Writer: Sofiya Voytiv
I woke up to my mother’s call in the early morning on the 24th of February, 2022. “It started! The war has started!” she declared. After we discussed what my family’s next steps should be, I got a very familiar urge to seek out others like me who live in Stockholm. I immediately started googling for demonstrations that would happen that day, just hours after the invasion began.
Of course, I was not the only one. Apart from Ukrainian flags, flags of Estonia, Belarus (flag used by opposition with red and white stripes), and Georgia among others were held during this and other demonstrations to follow. There was also a Russian flag. However, it had “Stop Putin’s war” written all over it. This small example of solidarities made me wonder – have the patterns of such solidarity changed since 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea and started an insurgency in eastern Ukraine? What is different now?
“Now it is all different. It’s a full-scale war”
Going to demonstrations to support Ukraine is unfortunately not something new in my life. When Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, I was living as a student in a small town in Sweden. There I got to “witness” the violent developments through constant streams of news, and the only activity that helped me feel less useless was uniting with other people and showing up at the demonstrations. Those demonstrations, mostly frequented by Ukrainians in diaspora, have rarely (or never?) seen waving Russian flags. To be honest, it would be difficult to spot many other flags on these early demonstrations either.
However, this is not to say there was no solidarity. My previous research has shown that Ukrainian and Russian diasporic and migrant organisations in Sweden would work together with other organisations as long as they were sure they had the same view on the annexation of Crimea and Russian-backed insurgency in the Donbas region (Voytiv 2019). Now this has changed.
The choices must be made
Since early 2014, the politicized Ukrainian diaspora and people in solidarity with Ukraine have had to update their message mostly by intensifying it. In the meanwhile, Russians who wanted to show solidarity had to re-define their position through the negotiations of their own identity of being Russian, facing the anger and expectations, while also showing a very specific set of emotions. Posters such as “I am Russian. I am against Putin” (“but” implied) or “Russia is ashamed” are some particular examples of how such solidarity can be included.
However, it is probably anger that moves the most. “I am Russian, I am a lesbian, I emigrated from Russia long time ago. I am not ashamed of being Russian. I am mad, I am really angry at this regime”, said one of the speakers in a demonstration against the Russian invasion and was met by the loudest roar of applause.
Since the invasion in February 2022 new groups, including Russian diasporic individuals, have been joining the solidarity with Ukraine movement, which was not the case in 2014. These new groups and actors show and perhaps are expected to display certain sets of emotions and actions. When your “homeland” is the aggressor, it is not enough to be upset silently, it is the pro-active emotion that counts.
Voytiv, S. (2019). Ukrainian and Russian organizations in Sweden and the conflict “back home”. Connections, 39(1), 1-20. DOI:10.21307/connections-2019-008.