly to care for those in need, the personal sacrifices they make to save addicts from homelessness, and the risks they take to stand by their values and faiths.
I want to remind you, that while in the UK we aren’t being subjected to such strong state propaganda, we need to be aware of our own biases, of our own nature to be judgemental and to tarnish people with the same brush. Yes, there are some Russians out there who are doing unspeakably evil things, but there are also some Russians who are totally against the war and who can’t express that. I believe there are even more in the middle; those who believe some of the propaganda, who have no capacity to question things deeply or critically, because their life is focused on survival. Those who have stood their ground just ended up in jail or being forced to flee from their homeland and family, this is hardly a tempting prospect.