'I am against this war. Everyone I know is against this war' – Reactions by Russian friends of Luke Harding, a Guardian journalist in Ukraine covering the conflict, and Phoebe Taplin, who settled in Bishop's Stortford after being deported by Vladimir Putin's Kremlin in 2011
Phoebe Taplin and her husband Luke Harding moved from Moscow 11 years ago to settle in Bishop’s Stortford when Luke’s honest reporting of Russian affairs for The Guardian meant he was deported by Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin. The couple’s two children attended Hockerill Anglo-European College.
The award-winning correspondent and best-selling author of eight books – his most recent, from 2020, is Shadow State: Murder, Mayhem and Russia’s Remaking of the West – is now in Ukraine, covering the war. Early on Friday (Feb 25) he left Kyiv and joined the exodus of thousands of Ukrainians heading west as Russian soldiers advanced on the capital.
Luke and Phoebe still have dozens of Russian friends in Moscow and around the world, and many of those have been posting their reactions to the war. Here, Phoebe presents a selection of the most poignant and sobering...
Marina in Moscow – “Russia is trapped by a madman, delusional and raving in his alternative reality and petty grievances ... It is really hard to comprehend that this is really happening.
"Police have been arresting everyone trying to protest against war in the last few days... I am against this war. Everyone I know is against this war.”
Eleven hours later, she posted a picture of an anti-war demonstration with the words: “Moscow right now. Sadly, it won’t change what is happening.” A lot of the protestors had been “arrested and beaten up”, she added.
Russian friend Arina, who lives in England – "Like so many of my Russian friends, I'm appalled, hurt and, irrationally, deeply ashamed of what is unfolding in Ukraine.
"This weekend will be spent huddled together to process the pain of carrying the same passport as the invading mercenaries, and the general sorrow of the thing.
"Elderly Ukrainian women are learning guerrilla warfare, just like their mothers had to do in 1941.
"Poor Russian kids doing compulsory military service are being shipped out under the guise of 'contractors' like their grandfathers were to Afghanistan.
"I want Ukraine to be for Putin's Russia what Afghanistan was for the Soviet Union, but even this isn't worth the blood and horror."
Natasha, originally from Moscow, in London – Like lots of people, she posted a dove on her Facebook profile picture and writes: “Not in my fucking name!!!
"I'm sitting here crying. The horror is inhuman. The last time I felt such terrible horror was on 9/11, only then was it shameless.”
Later she shares a post from a Moscow friend, Olga, who had just been arrested for protesting in Pushkin Square: “I was scared that I would freeze outside. Hahaha! They started pushing me even before I had time to get out the poster that said 'For Peace and Friendship with Neighbours'. It's a shame – all that effort painting it was wasted. My first time in a paddy wagon. It's warm and muggy in here.”
Anya – A former colleague, who now works in PR, has updated her profile picture, like lots of people, to read simply: “НЕТ ВОЙНЕ” (“No to war”).
Yulia, my first friend in Moscow – She also added a dove of peace on her Facebook frame. When a Ukrainian friend belittles the gesture in a comment, she writes: “Hugs. We are very worried about family and friends... of course, putting a dove on my avatar won’t help much, but it’s also hard not to do it. I put it there for myself not to go crazy in the middle of this madness.”
Novelist Alexander, from Moscow, now lives in Israel – “Nine years ago I left Russia so as not to be complicit in what is happening now. But it didn't work. I feel like someone who shares responsibility for what I couldn't prevent. Worst day of my life.
"What do I need to do to be able to hold up my head? I can't see it yet. Repentance awaits Russia, and it will be great.”
A friend has commented beneath this: “I spoke with friends from Ukraine today. They are collected, calm and determined. My Russian friends (including me) are frantic. Ukrainians are calm because the truth is on their side. The Russians are crying out of shame and powerlessness. This is the reality of it.”
Writer Larissa, whose mother is from Kyiv and who now runs an Anglo-Russian club in London – “My God, when will they stop this freak Putin? Poor Ukraine. The pain and the shame.”
Moscow-based Gemella, mum of my kid's best friend from school – “So here we are. The blind man is leading not only another blind man, but the entire blind army. What’s making things worse is the fact that this particular blind man is absolutely sure that he can see. Moreover, he is sure that he is the only one who can see.
"Well, we all know the end to that story. We just don’t know how long it will take to end, and what price has to be paid to end it. Let’s hope it won't take a lot of time.
"As for the price – it would be paid in human blood, as always. Even a single drop is too much.”
Julia, another Russian school mum friend from years gone, posts – “Позорящее зло” (Shameful evil). Underneath this, an impassioned comment war breaks out between her friends. One of them accuses Julia of not understanding the situation because she has left Russia. Julia replies that the Rodina (homeland) is where she was born and raised. “Но ваш царь мне не Родина,” she concludes (“but your tsar [Putin] is not my homeland”).
Journalist Vladimir – “Russia is bombing Kiev. Russia is bombing Kiev. Yesterday, on the first day of Russia's fratricidal war against Ukraine, 137 Ukrainians were killed, 316 wounded. And more will die today. These are the ones with guns defending their homeland – just random, peaceful people.
"This is how Putin wants to 'denazify' Ukraine, to 'protect' Donbas. Killing and destroying, killing and destroying. Putin wants to stain the blood of all Russians, on behalf of whom he treacherously invaded an independent country.
"But the majority in Russia, I am sure, still want peace ... If you remain silent, the feelings of shame, guilt and fear won’t stop Putin, who has taken the country hostage.
"Talking, discussing what is happening with friends, neighbours, random people is needed first of all to save oneself from a 69-year-old megalomaniac with nuclear warheads.
"And it helps, at least sometimes, to call things as they are. There are few who openly agree to support aggression and mass murder.”
Journalist and translator Masha, who lives in London, reposted a comment from Kyiv, which includes the passport photo of Anton Tarasenko, a child killed in the war – “Let the whole world, all Russia look into the eyes of this dead child. Russians, you should all be ashamed that you allowed Putin to kill Ukrainian children!”
Photographer Maya posts angrily from Moscow – “Russia 2022. 1,700 people have already been detained for ANTI WAR demonstrations. And it's not 'Navalnists' [supporters of opposition activist Alexei Navalny], not 'oppositionists' who have been dragged into the back of a police car.”
Passionate arguments flare up on people’s timelines. Tatiana argues with Sergei, who tries to justify the invasion by talking about genocide against Russian speakers in Ukraine – She writes: “You're posting such nonsense! Oh my goodness. I'm from Kharkov. I am Russian with a residence permit. Nobody has ever hurt me. I do not speak Ukrainian; I do not write it...
"And the fact that Russia has a sick moron in power, everyone knows it. Russia's economy is strong, we have money. But for whom? For the elite in power. How do people live outside the MKAD [the ring road around Moscow]? Twice a year, I visit my parents in the Nizhny Novgorod region and I see everything with my own eyes.”
Former journalist colleague Elenka – She now leads walking and cycle tours in St Petersburg. She writes about a spontaneous and scary decision to take flowers to the Ukrainian consulate on Thursday when the war began in earnest. She tried to leave them with a handwritten note that reads: “Sorry! No to war”.
She writes: “I can't stand geopolitics! But ... I don't want to live in an aggressor country, but yet I don't have the power to fix it.
"Remember to separate politics from ordinary people. For me Russia is a country of Tolstoy, Tchaikovsky and Gagarin. I wish my foreign friends and acquaintances would understand this.”
Nadezhda comments – “I did not sleep all night and was hoping, really hoping that they would not break through, that somehow they would not be able to. Then I heard the news in the morning: 'They are bombing Kiev, Kramatorsk, Kharkov, Odessa' ... The horror.
"I have an inexpressible burning feeling of shame. Disgrace. The irreparable injury of what has happened... And the hour has come. Trouble spreads with its wings. And every moment of resentment multiplies...”
Dog-loving yoga teacher Yulia, who lives in Bishop's Stortford – She has also added a Ukrainian flag to her Facebook profile and changed her background to a picture of yellow flowers and a blue sky.
Three days ago, before the war began in earnest, she posted a quote from the painter and art theorist Kazimir Malevich, who wrote during the First World War: “Mothers and fathers of all the world, get rid of the fatherland, for it will eat the meat and drink the blood of your children, and from their bones will make fences of its borders.”
Anna – “The scariest 24 hours have passed; even scarier hours have begun. Yesterday Ukrainians spent the night in the subway, in basements, their cities were bombed by Russian military from the air.
"Right now, people are running with children, with old people to nowhere; tanks are coming from all sides and there are already air raid alarms in Lviv [in the safer west of Ukraine].
"I close my eyes and see hundreds of familiar faces and my heart just breaks. War, attacks on peaceful cities in 17 regions of Ukraine are a vile crime and there is no excuse for it.
"And those who try to somehow find explanations for this monstrous movement of tanks on the lives of civilians have lost their conscience for their lives.
"But a very large number of people in Russia have a conscience alive. The best Russian directors, actors, writers demand an end to aggression against Ukraine.
"Yesterday, 44 Russian cities came out to protest against the war in Ukraine, and many of these real caring people were beaten and arrested, dragged along the ground.”