“I feel devastated”: residents of Mass. with ties to Russia caught off guard by Ukraine invasion
She heard about a protest planned at the Russian Embassy in Estonia and said she hoped to attend.
President Vladimir Putin’s attack on Ukraine entered its second day on Friday, with at least 137 Ukrainians killed and dozens more injured. In Russia, citizens took to the streets and hundreds were arrested during anti-war protests across the country on Thursday, according to The Associated Press.
As reports of Russia’s escalation of a long-running war broke on telephone and television screens in Massachusetts, locals like Khitrova who have ties to Russia and other countries of the former Soviet Union spoke out against the Russian invasion and said it was painful to watch from afar.
Sveta Vakhitova, a real estate agent with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Warren Residential in the back bay, spoke with family and friends in her hometown of Tambov, about 250 miles from Moscow.
“Everyone I’ve spoken with, my friends, my family back home, they’re all against it,” Vakhitova said. “It’s only Putin’s decision. Nobody supports that.
Because many forms of dissent are illegal in Russia, people back home aren’t able to publicly express how they feel, she said. Vakhitova said she was heartbroken for Ukrainians and heartbroken for ordinary Russian citizens outside the inner circles of power who will be harmed by the invasion.
People who publicly protest in Russia risk being arrested and imprisoned, said Harlow Robinson, a professor emeritus of history at Northeastern University who has studied Soviet and Russian arts and culture since the 1970s.
“I wish I had more hope that there was a groundswell against what Putin is doing in Russia. But right now I think it’s unlikely because people are terrified, they’re scared,” Robinson said.
For Svitlana Malykhina, who has ties to Russia and Ukraine, the situation is painful.
Coordinator of the Russian language program at Boston University, Malykhina grew up in Kharkiv, Ukraine, the bilingual child of a Ukrainian father and a Russian mother, and she still has relatives in both countries, she said in an interview Thursday.
“I can’t get rid of this feeling of utter horror,” Malykhina said. I knew all the signs pointed to a massive military buildup on the Russian side, but still… we couldn’t have imagined such a thing could have happened.
Malykhina said Russia and Ukraine have a long history of close ties, but also that Ukraine is struggling for autonomy and an independent identity. She said many observers believe Putin is trying to control Ukraine now – while portraying himself to the Russian public as a liberator – so he can build public support ahead of Russia’s 2024 presidential election.
“There are so many people like me who grew up in families with parents on both sides,” said Malykhina, 58. Her relatives in Ukraine have been safe from harm so far, she said on Thursday, but “today is just the first day”. of the war. »
“I really hope they’re okay,” she said.
Some Massachusetts residents with ties to Russia or the former Soviet Union now find themselves asking questions about the current conflict.
Alex Koifman grew up in Belarus when it was part of the Soviet Union and has lived in Newton for over two decades. His family, like many Jews from the former Soviet Union, fled to other countries when the nation collapsed, and there are no relatives left.
Yet, Koifman said, because he grew up in the Soviet Union, friends and neighbors look to him for explanations of Russia’s actions.
“It was unexpected for me, even though I know what Russia is capable of,” Koifman said. “But this brazen attack, an all-out attack, is something I didn’t expect.”
The questions, he said, generally fall into three categories: Why did this happen? What can we do to help? And what will Russia do next?
“On the question of why this happened – the answer is because Putin is a Russian tyrant who wants to expand his lost empire. And the superpower of the United States gave him this opportunity, because we showed weakness “, he said. “Our weakness invites this kind of aggression.”
Koifman said he would like to see the United States put economic pressure on Putin by exporting oil and natural gas to Europe, thereby reducing its dependence on Russian fossil fuels.
As for the third question he’s often asked, what happens next, Koifman said, “Obviously I can’t see the future, so I can’t speculate. If only I could.”
Associated Press documents were used in this report.