Portraits of Russians Risking Everything to Support Ukraine
When words are so closely controlled that it’s a crime to call a war a war, what drives someone to speak out?
Here, the Russian protesters cite many things. There is one: a sense that there is moral accountability. To fight against tyranny, and end the conflict which is taking lives of civilians in Ukraine. For some, it’s anger—rage that such crimes are being carried out in the name of the Russian people, and that authorities have detained thousands of Russians for daring to protest.
These feelings are underpinned by an inexorable hope, however: the dream of a more free and prosperous Russia as well as an end to violence in Ukraine.
“Hope gives you the strength to act,” says Mary Gelman, the Russian photojournalist who made these portraits. “If you think that everything is doomed and you are nothing, you become a very comfortable instrument for the regime.”
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Katya was fired from her position at Moscow Cinemas when she protested the invasion. “I see a lot of like-minded people who inspire me, and I am not so afraid with them here,” she says. “We have us, and we haven’t been broken. There are more of us who are against this, but the power wants to convince us it’s the opposite.”
Gelman believes that hope is a powerful motivator. She has continued to work as a photojournalist, despite the risk. Before the invasion of Ukraine, Russian journalists were threatened with harassment, imprisonment and death if they disagreed with government propaganda. Gelman sees it as her duty to show different points of view—something that’s even more essential in a time of censorship and propaganda, she says.
“Loving your motherland does not mean supporting the power and always agreeing with them,” Gelman explains. “It’s wanting a better life for your people, saying to the authorities ‘no’ or ‘you’re wrong,’ and trying to change something if needed. It’s hard to do it in this authoritarian regime, but necessary.”
Palad’d’aSt. Petersburg-based feminist and artist, criticized the war on social networks. Two days later, she was detained. “I don’t think the monsters will disappear if you close your eyes … The main thing is not to keep silent.”
Elena Osipova, a 77-year-old artist known as the “conscience of St. Petersburg,” mounted her first protest in 2002. On the morning of Ukraine’s invasion, she was contacted by a Moscow reporter. “I said, ‘The Russian Führer comes to Anschluss.’”
Elena was sentenced to five days’ imprisonment for wearing a green ribbon, a symbol of peace, in her hair. “I can talk only about this war. To me, other subjects are irrelevant. To be apolitical now is a crime.”
Misha attended antiwar protests in St. Petersburg, and was tased by police and imprisoned for five days. “I believe we can build a country that is free, proud, and open to the world. But first, the war must end!”
ZlataThe victim, who is HIV positive and has cervical cancer, was taken into police custody at protest. She was held for fifteen days. “The police took our phones, insulted me, and called me a ‘whore’ and ‘contagious’ … They dragged me across the floor, beat my arms, and spat at me.”
NikaA student at St. Petersburg State University is facing expulsion because of antiwar activities. Five times she was detained for being a SOTA photojournalist. “We are doing everything to stop this madness.”
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