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Russians and the War: When the government is not acting on behalf of its people

The 24th of February was first and foremost a tragic day for Ukraine. In this article, we do not want to diminish the suffering of people in Ukraine. Our goal is to highlight the effects the government’s decision had on simple Russian citizens and their lives. We have previously made a statement about our position in relation to the situation which you can read here:

The Initial Reaction

The morning of the 24th of February came as a shock to Russians. Despite the tension that has been building up for weeks before that day, most people refused to believe that an actual war could start. The day after the majority of citizens was divided into several groups: the ones who flooded the streets in protests, the ones who fanatically supported Russia’s ruling party, and the ones who tried to stay “apolitical”. Since a big number of people have ties in Ukraine either due to family or friends, and two million ethnic Ukrainians are currently living in Russia, it was difficult to stay quiet. In the next three days after the start of the invasion, more than 3100 people were arrested all over Russia due to participation in anti-war protests. By March 1st, the number rose to 6400.

Credit: ANTON VAGANOV/Reuters. Signs say "I am ashamed to be Russian" and "No to War"

However, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. In this case, the response to those protests from officials was rapid and terrifying. Along with media censorship and the banning of the biggest independent news sources came a law regarding "discreditation of Russian military forces". The new law ensures that everyone who spreads information that is not confirmed by the Russian Ministry of Defense will face a punishment ranging from a 700000₽ (~10000$) fine to 15 years of incarceration. Basically, it implies that every comment on Facebook and every sign used for picketing can potentially put one in jail if it conveys ideas that are not in support of the Russian government. The so-called "discrediation" also includes using the word "war" instead of "special military operation" while referring to the events in Ukraine.

There have already been cases of arrested high schoolers for comments left under social media posts and people fined for standing outside with a blank piece of paper or a sign saying "два слова" (Russian for "two words"). While it all might seem ridiculous when you start hearing of cases like the one of Ilya Utkin--a lawyer who was arrested for, supposedly, wearing blue shoes with yellow stripes--most Russians are now horrified to speak up about the war. This new unclear law that lets the government arrest anyone they want without a proper reason combined with a history of prison tortures and police brutality in Russia forces people to stay cautious about everything they write and say.

Moreover, such involvement of the authorities encouraged pro-Russian citizens to demonstrate their political position loudly and proudly. All of the state schools have been obliged to conduct a mandatory lesson on patriotism or Russian history in order to "educate" children about the war. The shops were flooded with cheap merchandise in support of the Russian army and state facilities of all kinds are using disadvantaged groups of citizens (orphans, the elderly, and people with disabilities) to promote the "special operation".

Economic Consequences

Due to the role that Russia plays in the international community and the proximity of the war to the countries of NATO, leaders all around the world had to react. Almost immediately after the war started, Russia was sanctioned. Although those might be undoubtedly beneficial in the long run and are influencing the decisions of the Russian elite right now, the group who is suffering from them the most are citizens of Russia most of whom never wanted this war in the first place.

Since imported goods are playing a huge role in the Russian market, prices for almost all of the essential products have drastically increased:

  1. Groceries. Sugar prices have risen two times of what they used to be. Salt now costs 2-3 times more, rice prices have gone up 20%, costs of noodles and buckwheat about 40%.

  2. Medicine. Most of Russia's pharmacy supply comes from abroad. The decision of many countries to stop their export to Russia led to a 4-20% increase

  3. Products for children (Diapers, baby food). All prices rose on average by 2-2.5 times. Prices of domestic producers have also increased significantly due to the necessity of some materials produced abroad.

  4. Personal care products. In particular, child care products from Procter & Gamble went up in price by 47%, products for women's hygiene - by 33%, for health and beauty - by 67%, hair care - by 63%, oral care - by 58%, shaving - by 65%.

  5. Household chemicals. Costs of Procter&Gamble laundry products increased by 30%, of detergents - by 26%, and of professional cleaning products by 74%.

  6. Cosmetics. For most foreign brands the prices have gone up by 30-50%. Large chains have also canceled discounts on customer cards even for items produced in Russia. The situation is also complicated by problems in the field of logistics: 70% of suppliers have stopped shipping cosmetics and related products.

  7. Furniture. Most costs went up 20-45%.

  8. Jewelry. 15-25%.

  9. Alcohol. The most famous chain store in Russia, Red&White, increased the selling prices for foreign alcoholic beverages and canceled all discounts and promotions. Large distributors of foreign liquors also raised wholesale prices. As a result, alcoholic beverages rose in price by 20-40%.

  10. Construction materials. Prices change every hour, but on average the increase is 15-100%.

  11. Home appliances. Prices for dishwashers went up by more than 40%, refrigerators - by 9-50% depending on the model.

  12. Automobiles and auto parts. The average increase in the cost of cars on the Russian market was 20%. Auto parts went up in price by 30-50%.

What's Next?

It is difficult to expect something certain from Russia's citizens now. Too many people are blindly trusting the government instead of holding it accountable and too many people are afraid to speak up. While most people still agree with every official policy despite the dissatisfaction with their life in Russia, the recent rise in protests clearly shows that the number of people who want changes is growing steadily. We can't tell if there will be a rapid revolution or a slow process of changing the direction in which modern Russia is headed. But we hope that the future that awaits this country will be peaceful and open to cooperation with other countries instead of blind aggression.

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Dear members of the Russian American Youth Alliance community, Our hearts go out to everyone affected by this tragedy—those currently living in Ukraine, those with relatives caught in the crossfire, R

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