So yes, we can see how the Russian language is the language of war. Mr. Putin made it so.
Russian has also become the language of a lie. Mr. Putin claims Russia is defending “traditional values,” but that is false. What kind of values are being defended by traumatizing tens of thousands of Ukrainian children and families? Forcing them to hide from bombs in the subway? For many, fleeing the war zone is not an option.
Is Putin’s rabid desire to redraw the map of Russia and recreate an empire meant to give them comfort? The so-called history he cites to justify this aggression is riddled with lies.
The line between facts and disinformation has been blurred in Russia for a long time. My family and I are not alone in remembering the horrors of the past century that were carried out in the name of the Soviet Union. The Kremlin has denied key facts around Holodomor, the famine that claimed the lives of millions of Ukrainians. It has whitewashed massacres in Chechnya and the Beslan school attack. Yet we have not forgotten. And we see what has been happening in recent years — political persecutions, expanding repression. Silencing dissent, shuttering Memorial, Russia’s most prominent human rights organization. Step by step, we have seen the denial and attempted erasure of historical truth.
Russian has become the language of fear. My parents avoid discussing politics over the phone; they’re not alone. Since the Kremlin has strangled freedom of speech, most Russians I know are afraid to publicly express their opinions. They’ve gone back to Soviet-era’ kitchen conversations to share their views on politics.
We have seen the Kremlin crack down violently on protests about elections and political prisoners like Aleksei A. Navalny. On the day Putin launched his full-scale assault on Ukraine, the government issued a statement warning that Russians who protest could face prosecution.
I was heartened, and scared, to see that the warning did not stop Russians from turning out in force that same day. Protests took place across Russia, from Moscow to St. Petersburg to Khabarovsk. Signs bore messages like “No War” and “Do you see evil and keep silent? Partner in crime!” Nearly 1,800 people were arrested.
And it’s not just that: Some Russian journalists have openly condemned the invasion of Ukraine. Russian celebrities, too. Tennis star Andrey Rublev used a marker to write “no war please” on a camera lens at an international tournament, while the actress Katerina Shpitsa wrote that for the first time in her life she “thought it might be better” that her grandmother wasn’t alive to see this day.