The day of February 24 marked the end of Russia as they knew it for Andrei Soldatov and his pals.
Vladimir Putin, the president, declared that he had sent Russian forces into Ukraine in the early hours of that day. Soldatov, a Russian investigative journalist who lives in self-imposed exile in London, said to HEADLINESFOREVER, “And all of a sudden, everything we still believed in got absolutely compromised.”
For dissidents, independent journalists, and anyone speaking out against Putin’s dictatorship, life in Russia has grown increasingly tough over the years, but according to Soldatov, there is still some hope. The war, he claimed, altered that.
“It was awful to live under Putin and it was very far from the idea of democracy, but you still had some established institutions that you would almost take for granted that they would exist regardless of what, and all of a sudden, everything collapsed,” he said, referring to the nearly total eradication of any remaining independent media, civil society, and human rights organisations.
According to a woman who still resides in Moscow and who HEADLINESFOREVER will refer to as Olga, February 24 marks the end of the road. She explained her embarrassment and helplessness to HEADLINESFOREVER via an encrypted messaging service: “Life turned into a nightmare from which it is hard to wake up, round-the-clock reading of the news, protests at which there were more security officers than civilians.” “Our nation is the aggressor. This horrific massacre is being carried out on our behalf, on my behalf,” she remarked.
The woman requested that HEADLINESFOREVER not print her name and instead use a pseudonym due to the dangers to her personal safety. She runs the possibility of being detained and maybe facing a lengthy prison sentence if she speaks to international journalists about her involvement in the protests, including the usage of the phrase “war” rather than the Kremlin-approved euphemism “special military operation.”
The majority of Russia’s more liberal, educated, and globally travelled individuals have spent the past nine months appalled about the bloodshed their own country has inflicted on Ukraine, despite the impression created by Russian official media that everyone in the country supports the war and Putin.
But those who disagree have few options because the increasingly oppressive regime cracks down on any indications of opposition.
Thousands of Russians have left the nation, some out of principle or because they were being persecuted, others to escape Western sanctions or the possibility of being conscripted into the military, and still others for other reasons. Thousands have been detained, claim rights organisations. Following the exit of hundreds of foreign corporations from Russia and the closure of numerous domestic and international NGOs and advocacy organisations, many more have been forced to leave public life or have lost their employment.
Dissent has been brutally suppressed. Over 19,400 people have been detained in Russia for participating in anti-war demonstrations, and dozens are being tried every week under a new law that declared it against the law to spread “false” information about the invasion, according to independent human rights monitor OVD-Info.
Ilya Yashin, a Kremlin opponent, was given more than eight years in prison earlier this month by a Moscow court for speaking out against the alleged murder of civilians by Russian troops in the Ukrainian town of Bucha, which is outside of Kyiv. The Kremlin has repeatedly repeated unfounded assertions that the photographs of dead civilians were manufactured while denying any role in the mass killings.
On the day he received a formal letter outlining criminal allegations against him from the Russian authorities in London, Soldatov spoke to HEADLINESFOREVER.
He is now on Russia’s wanted list after being charged with disseminating fake information about the Russian military and law enforcement, along with Yashin and hundreds of others. He disputes the accusations and maintains that all he was doing was relaying the facts on the activities taken by the Russian government prior to and during the invasion of Ukraine.
Since the commencement of the war, all traces of a free press have been destroyed. Russians looking for information other than the government propaganda were forced to use virtual private networks, or VPNs, which allow users to access the internet freely by encrypting their internet data. Western periodicals and social media sites have been restricted online. The top eight VPN apps in Russia were downloaded about 80 million times this year, according to data from Sensortower, an app market research firm, despite the government’s efforts to restrict their usage.