Russia is far more than Putin.
I think we can all agree that the invasion of Ukraine is terrible. I am pretty sure nobody (besides some Republicans) wants to defend Putin at this point. But we should not demonize an entire country and its population.
We all know the stereotype of cold and brutal Eastern Europeans. We grew up with movies that mostly know two types of villains: the ones with Russian and the ones with German accents. Imagine what that feels like?
I am German, and I think it’s weird that these stereotypes partly determine how we think about people from other countries.
But I am also aware that almost every nation ends up with leaders who somehow represent the culture of a country. And this can go both ways.
Imagine describing American culture based on Obama’s or Trump’s presidency. But it’s still the same country, right?
In Russia, things are even more complicated.
Most of us forget that the early 90s were a terrible time for the majority of Russians. The Soviet Union collapsed, people lost their jobs, and a small group of powerful men became billionaires. There was a lot of violence in post-Soviet Russia. Some say it was a free-for-all.
At that time, investors from all around the world entered Russia and tried to take advantage of the chaos. It’s not surprising that former members of the Soviet regime found their way into positions of power. And nobody was able to stop them.
Putin, a former KGB agent, was one of these men. He managed to take power and silence his opponents. What we are seeing in Ukraine these days is not surprising to those Russians who tried to speak up against Putin.
Natalya Sindeyeva is one of these Russians. She started the TV channel Dozhd in 2008.
Last night, I saw a documentary called “F@ck this job” on television. It’s a production of the BBC and German national TV. I feel everyone who tends to vilify Russians should watch it.
This documentary shows us how Sindeyeva and her husband basically throw away their privileged lifestyle to fight for democracy in Russia. The slogan of their channel is “talk about important things with those who are important to us.”
Sindeyeva devoted her life to running this channel with a team of mostly inexperienced journalists. They have to deal with arrests, cyberattacks, and Putin himself. She almost gave up when she was battling cancer but then decided not to give up.
The story of Sindeyeva and Dozhd is not only inspiring but also heartbreaking. It reminds us that there is no guarantee for a happy ending just because we do the right thing.
But it also reminds us of the struggles Russians are dealing with in their daily lives. There are many men and women like Sindeyeva who are ashamed of Putin’s actions. There are people protesting the invasion, which automatically comes with the risk of getting arrested.
It’s one thing to protest against Putin in a Western city and another to stand up against authorities in Russia. I can hardly find words to describe how much respect I have for these people.
It makes me wonder how far I would be willing to go?
We should not forget that activism and journalism are much harder when living in a dictatorship. And many of us don’t even care about politics—not because of fear, just because of ignorance and laziness.
It’s only natural to be upset with Russia, but it doesn’t make it right or reasonable. Let’s be clear: it’s okay to hate Putin, but it’s not okay to hate Russians.
Russian culture is far more than one man who represents the worst parts of it. There are amazing musicians, authors, and artists from Russia. There are incredibly brave Russians like Sindeyeva who risk their lives for freedom. And there is an entire generation of young folks who are scared for their future.
We simply cannot risk another cold war. We cannot give up on these lovely people who suffered so much. But we also don’t want this war to escalate, right?
There are no easy solutions, but we should try to help these brave Russians who hate Putin more than we do.
Putin won’t change his mind or policies anytime soon, but our only hope is that Russians find a way to stop him—and these Russians deserve our help.
Get to know Dozhd and Sindeyeva in this thought-provoking documentary: