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“I consider myself Russian because I speak Russian and my ancestors spoke Russian. It is spoken by my children. No matter how much I want to, no matter where in the world I find myself, there is no way to erase it.

Another thing is that even before I moved to Berlin in February 2019, while still in Russia, I often felt like a stranger among my own people. As if I was an "extra" person. My mother once told me that I actually needed to be "closer to the people". There was a friend who, as if jokingly, called me a 'rabid radical democrat'

On February 23rd, a friend posted in her Instagram Stories a fireworks display from Vorobyevy Gory, a popular view point in Moscow. The spectacle was grandiose and terrifying. The fireworks reminded me of the same date in 2014. On that day, I watched the same grand fireworks display from the window of my Moscow flat.

A few days later, Russia annexed Crimea. It was a shock and a shame. I thought I was prepared for everything after the annexation of Crimea. On the 24th of February it turned out that I was not.

The outbreak of war shocked me, but did not frighten me. It was just hard to believe it. I was scared for the people in Ukraine, including my relatives.

Two generations ago we had a large family and their descendants live in Kyiv, Sumy, Odesa, Sevastopol. Before the war, we had at least some contact with them, but after Russia's attack on Ukraine, it turned out that this contact was the most important thing; to let people know that they were not alone, that there were people from Russia who were on their side.

Some of the relatives fled: some ended up in Prague, some in Tel Aviv. Everyone is tormented by their wanderings. It hurts to see their suffering to be exiles, deprived of just a normal everyday life. But I can separate: these are my feelings and problems. It does not help them.

When part of the family fled from Kyiv to Prague, I went there for a few days. We started to talk. Openly about everything that was going on, about how we felt. What they feel. I think when people feel that they are not alone, it gives them strength. A few days after the meeting, a relative sent me a text saying that she smiled after meeting me for the first time since the beginning of the war.

I found a young, lonely, 22-year-old relative from Sumy, whom I had not known before the war. I offered to move in with us. She refused to leave her homeland and, sitting in a bomb shelter, weaved anti-tank camouflage nets. Now we are in touch and plan to meet. I think a strong bond between people is the most powerful weapon against evil.

Do I feel any shame? No. Before I moved to Berlin, for many years I was against Putin's regime and I did what I could, I took part in protest rallies, I didn't give bribes - neither to the police nor to doctors as a "thank you", as is, alas, the custom in Russia. I was not on the side of evil and as a matter of principle did not work for the state, nor did I support the system.

For me, the country of Russia and the state of Russia are two opposed concepts. Yes, my country is Russia, but the Russian state is something I will always be against”.

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