MOSCOW – As the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine approaches, life in the capital continues largely as usual, with most Muscovites saying the mood is one of indifference to the ongoing fighting.
“I don’t really feel like there is a war going on,” said a Muscovite in his 30s who spoke to a Moscow Times reporter in the city center earlier this week.
“One can easily adapt to any circumstances – the longer this struggle lasts, the more people will accept the situation.”
Aside from scattered billboards in support of Russia’s armed forces and a handful of shuttered – or rebranded – Western brand stores, the capital offers few clear signs of a war raging more than 500 kilometers away in which tens of thousands of people have died and Ukrainian towns and cities were completely destroyed.
No major opposition protests are expected on the anniversary of the invasion on Friday.
“In general, this is not our concern,” Svetlana, a pensioner in her sixties, told The Moscow Times when asked about the war. She added that she was “not interested in politics”.
Like others interviewed for this article, Svetlana asked to remain anonymous to speak freely.
while opinion Polls Surveys conducted by both independent and state-run agencies indicate that about 75% of Russians support the war, and experts warn of the distorting effect of the country’s political campaign and strict wartime censorship laws that have seen dozens of long prison sentences for opposing the invasion.
One of the few confessions for the upcoming anniversary of the war was found in Gorky Park in the center of Moscow, which was traditionally associated with the capital’s fashionable youth.
Besides celebrations of the traditional Maslenitsa folk festival, Gorky Park visitors can also stop by the pro-war stands to record a video message to Russian soldiers on the front lines or make a donation to the armed forces.
While the Moscow Times did not see any visitors sending such gifts on Sunday afternoon, those working at the platform said that “several people” had already recorded video messages.
Under a nearby tent, only a few dozen gathered for a pro-war watch promWhere they listened to military songs and wrote postcards for Russian soldiers.
Despite such events – all of which are organized by City Hall – visible displays of support for the invasion in this city of nearly 12 million people remain rare.
Indeed, the empty stores and the growing number of pawn shops on the streets of Moscow are a more visible sign of the fallout from the war, which included the exit of major Western firms and Western sanctions.
A number of Muscovites told The Moscow Times that they were worried about the economy and had noticed a skyrocketing price of everyday goods making life more difficult.
In contrast, others said they were still able to buy sanctioned Western goods—imported via third countries—and retained their pre-war living standards.
Perhaps the most disturbing for Muscovites was the outcome of the war stabilizing Air defense systems that appeared in the Russian capital last month.
Even so, most Russians view the war as “something that doesn’t affect them directly,” said Denis Volkov, head of the Levada Center’s independent pollster Denis Volkov.
“It’s a coping mechanism to cope with stress, especially when people think they can’t change anything,” Volkov, who has remained in Moscow since the invasion, unlike many other independent experts, said in a phone interview.
In general, according to Volkov, the authorities succeeded in portraying the war as a broader struggle with Western countries seeking to weaken Russia.
“Of course, I feel sorry for them,” said pensioner Svetlana, who supplements her pension with cleaning jobs, when asked about those in Ukraine.
“But I don’t really like Ukrainians.”
While the war did not appear to have had a major impact on daily life, some major events during the conflict sparked unrest.
Particularly disruptive was the recruitment of hundreds of thousands of men into the armed forces during the “partial” mobilization of Russia in September-October.
While Russia’s poorer regions – as well as the country’s ethnic republics – bore the brunt of the mobilization, thousands were also called out from large cities, including Moscow.
Of course, if they take your son away, you will go crazy,” another pensioner who was walking around downtown Moscow told The Moscow Times.
According to Volkov of the Levada Center, the mobilization was one of the events that brought the Russians face-to-face with the realities of the war – albeit for a short time.
“Before the mobilization in September, people used to say: ‘Volunteers and professionals are fighting there, thank God, it’s not us, let them fight, the authorities know better, we are normal people.'” Volkov told The Moscow Times that it was bad for people to die, but it might not have been It is possible to avoid it.
The mobilization also exacerbated the mass exodus—estimated in the hundreds of thousands—from the country, as people fled to avoid political repression or be sent to the front.
The consequences of people fleeing abroad are particularly noticeable in large cities such as Moscow, where those with disposable income and job flexibility are concentrated to migrate on short notice.
“For me, the biggest and most important change is that all my closest friends have left Russia – it’s as if the entire middle class has left,” said one Muscovite.
However, by the end of last year, the effect of the mobilization seemed to have worn off and many people returned to ignoring the ongoing war.
Even major military setbacks, such as the withdrawal of the Russian army from Ukraine’s Kharkiv region and the southern city of Kherson, seemed to barely register.
Beneath the surface, some Muscovites — albeit a minority — struggle to cope with daily reports of death and destruction in Ukraine, including atrocities committed by Russian soldiers in places like Bucha and Mariupol.
“I put my life on hold when the war started,” a woman sitting in a cafe in central Moscow said in an interview this week.
“I’m still trying to learn to live in the current situation.”
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