Fr, 2.12.2022

The war in Ukraine is breaking up Russian families in Estonia

Anita Avakova
, portaali Rus.Postimees ajakirjanik
The war in Ukraine is breaking up Russian families in Estonia
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The war in Ukraine has caused conflict among the closest people.
The war in Ukraine has caused conflict among the closest people. Photo: Аnastassia Ussova

The war in Ukraine has caused conflict among the closest people who had always got along well and had no disagreements on any issue. Rus.Postimees contacted two young people, let's call them Alexander and Anna, who were forced to stop communicating with their loved ones due to disagreements caused by the war in Ukraine, and who decided to share their story.

Alexander has been out of touch with some of his family for more than two months due to differences over the war in Ukraine, but after he recently appeared on a TV show and his relatives saw it, the “iron curtain” fell even lower.

Alexander was accused of telling the public about the disagreements in his family. He is very disturbed by the fact that his relatives do not care about the reasons why relations in the family have broken down, but only about what others think. They are not worried about the war, they are certain that they are right to support Putin, they are not bothered that they have lost contact with a close person, but they are afraid of condemnation from the outside. Alexander cannot understand this.

“No person with whom I have bad relations has ever called me an abomination, a scoundrel or a traitor. But my family has told me that. And you know what the most disgusting thing is? That a little later they just smile and say how much they love you. As if nothing had happened,” says Alexander.

If you disagree, you are a liberal and Navalny's puppy

Anna moved to Estonia from Russia a few years ago. She knows the difficulties that people living in Russia struggle with every day. The absence of choice there and the acquired helplessness, due to which they do not vote, believing that even without them, everything has already been decided and one only has to express the "right" opinion, which must not differ from the so-called party line. Otherwise, you have sold yourself to the West, you are a liberal and Navalny's puppy, you do not love your country, etc.

According to Anna, Russian propaganda has reached such a point that if one refuses to support the current government, it will make them an outcast. “After the start of the war, many people said that the Russian people would protest. But knowing our acquired helplessness, which has been formed in the consciousness of the Russian people for a long time, I was sure that there would not be many dissenters. And that is how it happened.”

It seemed to Anna that her next of kin, reasonable and critical people, do not support the military action simply because it is contrary to their human values ​​and principles. But that did not happen.

“My mother, who in the last few years has suddenly started actively showing "imperial manners", talked about the war with a smile. I was also extremely hurt by her attitude towards the refugees – that they come to you in Estonia and cause you problems. I did not see in her humane attitude towards the victims,” recalls Anna.

She wondered for a long time why her mother was talking like that. She recalled how her mother offered her to read the works of Russian economists and philosophers when she was still a student. “I honestly read them through and laughed at what I had read, because having received a good economic education, I realized that all such phrases as “America will collapse soon” and “the Russian world” are nothing but empty words,” recalls Anna.

“Her arrogant attitude towards Ukrainians was not unexpected for me, but still painful. They are human beings! Most of them have suffered, many lost their relatives and loved ones, lost their home, housing, property and job. Russia has deprived them of the future they dreamed of," says Anna.

Now Anna rarely communicates with her mother: they call during the holidays, and then they do not talk about the war. "I am not afraid to express my opinion, no. I just do not want to disappoint my mother anymore. The conversation remains empty, because when people die every day, it's kind of pointless to talk about anything else," Anna admits.

Where is my beloved, wise, well-read father?

At first, it seemed to Anna that she and her father had a mutual understanding – her father is not one of those who like to talk about such serious things on the phone, but it was clear from the conversations that he was against what was happening. Several times he has even laughed at Russian propaganda, which claimed that Ukraine was bombing itself.

However, when Russian troops retreated from Kyiv in April and it became clear that the Russian army was killing civilians, Anna was surprised to hear from her father that he did not believe it. He aggressively convinced his daughter that the killings of civilians were the work of the Ukrainians themselves, talked about nationalist formations and that the Russians had nothing to do with these atrocities because “they have so many tactical missions that they do not have time to shoot civilians.”

"I was so surprised when I heard such certain, convinced stupidity that I laughed for a long time – probably it was from shock, because I did not expect to hear something like that from the mouth of my wise, well-read and beloved father,” says Anna. Anna says that her father accused her of not understanding anything and not knowing the history of Ukraine – although, according to her, Anna began to study Ukrainian history more thoroughly after the events of 2014 and the annexation of Crimea in order to understand what was happening. "My father said that I do not understand anything and behave irresponsibly,” says Anna. “He did not respond to any of my arguments, the tense conversation turned into a row and my father hung up. Now it has been six months since he last talked to me.”

“At first I called him, I wrote messages: “Dad, I love you very much and miss you very much. The most important thing is that we are there for each other and all misunderstandings can be resolved peacefully”, but he did not answer”, recalls Anna.

The first months were extremely difficult for her. She felt disappointed, haunted by the feeling that her father had betrayed her. Now the pain has subsided and all that remains is to shrug: that was her father's choice. Anna wonders a lot about how it could happen that the parents who raised her and taught her that human dignity, honesty, justice, protection of the weak, respect for other people are the most important values, now do not share these values ​​themselves.

Conflict between generations

Anna asserts that most people aged 20-35 are against the war. It is often easier for this generation to find a common language with their grandparents. “Yes, all kind of propaganda clichés can also be stuck in their minds, but in general, the generation which has grown up during the war views is as something unequivocally evil which cannot be allowed to exist,” says Anna.

“The generation of our parents (50-65 years) is different. It feels that the propaganda machine successfully exploited their pain from the collapse of the Soviet Union, their feeling of “being left aside” and the notion that after the collapse of the Soviet Union, they became the laughingstock of the whole world,” says Anna.

Anna thinks that the Russian people will understand the enormous monstrosity of the current events only many years later, when the veil of propaganda falls from their eyes, when they can honestly admit that their hands shed blood and committed evil acts. “But how will the Russian people live on once that veil falls?” her question remains in the air.

In a stressful situation, a person triggers his defense mechanism, a psychologist explains.

Misunderstandings and sharp disagreements in the family are not a reason to completely stop communication, it is important to understand what, to whom and why you are talking, says psychologist Natalya Chepornyuk.

Among the war-related problems people are now turning to her about, among the most complicated ones are the quarrels with relatives with whom one is on the opposite side of the barricade.

According to her, the difficulty is that in such a situation, we are facing a choice whether to maintain relationships with the people who are important to us and staying part of the family, or to betray our views, our values.

She uses as an example the story of one of her clients, Yevgeny, who lives with his wife and children in Ukraine and whose mother lives in Russia. When Yevgeny told her mother that fierce battles were going on in their city and that Russian soldiers were shooting at his house, her mother said, “Do not invent it, nothing like that just cannot happen!”

These words caused great pain to Yevgeny, who witnessed terrible things, all the more so because he himself could die or lose his wife and children. When he talked to his mother about it, he waited for support from her, but met instead a denial of his experiences: this is how his mother met his words.

“During our work, Yevgeny experienced relief by understanding what was going on with his mother: she did not want him to die, to hurt him or to dismiss him as her son,” Chepornyuk explained. “Yevgeny’s mother faced a choice between two needs: the need to believe and support his son and the need to accept her country's policy.”

When our psyche is faced with severe stress, it uses various mechanisms to protect itself.

“For example, I live in a country where it is important to be loyal to the authorities to lead a comfortable life, and I believe what an authoritative person is saying. To admit that this person is not telling the truth means to admit that I was deceived, that I was wrong and that we, the residents of the country, were wrong and involved in a crime, ”Chepornyuk explains.

“This causes stress for the psyche. It is easier to protect oneself from excessive stress by telling oneself and others that this is not the case, that it is all fake and not true. This is the only way to maintain internal harmony. After all, how else to tolerate the guilt over your own kind doing something evil?

On the other hand, there is another way to overcome this stress: noticing that being a part of the state does not mean to support the state's entire policy.

In the event that Yevgeny is ready to talk to his mother, they discussed some of the points which could help him in communicating with her.

1. Be clearly aware of your own needs when interacting with your mother. If you desire to persuade another person about something, you need to understand why it is necessary. Perhaps this is a desire to receive emotional support, maybe the need to prove that I am intelligent.

2. It is very important to take care of yourself first. Assess whether you have the time, the moral and other resources you are willing to invest in the conversation. Are you sure you want to spend your strength in arguing and try to convey hundreds of arguments to a person who may not be prepared to receive them?

3. You have the right to choose any way of leaving the conflict according to your needs at a specific moment: negotiations to reach a common opinion; compromise in the form of refusal to discuss certain issues; interrupting the contact if you are not ready for it or postponing communication until a time convenient for; avoiding a conversation. The key is not to violate point 2 and take care of yourself.

4. Try to view yourself on the position of the person you are in conflict with. This will help you understand what drives your interlocutor.

5. It is more efficient to create a dialogue with non-violent communication techniques when talking to somebody.