‘We’re Heartbroken’: Young Russians on the Invasion of Ukraine

“Everyone I know is scared, shocked and disgusted,” a 25-year-old from Moscow told VICE World News, as big anti-war protests took place in several Russian cities.
Police officers detain a protester in St Petersburg, Russia. Photo: Valya Egorshin/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Police detain a protester in St Petersburg, Russia. Photo: Valya Egorshin/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The eyes of the world are on Ukraine on the second day of Russia’s invasion of the country. On Thursday, protests broke out in cities across the world as people demonstrated against the war.

Many Russians are shocked and saddened by President Vladimir Putin’s actions too.

By Thursday evening, anti-war protests had been staged in cities across Russia despite a brutal police crackdown which saw almost 2,000 arrests. Authorities warned that “negative comments” about the invasion could be treated as “treason”.


A host of Russian celebrities have spoken out against the invasion, including the footballer Fedor Smolov and Maksim Galkin, one the country's most popular TV hosts.

We spoke to young Russians about the invasion. They spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of their own safety. 

Alina, 24, Moscow

“Everyone is shocked and heartbroken. It’s hard to believe [the war] is happening in 2022. I am half Ukranian and so are many of my friends. My father’s family is from a town that sits on the border between Russia and Ukraine, near Donetsk and Lugansk. And my mum is half Ukrainian. So this conflict feels very personal to me.

“My friends and I are going to the protest in Moscow today. It scares me a lot because you can go to jail for at least 15 days for this - and sometimes the consequences are even worse. But we can’t sit and watch how our government is basically killing people and ruining lives.

“I’m hoping the turn out is good, but I’m not sure how many will know the protests are even happening. All [the opposition leaders] went to jail or left the country because it wasn’t safe for them to stay here. And there is a law that means we can’t call for people to protest on the internet - so it can be hard to publicise protests.

“But me and my friends will be going, and hopefully a lot of other young people too. We might get arrested, we might go to jail, nobody knows. It scares me, but what else can we do?


“I am also scared for the future. We could end up being locked up in our country, having borders closed and visa appointments cancelled, and it's terrifying. I don’t want the rest of the world to think Russian people are rude, aggressive and stupid. Of course no one wants to deal with an unpredictable, aggressive nation. But Putin and our political leaders do not represent us. We don’t want war, we just want to live our lives.”

Kristina, 25, Moscow 

“When I saw [the news that Russia had invaded], I was shocked. I didn’t believe that it’s real. For hours we just sat there, scrolling the news, seeing all this awful information coming through.

“The atmosphere in Moscow is very tense right now. This morning we spent a few hours trying to withdraw cash, but we couldn’t get any - there were too many people trying the same thing, the queues were huge.

“I wrote to all of my friends from Ukraine to check if they’re OK. I wanted to say something more but I didn’t know what to say.

“Everyone I know is scared, shocked and disgusted. I just want to cry and for this whole situation to stop, but to be honest I’m sure it’s just the beginning.”

“[Russia] is a peaceful society but it is the people who will feel the consequences of this, not the authorities. The life of every Russian changed today.


“My message to the Ukrainian people is to stay safe and be strong, we are with you.” 

Sasha, 22, London

“Luckily I was part of the generation that has never experienced war nearby - now that luck is over. It’s a scary feeling - and I’m scared for all my beloved friends in Ukraine. Today shows just how quickly and unexpectedly things can escalate. 

“We didn’t choose to go to war, and we didn’t choose the government that has taken us to war.

“The most daunting thing is that any further move from any country, anywhere in the world, can make the situation deteriorate even more. It’s hard to comprehend what the impact of this will be - and how the world will look in a few weeks time. It feels like we are on thin ice.

“Anyone who has read a bit of history knows that wars fuck over everyone who is involved in them. And with access to nuclear [weapons] nowadays, the stakes are even higher.

“I hope that I wake up tomorrow and all this is over. But to be honest any positive predictions are delusional.

“To Ukranians I say stay safe - the rest is better to say in person.”