As of last week, war has become a devastating reality in Europe once again. Thousands of people across the world united in protest of Vladimir Putin’s brutal invasion of Ukraine this weekend, which began with an onslaught of attacks on the country by land, air and sea on Thursday (February 24).
With many fleeing their homes, and many more left behind terrified of what’s to come, demands for governments in the west to take action have mounted in fervour both online and on the streets. Russian photographer Kristina Shakht documented one such protest in New York.
Here, speaking in her own words, Shakht describes the protest and the overarching mood in the Eastern European community as tensions build across the pond …
“I was born in Saint Petersburg and I’m a Russian-American photographer. I shoot fashion and fine art, and my work centres around womanhood and reclaiming the body.
“A lot of my friends are Ukrainian and their families are there now. I had a friend who fled on Friday from Saint Petersburg to New York (she’s ethnically Ukrainian but born in Saint-Petersburg). She had to leave her husband, mother and friends, pack in a couple hours and leave Russia because she knew that borders would close and it would be impossible to get out. She was right: she flew in on one of the last planes that were able to reach the USA. Yesterday flights from Moscow to NYC were turned around after reaching Greenland with all the passengers inside. Her family in Ukraine weren’t able to cross the border (women and kids) because the wait now is up to a week. Her grandma lives near Vasilkiv where the oil base was hit by a Russian missile.
“Because of this war, I too may never be able to go home. I didn’t choose Putin. Elections in Russia are rigged; all the major news outlets are controlled by the government; protesting is illegal; you can go to jail for social media posts (and people do). Army service is mandatory for men, and torture is still present in policing system and jails. From yesterday, if you are Russian and support Ukraine in any way – protesting, social media posts, donations – you’ll be convicted as a traitor and go to jail for up to 20 years, so talking to you now I could be considered a homeland traitor. I will be really hesitant to go to Russia now while Putin is in power.
“A lot of people came [to the protest], not only Ukrainians but a lot of people from Post Soviet countries; Russians, Belarusians, Kazakhs, Latvians; old people, young people, toddlers, babies. People were crying, singing, speaking to the crowd about the actions that needed to be taken and anyone could take a megaphone and speak if they had something to say. I don’t know how to describe the mood of people who came to protest. It’s honestly hard to comment on anything at the moment. I just feel very numb and horrified. I’m not sure that people understand the scale of the problem – that Russia has nuclear weapons and they have said on National TV that they’d use them.
“I can only speak from what I know. And for me it’s important now to make people understand that Russian people don’t want this war. They are already poor and isolated – they need the government to invest money in the country, not in fighting the neighbours and trying to colonise others in the 21st century. I just want to spread awareness but mostly it’s my duty as human being to talk about this war. I’m a sexual assault survivor and I’m against any violence in any way possible. [My advice is to] be kind, please be kind. And check the resources you’re getting your information about Ukraine from to make sure they’re creditable.”