Ukrainians Find That Relatives in Russia Don’t Believe It’s a War

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Ukrainians Find That Relatives in Russia Don’t Believe It’s a War

LVIV, Ukraine – Four days after Russia dropped artillery shells on Kyiv, a Ukrainian restauranteur, Misha Katsiurin, was wondering why her father, a church patron living in the Russian city of Nizhny Novgorod, didn’t come to check on her. Called.

“There’s a war, I’m his son, and he just doesn’t call,” Mr Katsiurin, 33, said in an interview. “So I called him myself and told him how it is with my family in Kyiv now that Russia started bombing us. That I’m trying to get my kids and my wife out, that’s all. Something very scary.”

He didn’t get the response he expected. His father, Andrei, did not believe him.

“No, no, no, no wait,” said Mr. Katsiurin of his father’s initial reaction.

“They started telling me how things are My The country is going,” said Mr Katsiurin, who has converted his restaurants into volunteer centers and is temporarily living near the western Ukrainian city of Ternopil. “He started yelling at me and said to me, ‘Look, everything’s going like this. They’re Nazis.'”

An estimated 11 million people in Russia have Ukrainian relatives. Many people living in Ukraine and holding Ukrainian passports are considered ethnic Russians, and a large percentage of Ukrainians living in the southern and western parts of the country speak Russian as their native language.

As Ukrainians deal with the devastation of Russian attacks in their homeland, many are facing a confused and almost surreal backlash from family members in Russia, who refuse to believe that Russian soldiers are bombing innocent people. There could be, or even a war going on. Sure.

These relatives have essentially bought into the official Kremlin status: that President Vladimir V. Putin’s military is conducting a limited “special military operation” with the honorable mission of “de-nazifying” Ukraine. Mr Putin has referred to the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, a native Russian speaker with a Jewish background, as a “drug-addicted Nazi” in his efforts to justify the invasion.

Those narratives are emerging amid a wave of disinformation emanating from the Russian state as the Kremlin moves to crack down on independent news reporting to shape the messages most Russians are receiving.

Russian television channels do not show the bombing of Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital and its suburbs, or the devastating attacks on Kharkiv, Mariupol, Chernihiv and other Ukrainian cities. They do not show peaceful resistance even in places like Kherson, a major city in the south that Russian troops had captured several days earlier, and certainly not in opposition to the war that had spread across Russia.

Instead they focus on the successes of the Russian army, without discussing the casualties among Russian soldiers. Many state television correspondents are embedded in eastern Ukraine, not in the cities being attacked with missiles and mortars. Recent news reports make no mention of a 40-mile long Russian convoy on a road north of Kyiv.

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Russia also banned Facebook and Twitter on Friday for trying to block unneeded information.

All this, Mr. Katsyurin said, explains why his father told him: “There are Russian soldiers helping people. They give them warm clothes and food.”

Mr. Katsiurin is not alone in his desperation. When Valentina V. Kremir wrote to her brother and sister in Russia to tell her that their son had spent days at a bomb shelter in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha as there was intense fighting, she too was met with disbelief.

“He believes that everything is calm in Kiev, that no one is shelling Kyiv,” Ms Kramir said in a phone interview. She said her siblings think Russians are attacking military infrastructure “with precision, and that’s all.”

She said that her sister Lyubov, who lives in Perm, wished her a happy birthday on February 25, the second day of the invasion. When Ms Kramir wrote back about the ground situation, her sister’s reply via direct message was simple: “No one is going to bomb Kyiv, and you really should be afraid of the Nazis against whom your father fought.” fought.

Ms Kramir said she sent photos from credible media sites of damaged tanks and a destroyed building in Buka to her brother in Krasnoyarsk, but received a scathing response. “They said this site is fake news,” she said, and that the Ukrainian military was basically doing damage being blamed on the Russians.

“It is impossible to explain to them what they have done,” Ms Kramir said, referring to the Russian military.

Anastasia Belomitseva and her husband, Vladimir, are facing the same problem. They are residents of Kharkiv, near the Russian border in the north of Ukraine, which has been hit hard by Russian bombs. But he said in an interview that it was easier to explain the aggression to his 7-year-old daughter than some of his relatives.

“They do not fully understand what is happening here, they do not understand that they attacked us for no reason,” said Ms. Belomitseva. His grandmother, and Mr. Belomitseva’s father, are in Russia.

Asked if she believed an attack was taking place, Ms. Belomitseva replied “No!”

Parts of Kharkiv have been reduced to rubble, and its city hall is a burnt shell. Ms Belomitseva said she was sending videos of the bombings to her relatives on Instagram, but responded to the Kremlin’s repeated claims that the invasion was just a “special military operation” and did not target any civilians Will go

In fact, more than 350 civilians had died as of Saturday night, according to the United Nations. The actual toll is probably much higher.

For Svetlana, a 60-year-old woman living in Cherkasy, the hardest thing to accept is the advice she’s received from her sister, who lives in Belarus, and her cousin in Tomsk, Russia: that she and Other Ukrainians should not worry about what is happening to themselves.

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“It’s not that they don’t believe it’s happening, but they think high-level politicians should find out,” Svetlana said.

“I tell them that we are people too, and it has affected us,” she said. “I told them not to hide their heads in the sand, I told mothers not to think about sending their sons to the army. The response was amazing to me. That is, politicians are to blame for everything.”

She displayed a WhatsApp exchange with her cousin that showed her cousin was also influenced by a narrative pushed by Russian state TV: the West fueled the war, to two “brother nations”. Was thrilled to see each other fighting and hoping to reap a significant advantage of it.

His cousin sent a string of messages saying that Western defense companies were increasing their profits, and that alternative sources of energy were being purchased for the West.

This was not the response he had hoped for – no recognition of the gravity of the situation for Ukrainians or sympathy for the loss of human life.

“Every day I send them the information they need, but the response is ‘this is some kind of fake information that can’t happen at all, that nobody can or will shoot at civilians,'” she said.

Ms Belomitseva from Kharkiv said that while her husband was trying to communicate with his family in Russia, he had cut off most of his relatives there eight years ago after the annexation of Crimea and the invasion of eastern Ukraine.

But Mr Katsiurin said he could not take his close family members out of his life.

“They are our relatives, they are our closest people, and it’s not about them,” he said. “I am not angry with my father – I am angry with the Kremlin. I am angry with Russian propaganda. I am not angry with these people. I understand that in this situation I cannot blame them.”

She said that she thought about biting her father but decided it was the wrong reaction. “The easiest thing to do would be to say, ‘Okay, I don’t have a father anymore,'” he said. “But I believe I need to Therefore This is my father.”

He said that if everyone did the work of explaining the truth to their families, the story could change. After a post on Instagram complaining about his father’s distrust went viral, he launched a website,, which means “Dad, believe it,” with instructions to Ukrainians that are about to war. How to talk to your family members

“There are 11 million Russians in Ukraine who have relatives,” he said. “With 11 million people, everything can happen – from revolution to at least some resistance.”

Natalia Yermak contributed reporting.

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