‘Ireland is a free country, Russia is not. This interview would lead us to 15 years in prison’

Four friends who meet The Irish Times in Dublin feel they cannot be silent on Putin and Ukraine

This is not a good time to be a Russian abroad. Their country is an international pariah, their president Vladimir Putin widely loathed and every day they are assailed by reports of the brutal actions of their country's soldiers in Ukraine.

It is a time when many would lie low, hunker down and say nothing, but the four Russian friends who meet with The Irish Times at the CHQ in Dublin feel they cannot be silent.

At home, Putin’s regime has made it a criminal offence to even describe the Russian army’s invasion of Ukraine as a “war” and so they meet knowing the long arm of the Russian state may have its say if and when they return to the motherland.

The four are Masha Vasilieva (31), Alexey Rashevskiy (40) and husband and wife Alex (32) and Anna (29) Malogulko.

“People have told me that it was brave that you are doing the interview, that you are not afraid to put your name and photo in the newspaper,” said Ms Vasilieva.

It was she who alerted the Irish media to the interview conducted by the Russian ambassador Yury Filatov when he stated that Ireland was to the forefront in anti-Russian sentiment in Europe. She posted the translated version on YouTube.

Support

Contrary to what the ambassador said in that interview about Russians in Ireland being the target of abuse, the four say they have had nothing but understanding and support from Irish people.

They have mixed views about the destruction of the gates of the Russian embassy by an irate lorry driver last week, saying it has appeared prominently on Russian state media as a source of grievance about how the country is viewed abroad.

"It makes me angry because of the level of propaganda on Russia TV and media and politicians," Ms Vasilieva said.

She hopes that some Russian ambassador somewhere will say: “This has to to stop. We are lying to people.”

She admitted that she and her three friends live in a bubble. They do not support the war and neither do their friends. They are young and highly educated. They all work in tech, are fluent in English and, most importantly, do not live in Russia.

“It is impossible to find criticism of Putin in Russian media except in some opposition ones that are not publicly available and now they are completely closed. They [the Russian people] are completely brainwashed,” said Mr Rashevskiy, who has been living in Ireland for 14 years and has a slight Irish accent.

“There is no independent media. For older people, TV is the only source of information.The Russian people stay in this bubble. It is hard for people in western Europe to imagine what happens when every single news source is saying the same thing.”

Mr Rashevskiy has been to Dublin Airport to help Ukrainian refugees fill out forms, Russian being the first language of many of the new arrivals. They assumed he was Ukrainian and were surprised when he was not.

He recalled that during the first days of the invasion “I was angry and probably a bit ashamed that I hold a Russia passport. The shame has changed to disgust that I have it. Were it not for my parents, I would cancel my Russian citizenship.”

Ms Malogulko countered that she does not "share the sentiment of shame. Being Russian doesn't mean supporting Putin or supporting the war. Russians are much more than that.

“I strongly support Ukraine in this conflict because they are fighting for freedom and the ability to determine their own fate. This is something I can understand very well. It is one of the reasons I left Russia in the first place.

“What upsets me is that a lot of people in Russia stay silent. I can understand why. It is one of the strategies for survival.”

Repression

Her husband, like many Russians, is of mixed Russian and Ukrainian heritage. He fears Putin is trying to reconstitute the Soviet Union with all its brutal repression.

“I would say that most of my friends do not support the war. This is not a war of the Russian people. This is a war of Putin,” he said.

“On the other hand, some of my closest family members have their mothers, brothers or sisters in Ukraine and yet they still support the war. They genuinely believe that Ukraine is under Nazi occupation and Russia is liberating it.”

It is perhaps not a surprise that the four Russian friends all have a low opinion of Putin. "Most people I know think that he is mad. He lost connection with reality a long time ago," Mr Malogulko said.

“Very few people who support the war support Putin. The majority of the people understand that when a politician stays in power for 22 years and he starts a war, it is not okay.”

All speak highly of the freedom in Ireland to say and do what you want and to protest against the war in Ukraine without fear of arrest.

“In Russia you cannot imagine having the same peaceful protest as here,” said Ms Vasilieva.

Mr Malogulko agreed. “Ireland is a free country and Russia is not. Even this interview would lead us to 15 years in prison. There is no way you can call a country like Russia free.”

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times

READ MORE