Ukraine is what you think about every single minute and Ukraine is what you are always trying not to think about. From the moment I learned about the missile strikes, it became clear to me that life as we knew it had changed forever. For a while, we might have supposed that things hadn't changed much on a global scale, but that was just a time lag. In fact everything had completely changed. It wasn’t yet obvious that I myself had changed forever. I suppose it’s still not something that I’m fully aware of… On the morning of the 24th of February, I had to get up early, as I had an arrangement to meet my father to buy my mother a gift for Women’s Day on the 8th of March. I got up at 6am and, as usual, I had a quick look at the Echo of Moscow website. I read the headlines of the news feed - and I just could not get my head around what I was reading. What is being shelled? Who is doing the shelling? Is this for real or just another false alarm? Then I looked at footage on the Dozhd TV news channel, and with my sleepy head, I tried to come to terms with how on earth we were going to live in this new reality. I have never been to Ukraine. I just didn’t get around to it before 2014 and after that I didn’t have the opportunity. It never occurred to me that Ukraine was a foreign country. As it happens, I used to socialise with Ukrainians when I would go on hiking trips. They would never ask me how I felt about Putin, or about who owned Crimea or anything like that. They didn't see me as an enemy. It’s not that we thought we were all from the same nation - we just had a lot in common and we easily found a common language. Of course this is much more important than any national kinship. On the day that war broke out, I wrote to all the Ukrainians I knew telling them that I wished them good health and that I hoped they would stay safe and that peace would be quickly restored. Every one of them thanked me for this. This made me feel even worse. I had become too acquainted with the way our country works to be lulled into complacency. Even those who had declared that war was unnecessary and impossible the day before, suddenly became ardent supporters of the invasion. Fear always makes you join the majority, and there was a lot of fear around in the early days. Very few people were able to face the truth that Russia attacked Ukraine for the purpose of occupation. All of this made me feel numb. For three weeks I couldn't concentrate on anything other than reading the news and searching for publications about how post-war Germany tried to justify its actions during the war. Where had we all been for eight years? Great question. Before the euphoria caused by the annexation of Crimea, it seemed that Russia was gradually moving in the right direction. Sure, there were excesses, but at least there wasn’t any terrible instability. The state institutions somehow managed to function, and people were finally aware of themselves as citizens. Sure, Putin wasn’t going anywhere in the near future, but the world was open, and we were open to the world, never mind all the cranky post-Imperialistic rhetoric. We worked to improve the world around us. We dreamt about the beautiful Russia of the future that we would build after Putin's departure. When the annexation of Crimea happened, the only real change for us was that Putin’s departure would be postponed from 2018 to 2024. There was also general approval of the annexation. Even when the war in Donbass began, it seemed that Putin would always know where to draw the line and that, in any case, nothing was irreversible. I realised that the point of no return had come after the announcement of constitutional reforms. In a sense, the beautiful Russia of the future was no longer a priority for anyone. For me, it was more interesting to concentrate on news of scientific and technological progress than to follow the domestic agenda. We remained part of a large open world, after all, and the world was looking to the future. However once the war began, it was clear that the future is not a priority for Russia. Most of my relatives only started thinking about what was happening after the start of the mobilisation. I cannot say that mobilisation made them anti-war. It was more a case of “it’s fine as long as it doesn’t affect me". Basically, they thought that mobilisation was a necessary evil - since the war had already begun, we needed to stick with it until we won. They saw Zelensky as a bloodthirsty monster and they thought that the hordes of Nazis would have to be crushed as soon as possible - by somebody. Somebody younger or less settled should do it. Almost no one understands that this war is criminal. Still, though, people have some kind of internal wisdom, and most regard friends and family as the most important thing in their lives. They are not falling out with their loved ones over this. My father and I met on the morning of February 24 and he learned about what was happening from me. We argued a lot about the war especially in the early days. For him, a retired military man, the idea of Russia losing the war was totally unacceptable. A victory for Ukraine would mean the collapse of Russia. But at the same time, he also couldn't fathom how Ukraine could be defeated. When our troops retreated from Bucha, we almost fell out with one another. It was the only occasion during the war when I raised my voice at him and slammed down the phone. An hour later he called back, apologised and suggested that we argue less about the war. Thank God that we found some kind of understanding. I don't know how much I have changed in all this time. Life, on the whole, has been the same. All my plans have been reduced to retaining my surviving clients. I’m continuing with my work and trying to maintain personal and business relationships despite differences of opinion. At the end of the day, there will come a time when we will have to rebuild our country from the ruins. God knows what kind of country it will be, but we’re going to have to live in it. The main thing is to read the news less and work hard. On the day after the announcement of mobilisation, when everyone I knew was calling me and asking for legal advice, I realised that I was not worried at all. I was faced with an existential decision between war and prison. At that moment, I chose prison. It is impossible to go to war knowing that it is criminal, and it is unthinkable to consider trying to survive the war by killing soldiers who are defending their homeland. I now understand that my lack of anxiety turned out to be a huge delusion. In fact, for almost a month I was in a stupor - similar to how I felt in February. It's not so much that I was afraid to end up in jail, or to emigrate like my close friends, or to be on the front line. It was just that my future had been snatched away… At the beginning of March, I spoke to my friend from Kherson and I told him: “We are also at war, only they’re not shooting yet.” Even though we had faced injustices over the years, I was sure that gradually our lives in Russia were changing for the better. In February, it became clear that growing your own patch of garden would not be enough; even though the trees still had their leaves, in fact they were already dead. I understood then that we would have to start again from scratch - we would have to nurture the gardens of our own hearts. However, with September’s announcement of mobilisation came the realisation that even this too would be a fragile endeavour - at any moment you could be faced with conscription and the choice between war and prison. Irreversible choices. What kind of future can you nurture for yourself in these conditions? It seems so strange that I am now an enemy of my own country. My own homeland is in fact the greatest threat to my future. And yet, the shooting here has not even begun yet….
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