“This year, we all aged two years”
A personal story about the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

This author’s name has been changed to protect their anonymity and for safety. 

“This year, we all aged two years,” said my best friend on the phone when I told him about my recent nightmare. I was thinking about a year of war before I went to bed, and a nightmare followed these thoughts once again. I woke up in tears and went to write my midterm. The last time I saw my friends was a bit more than a month ago, when I went back home for the winter break.

It was January 2023 when we—Russian youth, children of the 2000s—started comparing ourselves with Soviet dissidents, people who stood against the government and were harshly punished for their actions. The only difference was that we were more timid. Maybe because we already knew what happens to people who oppose the system, maybe because the system was not as bad as it could get yet. 

We listened to Ukrainian music but not too loudly, so neighbors couldn’t hear. We found a rare oppositional newspaper, where the word “war” was crossed out in every sentence because of the new, more stringent censorship practices. We looked at these thin pages with red marks instead of words and could not believe our eyes.

I was complaining about how I couldn’t get out of the country to start classes on time because there were no flights. My best friend was complaining that he could be drafted after he graduates, if the war is not over by that time. In the winter of 2023, none of us were delusional, thinking that it could finish soon. 

We all had our issues. 

Mine were the mildest. 

I was wondering if I should switch my antidepressants and cut down my nicotine intake. I started smoking more at home.  

Even after my parents left the country, Russia remained my home, possibly because of my grandmother or a few close friends who stayed. I felt that I belonged there more than ever during these dark days. I was still happy to be home. I tried to turn my eyes away from the war propaganda (so my emotions wouldn’t take over) and cherish every moment. 

There was a crazy duality in everything. Saint Petersburg: a beautiful city poisoned with militarist lies. A fun place with every type of celebration where you can’t say certain words if you care about your freedom. No matter how scary it became, the city remained my home—the place where I grew up, and where I lived for 19 years of my life. 

After my mom left the country, I had a few days in Saint Petersburg on my own. I crashed at a friend’s house—I hated the idea of being home alone and feeling lonely here. I felt more at peace in Canada, but I was just a guest without an invitation, and no rights. I would say I invited myself to the country when I got into the University of Toronto Mississauga. But Saint Petersburg is my home. I decided I have no right to be lonely here, especially if I came for such a short time. And I did not. 

Now we all feel like home has been taken from us. We have no control over the situation. In Russia, everyone is just trying to keep up with their lives—trying to take control over small, mundane things. People in power did not ask our opinions about something important. Still, we will do our best to make our voices heard.


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