Ukraine stories: What do Russian children say when their motherland is a troll?

This text comes from the project “Ukraine Stories” launched by the English-speaking partner of “Time” Geneva Solutions, which deals with the international Geneva. It is about supporting and publishing the work of dozens of Ukrainian and Russian journalists who have lost their jobs or their media, but not their know-how.

A crowdfunding campaign covered the first two months of the project. If you want to support him for the future, write info[at]

In Russian there are no definite and indefinite articles. The interlocutors simply understand that it is not about a dog or a house, but about this dog and this house. Earlier, the word “war” immediately brought to mind 1941-1945. Now, if you say that word, your interlocutor will immediately think of the war in Ukraine.

One of the most gripping Russian documents from World War II is the diary of teenager Tania Savitcheva from Leningrad. His last post is known by the people of St. Petersburg: “Everyone is dead, only Tania is left.”

Children no longer keep a diary. So when the war started, I started talking to them. To ask what they see, hear, think. How they are doing.

I first talked to the parents to find out the boundaries of the topics I was going to cover. More than once, I have faced dilemmas. What to do when a little boy suddenly whispers, “Tell me what happened in Boutcha, no one tells me about it.”

I see in this consciousness the birth of an entire generation.

War through a teenage phone

The war broke into Russian teenagers through the narrow screen of their phones:

“My vision has been very bad since the beginning of the war, I read on the phone all the time.”

“I read everything, the briefings of the Ministry of Defense, the independent media, everyone. I want to understand what’s going on and everyone is telling only part of the truth in one way or another. “

“Photos and videos are used to evoke a reaction, but I’m more interested in the mechanics behind what’s happening. I do not need anyone to prove to me that people are dying in war. “

For 5-year-olds who do not have a telephone, the concept of war is not entirely clear, nor is death for that matter. None of them know there’s a war going on right now. Their parents dragged them into a magical silent circle. Are they right? They do not have the language to talk about the war with a child of 5 or 6 years.

From the early days of the war, the state tried to put an end to all discussions on the subject, but it set them on fire. The teenagers talk with a mixture of horror and pleasure. They are as excited as in a game, like Tom Thumb when he tricks the troll who eats his own children. They are scared, but still protest, because it is a relief to overcome their fears:

“I wear two bracelets in the colors like the Ukrainian flag.”

“We made our own badges that we wear to school.”

“In the subway, people put stickers or chewing gum on the pro-war posters all the time.”

“If I’m against war, am I then against Russia?”

Propaganda does not answer the so-called “childish” questions from young people who need clear and precise answers. “If I’m against the war, does that mean I’m against Russia and dislike my country? That I’m for the war?” It’s a vicious circle.

After a while, I find a common thread in all these interviews: what to do when his motherland is a troll?

“And Boucha?” “I do not think Russian soldiers can do that. I do not believe that.”

“And Boucha? – What do you want? That I degrade my own country?”

“And Boucha? – You’re wrong, Boutcha was invented.

In 442 BC. wrote Sophocles a play about a young girl who goes so far as to bury herself to bury her brother Polynices, despite being told that he died as a criminal for an unjust reason and that he is covered of shame.

“If I am against people being killed, and therefore against war? Does that mean I am opposed to my father, my uncle, my father-in-law, my brother who is at war?

“I have come across such comments and such questions.”

And I understand that it’s Antigone who’s talking.

Yulia Yakovleva is the author of “Stories from Leningrad”, which tells about the Stalin era through the eyes of children. Translation and adaptation: Aylin Elci

The long version of this article was first published in the independent media Holod (in Russian).

Our file: Ukraine stories: The war through Russian and Ukrainian voices

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