Russians abroad try to deliver news from Ukraine to relatives in their home country


PORTLAND, Ore., March 30 (Reuters) – From his home in Seattle, Andrey Nokhrin sent his mother in Moscow a clip of a television editor interrupting a live Russian newscast to hold up a sign and shouting slogans protesting against Ukraine. invasion.

Editor-in-chief Marina Ovsyannikova told Reuters earlier this month she hoped her protest would open Russians’ eyes to the propaganda. Read more

But her mother said the protest looked fake, like it was staged with a green screen, according to Nokhrin.

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This is an example of how Russian-Americans send their relatives in Russia accounts of the war in Ukraine produced by Western and other media that contrast with what is reported by Russian state media. Reuters interviews with 11 Russian-Americans suggest that, as in the case of Nokhrin’s mother, skepticism about the war in Ukraine runs deep.

“The propaganda there works very well,” said Nokhrin, a 37-year-old IT entrepreneur. “They were told it was a peacemaking operation and they really, honestly believe in it.”

State television, the main source of information for millions of Russians, closely follows the Kremlin line that Russia was forced to act in Ukraine to demilitarize and “denazify” the country, and to defend the Russian speakers against what the Kremlin calls “genocide”. .”

Russia passed a law earlier this month banning the “public dissemination of deliberately false information about the use of the armed forces of the Russian Federation“. Violators risk up to 15 years in prison. Read more

Russian state television did not respond to a Reuters request for comment. The Kremlin declined to comment.

Russian-Americans interviewed by Reuters said they engage in conversations with their families through messaging apps WhatsApp and Telegram, sharing material they collect on international social media and news sites.

Nokhrin sent his relatives pictures of wounded Ukrainian children, dead Russian soldiers, and bombed buildings and hospitals. He sent his mother the link to a news site that aggregates content about Ukraine from international news sites and translates it into Russian. He used WhatsApp to send his mother a YouTube clip from independent Russian news broadcaster, TV Rain, signing “No to war”.

Reuters has seen the messages sent by Nokhrin and others interviewed for this story and verified the sources of the videos and images they included. Reuters could not interview relatives in Russia to verify the conversations.

“This military operation was presented to them as if there were Ukrainian fascists trying to enslave the Russian population,” Nokhrin said. “My mother, she thinks that (President Volodymyr) Zelenskiy is this evil monster who wants to join NATO, who wants to bomb Russia.”

“It’s crazy for us to think about this, since we see the other side of this, but when you’re isolated in Russia and just see government media, it really informs what you believe.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin has in the past said the United States is an “empire of lies” that sows disinformation about Russia. Senior Russian officials such as Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov say Western media misreported the conflict in Ukraine and repeatedly failed to show the persecution of Russian speakers there.

Julia Bari, a New York-based insurance broker who emigrated from Moscow 26 years ago, described a cousin’s reluctance to engage in a tense discussion about what was happening in Ukraine.

Bari said she was in frequent contact via WhatsApp with the cousin living in southwestern Russia. After the invasion, “I called her and said, ‘Oh my God, the war is on’ and she shut me up. She said, ‘Look, we don’t know anything. politics.” I became silent because my insides were boiling with anger.”

Bari sent her cousin what she could find: photos of Ukrainian children sleeping in bomb shelters, videos of buildings hit by artillery fire, photos of orphans being evacuated on trains.

“I told him, you know, this is real. This is murder,” Bari said. “She said it was bad to see but she couldn’t be involved. She wants to act like everything is normal.”

International reaction to the invasion has been harsh and includes sweeping sanctions that have driven the ruble to record lows and left Russians isolated. Read more

Bari said she was worried about her cousin, whose salary at one of Russia’s largest state-owned companies was recently cut by 60%, according to Bari. She declined to name the company.

“She thinks (Russia) can switch to their own production lines or get whatever they need from China,” Bari said. “I fear for her.”

After leaving Moscow in 2018, Sasha and Vitaly, a couple in their 30s who asked that their surnames not be used out of concern for their family’s safety, started a WhatsApp conversation with their loved ones. Until three weeks ago, their content consisted mainly of photos of their two young children. These days they send updates and videos about the invasion.

Vitaly’s mother, who works in the health sector in Moscow, reads the stories he sends her from independent Russian news sources published on Telegram.

“She was talking about the war with her colleagues, and they were like, ‘You think like that because your son is in America and brainwashed you. That’s why you don’t support President Putin,'” Vitaly said. in an interview. at a cafe in Portland, Oregon. Vitaly’s mother, he said, was open to seeing the invasion of Ukraine as an atrocity.

However, since Russia passed the law on the dissemination of information, Vitaly said that his mother, at his request, had stopped talking about the war to his colleagues, for fear of being accused of spreading lies. .

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Reporting by Deborah Bloom in Portland, Oregon. Editing by Donna Bryson and Rosalba O’Brien

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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