— The day the war started coincided for us with a personal tragedy. My mother and I were in hospital with my husband who was dying. But we started to do what we had to do: at night I would stream
from the hospital and tell what was happening to our relatives in Ukraine, and in the morning, I would come to the editorial office.
There was no question of whether or not to write about the war. We understand that we work to say what we think is right. If we shut up, the years of work before that would be wasted.
We have an audience that does not recognize the special operation in Ukraine and considers it a war. But there are also many city residents, not bots, who believe that we may stand up for their rights for more than 20 years but are not allowed to have an opinion.
Before the fake news law came along, we broke loose and published columns
presenting our straightforward opinion on what was going on. The problem with print newspapers is that their audience is older people. But after the 24 February, young people came to us to buy newspapers to put them in the mailboxes of their blocks of flats. People wanted to explain to their neighbors and friends that not everything was going as smooth [as they said on TV].
After these columns
came out, we received calls and letters telling us how wrong we were or that we were agents of the State Department. The head of the city received a letter asking him to close down our newspaper (which, by the way, is private) and offer us a job in a public toilet.
Before the media’s Instagram was blocked (due to complaints from users — note by the project team), we received messages suggesting
we go to Israel and indicating specific flights.
There was one particularly remarkable case was when a woman came to the United Russia’s (Russian ruling party) reception office to complain about how wrong we were. She didn’t complain about roads being so fucked up, the yards being a mess, or why the city’s main sewage plant is in disrepair and can burst at any moment. No, she came to ask them to deal with us.
The United Russia acted in their usual way: they told her to go to the police. I don’t know if she went there or not, but I keep getting indignant calls at least once a day warning me that the authorities are about to deal with us.
The hardest moment for me was when at the end of March some people came to the editorial office, and I knew them because I had helped them [as a journalist]. They came to say that I was disgracing our science city with my columns. And that, after I had spent a huge amount of time helping them, pestering officials, pushing for solutions to their problems. I thought that these people would feel grateful to us, but they felt obliged to say that we were traitors.
The most interesting thing I realized from talking to them is that as soon as a new problem arises, they will come to us again. All this causes cognitive dissonance. It seems to me that there has been a breakdown in the mental health of the Russian society.