People keep asking me: Do you think the Russian people know what’s going on? Do they know that Putin has sent the Russian Army to invade Ukraine?
They may not know the full extent of Putin’s folly, but they know their country has become a pariah in the community of nations. They know that they are going to suffer in blood and treasure for this naked aggression that the Russian media is forbidden to call “war.”
They know that Russian celebrities, opera singers and Bolshoi dancers have shouted, "No to war!" They know that Echo Moscow and TV Rain have disappeared from the air.
They know when they hear from their brothers and sisters and cousins and grandparents in Ukraine, and they fear for them.
They know that their sons thought they were heading west for training exercises and now they know they might come home in body bags or their ashes in plastic bags.
They know that the ruble has lost half its value, and they know they can't get out of the country no matter how much they would like to. They know and they are very worried.
They know even if they will never admit it and even berate those who will say it out loud. But they know.
Those who grew up in the Soviet period learned at their mother’s knee how to know something they could never acknowledge to another soul. They knew you could get real meat at the shoe store in the alley two streets over when there was only pickled pigs feet in the neighborhood shop. They knew when a neighbor disappeared in the night. They knew when a colleague slipped “samizdat” (an unauthorized manuscript or censored document) into his bag.
They knew but they could never show in any way that they knew. They had to “unknow” it — and they got very good at it.
Today they’re “unknowing” this war. They have to. To acknowledge it would drive them mad.
Michelle Carter is the former managing editor of the San Mateo Times. Throughout 1995, she travelled across the 11 time zones of the world’s largest country as the U.S. Information Agency’s Journalist-in-Residence in Russia. She is the author of two books, From Under the Russian Snow (Bedazzled Ink Publishers, 2017) and Children of Chernobyl: Raising Hope From the Ashes (Augsburg, 1993).