YouTube channels revealing what ordinary Russians really think about the war in Ukraine

AAs Vladimir Putin continues his bloody invasion of Ukraine, it’s hard to know what average Russians think. A new Orwellian anti-speech law has made it illegal to even call the war a “war,” let alone oppose it, and the government has shut down social media sites and various news outlets.

However, one forum – at least so far – remains unblocked: YouTube. And on some channels you can still get a glimpse of what the Russian people think.

One such channel is 1420, where a 21-year-old man named Daniil roams the streets of Moscow, taking comments from pedestrians about breaking news. The channel offers a fascinating timeline of Muscovite opinions, especially since Daniil posts so often. By watching his videos, we learn how Russians feel before the war, after it started, a week after, two weeks after – and in the meantime, more and more restrictions on expression emerge from the Kremlin, to which pedestrians respond in real time. Many are becoming more reluctant, but an overwhelming number are becoming bolder.

“I think the war started between governments, not between peoples,” a young woman says in a video, filmed on the first day of the invasion. ” What do we have to do ? You can’t help him with messages. We have to go down the street. »

Another young man, between puffs of a cigarette, says he is going to a demonstration that evening. A young woman wearing braces says the war hurts her personally.

“It hurts, it hurts. That’s all I can say,” she said. “I don’t understand why this is happening in the 21st century… We ordinary people definitely don’t want war. We want peace, friendship and love.

As for Daniil himself, the YouTuber tries to keep his own opinions offscreen.

“We at 1420 prefer not to feel anything from the answers. Otherwise, it may affect the video, so better keep a cold heart,” the videographer said. The Independent by email. “I want to show Russians from all angles, so the world can know everything about them.”

According to Daniil, Russians brave enough to answer his questions are only a small fraction of the people he interviews. For a recent video, he said, 23 pedestrians agreed to speak, while 123 declined. This ratio remained stable for a while, then, after three weeks of war, it suddenly dropped.

“Compared to the first part of the week, people really started to avoid certain topics and became more cautious,” Daniil said.

This caution is evident in his videos. As 1420 asks people what they think of the war – or, as it must now be called, “the special military operation” – some just shake their heads and walk away.

“I think I can’t leave comments, because of my work”, protests a young woman.

“I’d rather not think about it,” said another.

Others seem to embrace the Russian government’s steely denial.

“What war? asks a man, casting a cold look at the videographer.

“I don’t see a war,” said another man. “There is no war for me, basically. When a bomb is dropped here, then we can have a conversation.

The Russians react to the announcement of the start of the invasion of Ukraine

Daniil is a young man from Moscow, and the people he interviews are usually part of this cohort. This seems to produce a high number of anti-war – or at least neutral – responses.

But not all YouTubers surveying Russian opinions focus on young people. Another channel, run by the nonprofit Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (funded by the US government), spends more time on older Russians outside the capital. Eight days after the start of the war, RFE/RL approached pedestrians in Perm and Vladivostok with photos of the destruction in Ukraine. Some refused to watch.

“I support Putin,” said a middle-aged woman repeatedly. “I will not look at these photos.”

“It’s a pre-emptive move,” rationalizes another. “It is true that it costs thousands of lives. It’s bitter, it’s painful, but what else? Wait for them to attack us?

Many respondents seem to have absorbed the tote bag of Kremlin propaganda lines – that Ukraine is run by Nazis (its president, it should be noted, is Jewish and has lost family members in the Holocaust), that she was about to commit genocide against ethnic Russians, or that the war is not taking place at all.

“No one is bombing kyiv,” said an old man. “I do not believe it.”

“Putin couldn’t do that. Invade Ukraine? asks another, laughing. “Why? There are our people living there. In Ukraine, in Belarus.

“But it happened,” the videographer told him.

“I don’t know,” the man replies, looking down at his feet. “That’s not what they say on the news.”

Russians in Perm and Vladivostok express their opinions on the war in Ukraine

Even on YouTube, people may not be able to say such things for a long time. Daniil, for his part, says he is leaving the country, leaving the future of 1420 uncertain.

“Now I can’t stay here,” he explained, “so I decided to travel around the world.”

The Independent asked if he was worried about breaking new Russian laws prohibiting talking about the war.

“I’m not scared yet,” he replied. “I read a very interesting comment on my channel: ‘You’re not afraid, not because you’re not afraid, but because you haven’t been afraid yet.’ I think that could be my case.

In typical YouTuber fashion, he added a sweaty smiling emoji.

Raymond T. Helms