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“My father handed my passport over to the draft board”: How war aggravated generational conflict in Russia

Amidst the war outbreak, numerous Russians experienced miscommunication with their close ones, resulting in family disputes, workplace conflicts, and strained friendships due to divergent perspectives. In interviews conducted by The Insider, people recounted their accounts of clashes with parents who resorted to threats of psychiatric hospitalization and involvement of the FSB, attempted to enforce military service, and accused them of “consorting with fascists.”

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  • “My father asked them to enlist me”

  • “I'll get you committed or turn you in to the FSB”

  • Ukrainians turned into “khokhols” overnight

  • “Everyone else will die, but we will go to heaven”

“My father asked them to enlist me”

Amid the ongoing mobilization, Valery made the decision to depart from Russia and seek refuge in Kazakhstan. However, his plans were hindered by his father, a Russian Orthodox Church priest, who confiscated Valery's foreign travel passport and submitted it to the military registration and enlistment office, aiming to prevent his son from leaving the country and evading military service.

Valery, the third child in a family of six, says: “My conflict with my father began when I was only 14 years old and has persisted ever since.” The episode of his departure intertwined with a previous family dispute that had transpired approximately two months before the outbreak of war. Consequently, Valery moved out of his parents' residence, yet they retained possession of certain documents, including his passport, which his father adamantly refused to return.

“I was eligible for compulsory military service, and after the mobilization, I found out that my father had asked some of his acquaintances to locate and conscript me. When I visited my parents after the mobilization had begun, in a final attempt to retrieve my passport and leave the country, I discovered that it was held at my local draft board.”

Valery had little leverage: he did not want to complain about his own parents, and it was risky to go to the enlistment office. So, he went to Kazakhstan and received a new passport six months later:

“My parents and I didn't talk about going to war, but I'm sure if I had been among those who were to be drafted, they wouldn't have minded. At least I know for a fact they wouldn't mind if my older brother went to war. He has an officer's rank after university, and he doesn't mind [going to war] either.”

Now Valery is communicating with his mother. They still disagree with each other, but they can maintain a dialogue, and she has stopped trying to persuade her son to come back and join the military.

Life within Valery's family revolves around the principles of church canons, with a steadfast commitment to Orthodox traditions. He says these practices go beyond the norm even for devout people. An illustrative example is their dedicated observance of a comprehensive weekly fast, attending church services on Saturday mornings, evenings, and Sunday evenings. “Every member of our family was involved in church activities in some capacity. I began serving in the altar at the age of 7, and by 16, I was fully engaged in the church choir, where my mother leads. In fact, I even received payment for my participation, which served as my pocket money.”

According to Valery, his father can be described as “a highly systemic and conformist individual” who consistently adheres to the hierarchical order in which he operates, displaying unwavering respect for authority. Valery further explained that his parents, in alignment with their beliefs, have consistently endorsed the policies implemented by the current government. He recalled, “In 2014, my parents firmly believed that the annexation of Crimea was a justified decision. Therefore, it was only logical that when the war erupted on February 24, they harbored no doubts about its righteousness.”

My parents believed that the annexation of Crimea was justified, and when the war erupted, they harbored no doubts about its righteousness

Apart from the eldest and youngest brothers (the older one supports his parents and the younger has yet to form his own opinions), all the other siblings in the family hold differing views from their parents. The eldest sister, Valeriya, was the first to depart from the family due to irreconcilable differences. Her conflict with their father arose from his opposition to her marriage. Valery perceives that his father, despite being aware of his children's “double life,” fails to comprehend and accept a secular lifestyle.

“He told me that my personal life doesn't interest him very much. His parental duty is for me to be fed, clothed, educated. What I have going on in my life right here and now, he doesn't have the energy, time, or desire for.”

Valery reminisces about his active involvement in the political affairs of the country, actively participating in rallies, engaging in discussions with friends, and even forging connections with political activists. However, he has managed to keep this aspect of his life concealed from his parents. He shared, “You attend a rally, and when your mother calls, you quickly retreat into an alley to inform her that you are out with a friend, only to return promptly to Manezhnaya Square. Or you find yourself caught up in the Golunov march, knowing you have a biology exam the following day, all the while pondering the predicament that your parents are currently out of town and your sister is the only person available to pick you up. Heaven forbid if your parents were to discover you got detained by the police, it would undoubtedly lead to a scandal.”

“I'll get you committed or turn you in to the FSB”

Last August, Roman made the decision to relocate to Argentina. Upon discovering his son's plans, Roman's father made a distressing statement, threatening to either commit him to a psychiatric institution or involve the FSB (Federal Security Service). The situation became even more complex when, on the day of departure, Roman's wife, with whom he had spent fifteen years, expressed her refusal to accompany him along with their two children.

In the midst of their discussions, Roman eventually blocked his father on his phone after he sent him a video depicting the bombing of Mariupol and questioned him whether he thought it was justified to annihilate an entire city. In response, his father dismissed it as a “fake.”

“That word is definitely not in his vocabulary. But now it is his reaction to any argument. He's not ready to accept that it's true, and anything he doesn't accept, he rejects. He has no argument except that it's 'fake.'“

The young man say he still has great respect for his father, despite his current views:

“I just can't get my head around at what point he turned into this person. Where did that man disappear who had said at my graduation ceremony in 2008, 'Nothing good is going to happen here, you need to go somewhere else, and I'll pay for everything.'“

He does not believe that his father was prepared to carry out his threats against him. According to Roman, he has always been an oppositionist - he never recognized Putin, voted for the Communist Party all his life, and never even surrendered his party card:

“What happened? He started watching TV in 2014, and it had a strong influence on him. Perhaps due to his age, he developed a certain nostalgia for the 'Soviet lifestyle,' despite having spent many years living abroad and never truly experiencing it. I remember when we visited Crimea during my school days, he would often express his belief that we had lost a great country. Then, in 2014, the annexation of Crimea occurred, and I believe it resonated deeply with his yearning for the lost Soviet Union, causing those sentiments to resurface.”
Then, in 2014, the annexation of Crimea occurred, and it resonated deeply with his yearning for the lost Soviet Union, causing those sentiments to resurface

After the war began, Roman's disagreements extended not only to his father but also to his wife. He recalls that as early as 2011, he began discussing plans to emigrate with her, but ultimately, fear held him back. The topic resurfaced in 2014 following the annexation of Crimea, yet they still didn't leave Russia:

“I had a comfortable life, a well-paying job, and everything seemed perfect - it's not easy to walk away from such a life. However, I felt mentally drained and deeply disagreed with what was happening around me. I would constantly bother my wife with YouTube videos posted by Russian emigrants, urging her to consider leaving. But over the course of these eight years, I've just been talking about it without taking any real action, and she has probably grown accustomed to my incessant chatter.”

In 2022, a point of no return was reached. Roman decided to go to Argentina, but his wife refused to accompany him:

“Over the course of our fifteen-year relationship, I have made grave mistakes. I was an abuser, and I did everything in my power to make her feel insecure in my presence. There were instances when I forced her out of the house at four in the morning. While it was one thing when it happened in Moscow, where she had somewhere to go despite having a tyrannical and oppressive husband, it would have been different in Argentina, where she wouldn't have known where to turn.”

After the move, Roman tried to persuade his wife to change her mind, but in November they decided to separate. Later he tried to make contact with his father:

“I unblocked him, wrote him a long message, which consisted of two parts. The first part was that there were points on which I cardinally did not support him and felt that he simply had no right to behave that way. And the second part of the message was that I was very grateful to him for everything he had given me. And I'm very grateful to my dad for a lot of things. 'It's not normal that you and I are out of touch, so let's just keep in touch,' I wrote.”

The father was taken aback by his son's message, but he was deeply moved: “It was a response from a father, not from a brainwashed individual.” Roman suggested that his father never mention the war again, but they can no longer communicate the way they used to, and Roman is uncertain if they will ever be able to. He explains, “I don't have a burning desire to do so because it takes a lot of energy. I have to exert a lot of effort to control myself. He always goes on and on about it, and it's difficult for me not to engage in a debate. So now our communication is more focused on practical matters. For instance, I called him once because the children weren't answering the phone, and I knew he was with them.” In Argentina, Roman has started a Telegram channel where he shares his story.

Ukrainians turned into “khokhols” overnight

Olga is a political technologist, and due to the war, she had a conflict with her parents. For several weeks, she tried to explain to them what propaganda is and how it works, but it didn't help.

“With the onset of the war, I had a feeling that something switched in my parents' minds. When Russians were bombing Kharkiv, I would call my mom and say, 'Do you see what they're doing?' She would reply that it's the Ukrainians bombing Kharkiv. And she believed the television, not me. I just felt defeated.”
I would call my mom and say, 'Do you see what they're doing?' She would reply that it's the Ukrainians bombing Kharkiv

For some time, she stopped talking to her parents because she couldn't bear those conversations, even though they used to talk every day.

Olga notes that her parents were always reasonable and normal people: her father was an academician, and her mother had a higher education. They were “very intelligent, kind, and understanding.” “And suddenly, they developed some kind of beastly hatred. Ukrainians, who had been Ukrainians their whole lives, suddenly became 'khokhols.' My parents sincerely and completely believe that there are Nazis in Ukraine. They are retirees, sitting and watching television all day, where they are told all of this.”

Her parents “warmly welcomed the annexation of Crimea and perceived it as an act of justice.”

“My dad continues to commemorate March 18 as the day when Crimea became part of Russia. It appears that, like Putin, my parents have always longed for the revival of the Soviet Union. The collapse of the Soviet Union is perceived by them as the most significant geopolitical catastrophe.”

In general, Olga's father does not support Putin because he believes that Putin is aligned with the West. However, he admires figures like Strelkov and Prigozhin, Olga says.

“When the war started, my father began sympathizing with Prigozhin. He wasn't even aware of him before, but now he's discovered YouTube and spends endless hours watching clips about Prigozhin. He sees him as a 'real man' and respects him.”

A year ago, Olga left without informing her parents about her long absence. She explained her trip to Turkey as a necessity to open accounts and transfer money out of Russia. On September 21, when the mobilization was announced, Olga's mother told her that their family probably didn't need to return to Russia just yet. Her father echoed the same sentiment. Olga didn't argue and mentioned that they had already rented an apartment for a year.

Her older brother labels Olga as a traitor to the homeland for leaving. According to him, the military in Ukraine “kill the khokhols, save Russia.” “He constantly sends me these horrible messages, I would have blocked him, but he's still my brother. He really wanted to volunteer, but the medical commission didn't let him through because he's over 50. He has a son, and now he's forcing him to go to war. Thank God, my nephew understands everything and is not going anywhere.” They communicate through WhatsApp; he drinks in the evenings and then sends her videos of Ukrainians being killed, seemingly in a mocking manner. Olga tries to avoid responding or engaging in these conversations.

“Sometimes I feel like expressing everything I think to him, including my thoughts about the amount of gray matter in his head. I try to hold back because I know he will complain to our mother. My brother is completely uneducated; he even rewrote the history of our grandfather in his mind and claimed that during the Great Patriotic War, he was 'killing the khokhols.'“

Now Olga continues to communicate with her parents, but she rarely brings up the topic of the war: “I try to avoid this topic because I understand that I won't be able to change their minds, and I don't want to argue. But I feel like they are starting to realize that something went wrong. For example, my mother recently told me that it seems like we are losing.”

Olga is confident that her parents need to understand what is really happening.

“I'm afraid that they might die without knowing the truth. I really wish that when the propaganda is turned off... like how the Germans started to come to their senses after 1945 when they were taken on tours to the concentration camps... I want my parents to realize it too. I imagine how painful and difficult it will be for them, but I want them to know the truth. I don't want my parents to live with closed eyes for the rest of their lives. I don't know what to do about it, but perhaps when the regime changes and Solovyov goes off the air, something will start to change. Right now, I don't see any ways to convey the truth to them.”

“Everyone else will die, but we will go to heaven”

After the war started, Nikolay didn't speak to his father for a year. His father used to work “in the government agencies, for the state,” but has been retired for several years now. According to Nikolay, his father always had a fairly calm attitude towards politics and ideology, and didn't experience nostalgia for the Soviet Union. “He was an ordinary person – he traveled around America and Europe, had a great attitude towards all of it, there were no problems. Until 2014. After Crimea, his mindset changed drastically. He started talking a lot about politics from the perspective of patriotism - that there is the Russian state, and Europe is all bad, Americans are our enemies. When we met, he would angrily try to prove all of this to me.”

Nikolay didn't like this, but he stayed silent and didn't argue with his father, just as he did before when they discussed other topics. They never had a close relationship, but they always supported each other, Nikolay recalls. Once or twice a month, he would visit his father, and overall, “things were not bad.”

Nikolay recalls that his father could occasionally “teach him a lesson”, but never called him an “enemy of the people.” Right after the annexation of Crimea, Nikolay found a job in Europe and left. His father strongly opposed this decision and constantly tried to convince his son to return. “About six months before the start of the war in Ukraine, I had dinner with my father in St. Petersburg, and we had a big argument. He started talking about Europe and the USA, and he had this idea that we should start a war, that we were just sitting here defensively. I told him, 'Do you realize that it would be the end of the world?' And he replied, 'Well, that would be fine. Everyone else will die, but we will go to heaven.'“

Nikolay says that his father often watches the First Channel [a Russian TV channel] and repeats scripted phrases. When the war began, Nikolay was in Russia but quickly left because it was unclear what to expect - borders could close, a state of emergency could be declared, or conscription could begin. He informed his father about his departure, and his father reacted calmly. Later, Nikolay suggested that his father buy tickets and come to stay with him abroad to wait out the events happening in Russia.

During that moment, they had a heated argument:

“He said that everything was fine in Russia, but things would go bad for me in Europe. Well, one word led to another, and we started trading accusations. He accused me of suggesting betrayal to him, claiming that I was an enemy of Russia, an enemy of the motherland. He had been trying to label me like that before. In those moments, I always tried to remain neutral, but he would tell me how wrong I was. And then he said that I wasn't Russian, that I sided with fascists, and that offering to betray the motherland wasn't helpful. After that, I told him I didn't want to continue the conversation and hung up.”
He tried to label me an enemy of Russia, an enemy of the motherland

Nikolay questions whether he made the right decision back then. It was difficult for him to go so long without communicating with his father, and it weighed heavily on him.

He doesn't have any other acquaintances who adhere so rigidly to the propaganda line:

“According to my father, Americans are complete fools, Europe is filled with gays and cultural decay, while Russia needs to unite to resist all of that. Sometimes his views reminded me of nationalism, where Russians are seen as the best, and everyone else is in the wrong.”

Despite this, Nikolay acknowledges that his father is a very intelligent person. He hopes that deep down, his father understands everything but is unable to express it differently due to his previous work for the state. “He's deeply entrenched, and if he were to say something different, it would be a significant risk for him.”

“If he changes his viewpoint, it will undoubtedly be very difficult for him, but I believe it's worth it. Because if we don't persuade people, everyone will continue to live in their own fabricated world, and the things that are happening today will continue to happen. It's all based on the opinions of people like my father. People who believe that everything is fine.”

Nikolay and his father didn't speak for a year, but recently they have rebuilt their relationship. Nikolay quit his job, and his father found out through mutual acquaintances and sent him a message, suggesting that he return to Russia. “In that moment, I felt like I could talk to him. It had been difficult for me before, but now it's a bit easier. I called him and told him that I don't have any serious problems, everything is fine. We started communicating. It's very important to me.”

Following that, Nikolay met with his father in Russia and states that his father has “calmed down,” although he still tries to discuss politics, “Ukrainian fascists,” and the “collective West that wants to destroy Russia.” Nikolay's father still wants him to come back. Lately, they communicate more often on the phone about general topics and avoid discussing the war—this topic only arises during personal meetings.

“He tries to start talking to me about the fifth column, traitors. He also had a phrase that all the people who speak out against the SMO [special military operation] and leave the country—artists, singers—that they don't love Russia. When it comes to other countries, European or, for example, Latin American, opposition is a normal phenomenon for him because they are fighting against the government. But today's Russian opposition, in his view, hates Russia specifically and wants to destroy it.”

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