Guest Opinion: Behind the Iron Curtain


Junior Arina Garifullina at an anti-war protest in Philadelphia.

My name is Arina. My mom and I immigrated to the United States from Russia in May of 2019. I had to leave behind my dad and my grandma, whom I have not seen in person since my departure. My dad works at the Moscow Metro, and my grandma is an elementary school teacher. Ever since I have moved here, the bond with my national and ethnic roots have grown stronger. I try my best to keep myself informed and receive information from multiple resources in different languages. I do not want to stay silent in times like these, and I want to you all to know what has been happening behind the Iron Curtain since Feb. 24.

Russian propaganda is a powerful tool that has been influencing public opinion on both minor and major political moves of its government. All mainstream TV channels are either directly or indirectly controlled by Putin’s agenda. Since 2014, major news stations have been circulating information that is only convenient to them. For example, Meta, the parent company of Facebook, was declared a terrorist organization. Since Facebook, Instagram and other major media resources have announced their withdrawal from the Russian market, the availability of alternative news sources has steadily decreased. Most oppositionist media was found by the Russian federal court as either extremist or enemies of the state and were banned in the territory of Russia. This provides rich soil to plant the seeds of ignorance and misinformation among citizens. 

As a person who was born and raised in Russia, I feel collective guilt over the fact that some Russians support the invasion of Ukraine under the goal of its “denazification.” Propaganda fuels rumors about the “Ukrainian atrocities” against Russians abroad. We fought fascism in WWII, yet are ignorant enough to support it today.

In this article, I would like to have the honor to express my perspective on how we (Russian citizens) let that happen and, most importantly, why we can do so little to stop it.

If everyone who disagrees walks out on the streets of their cities, they can show their protest and change something! Right?

Yes and no.

Some of you might know that over the course of 10 months (May 2020 – March 2021) there were mass political demonstrations in Belarus. Similar to Putin, the Belarusian President, A. Lukashenko has been in power since the 90’s. Some of the reasons for persistent activism against him were electoral fraud, detainment of the country’s main opposition leaders (who were also presidential candidates), police brutality and economic/social policies of the current government. 

This was an unprecedented opposition with record numbers of protesters and people who were arrested. Hundreds of human rights violations were recorded, including sexual abuse. Despite those tremendous efforts by Belarusian opposition, most of its leaders are now either in exile or prison. And little to no change in governmental structures and policies was achieved, even though Lukashenko is not recognized by most of the countries of Europe and North/South America as a democratically elected president.

Photo credit: USNews. Women’s march in Belarus. The red and white flag became the symbol of Belarusian opposition in 2021.

This set an example for politically active Russians that no matter how many people walk out or at least actively express their opposition to their country’s actions, nothing will be achieved. One of the most famous anti-Putin critics is Alexei Navalny. He is the leader of Russian opposition who had been poisoned, and upon his arrival back in Russia (he was treated in Germany while in coma) he was immediately arrested and convicted to 2.5 years for violating parole. (For further information search “Alexei Navalny sentenced to prison 2021”.)

Photo credit: TheBulletin. Aleksey Navalny with his wife and kids in Germany after waking up from a coma.

There were mass protests in early 2021 to free all political prisoners, additionally fueled by the arrest of Navalny. On March 22, he was sentenced to nine more years in prison.

But he is not the only political prisoner in Russia. People whose opinion differs from the official one have been convicted of non-existent crimes or assassinated for decades. But lately, even common citizens have been jailed for posting a meme or blowing up a federal building in Minecraft. A 16-year-old will serve 5 years for that. 

Photo credit: IMEngine. Screenshot from a live-streamed video of the last hearing on Navalny’s fraud case. He was sentenced to nine more years on March 22.

All these cases depict how ineffective mass demonstrations can be against an authoritarian government, and how suffocating the Russian reality is. Yet, people still put up a fight. In the last three weeks, more than 12,000 people were arrested at anti-war demonstrations in all major Russian cities (4,000 in Moscow alone).

The Russian government has passed two laws that criminalize addressing the war in Ukraine as “the war.” To be more specific, if anyone encourages someone to attend anti-war protests, they can face up to five years in prison. And people who call the “special operation” a war or an invasion are deemed as national traitors and can be sentenced up to 15 years of prison. 

Photo credit: hrw. “Peace to Ukraine, Freedom to Russia”

But recently, we have witnessed a great moment of bravery from a now former employee of the main TV news station that is owned by the State. Marina Ovsyannikova staged an on-air anti-war protest by holding up a sign that said, “No War. Stop the War. Don’t Believe Propaganda. They are lying to you here. Russians Against War” behind the news reporter. Thankfully, she has only been fined for “hooliganism.”

Photo credit: TheMoscowTimes. Marina Ovsyannikova’s protest.

As previously mentioned, my dad works at the Moscow Metro. His employer gathered a number of collective meetings with all of the underground workers to warn them that if anyone joined an anti-war demonstration, they will be immediately fired, and their actions will be punished by the court.

That’s why people are so careful with expressing their opinion. For instance, in a video from YouTube channel 1420 some people refrain themselves from saying “the W word.” Remember that many people refuse to give interviews, and these videos illustrates only a small portion of the Russian population.

Photo credit: aljazeera. A person being arrested at anti-war protest in Russia.

As many of you already know, Russia was literally canceled in most of the world. Severe sanctions have been placed on both Russian imports and exports.  Some of them even aim to hurt the assets of oligarchs. But MOST of them target the overall population. 

I have heard many Americans complaining about the rise of the cost of gas. Here is an example from my dad on how the shelves have changed after a week of sanctions in his local supermarket:

Screenshot of Arina’s conversation with her father. Translation with preservation of grammar and punctuation to the right.

“The prices went up by 30-60%. For example the watch that I’ve bought for 60 thousand rubles ($566) now costs 85 thousand ($802). Photo is above. Sugar used to cost 60 rub. Now from 100 to 140 rub. Buckwheat used to cost up to 100 rub. Now around 200 rub.”

“Only the gas prices didn’t go up” 

“Bread prices didn’t go up that much only a few %”

The average salary in Russia is about 40,000 to 50,000 rubles a month.

All of this primarily hurts the citizens that have nothing to do with the military.

I hope that after reading this you have gained another perspective on how “1984”-ish modern Russia is. I hope that all of this ends immediately and people of Ukraine retain their peace. I hope that no one else dies in wars started by old power-hungry madmen. I hope that you take care of yourself because living through historic events is hard. I know it.

Thank you so much for your attention and stay informed!

If you want to stay updated on what is happening in Ukraine, you should check out some of these news and photo sources that are run by Ukrainian journalists and activists.



Ukraine NOW [English]

Or a more frequently updated version of the channel–Украина сейчас: новости, война, Россия–it is in both Ukrainian and Russian but you can use a translator app.