Russian SU students face social obscurities since invasion of Ukraine | #socialmedia

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Syracuse University student Lida Menbaeva used to visit her family in Russia during every break. Menbaeva has childhood memories tied to the city of Moscow. But now, she said she does not have a place she can call home.

“I don’t plan to travel (to Russia) … until Putin dies or the regime changes,” said Menbaeva, a master’s student studying data analytics for public policy.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine garnered international criticism toward the Russian government, isolating international students at SU from their family and friends back home. These students told The Daily Orange they have felt anger toward an oppressive Russian government while also feeling uncertain about their standing in the United States.

After the war broke out, some students and faculty from Russia at SU said they felt guilty. Denis Samburskiy, a professor in the languages, literature & linguistics department, moved to the U.S. from Russia in 2007.

“We feel guilty, although we did not do anything,” Samburskiy said.

Sofya Mikhaylova, who graduated this spring after completing her degree in philosophy, is from Moscow. She said she was unable to focus on anything for three days when she saw the news about the war.

“There was a sense of guilt in the beginning,” she said. “You have to get on with your life, because you know that you can’t just stop it. I can’t just go home. Even if I go home to do something about it, there’s nothing I can really do about it.”

In the U.S., some politicians advocated that the country take action against Russian students. Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif, suggested kicking “every Russian student out” of the U.S. in retaliation against Putin.

Beyond politicians, some Russian students said they also face negativity from peers. Skyler, an incoming senior at SU and a dual citizen of the US and Russia, said she is careful to make people aware that she supports Ukraine and its citizens.

“You can see the judgment in people’s eyes when you first mention that you are Russian — they’re trying to figure out what kind of Russian you are,” she said. “Do you look like you’re for the war? Do you look like you’re against the war?”

Bichkova and Skyler both said they also have concerns about traveling back to Russia.

As a dual citizen living in the U.S., Skyler said she doesn’t know when she will be able to reunite with her grandmother, who lives in Russia.

“I don’t know when I’m going to see her next because I don’t know when it’s going to be safe for me to go back as a dual citizen,” Skyler said.

Bichkova, who grew up in Moscow, speaks Russian natively and consumes both Russian and American media, is worried about going back to Russia because of her political opinions. Friends from Bichkova’s childhood have limited access to social media and information outside of Russia, which can damage her relationships with them given her beliefs.

“Those people were my close friends, which is really surprising that they don’t want to care about our ten-year friendship,” Bichkova said. “They care about me not having the same position as they have.”

An Instagram user with more than 1,200 followers and over 300 posts, Bichkova said she is concerned the Russian government will view her activity on social media. Under a law the Russian parliament passed at the beginning of March, spreading information that discredits Russian troops could be a crime.

“I’m pretty sure they’re monitoring everything,” she said.

Russia also restricted social media access after the war started. A Moscow court banned Meta – the parent company of Instagram and Facebook – a few weeks after the invasion. TikTok also restricted new uploads in Russia in early March after the country passed a law criminalizing “fake information” on social media.

Menbaeva, who spent her childhood in Moscow, said she’s been posting on social media regarding the war since it started.

“I think (my posts are) enough to put me in jail,” Menbaeva said.

Skyler, who also grew up in Moscow and is fluent in Russian, said she has Russian friends who actively participated in anti-war protests. Several of Skylar’s friends have been arrested for protesting, she said.

“Unfortunately the propaganda machine in Russia is very strong,” she said.

Emil Bakiev, an incoming senior at SU from Russia majoring in supply chain management and marketing, attended several protests against the Russian government when the war started.

Before the invasion, he attended a protest in Russia including over the jailing of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny last February. During that protest, the Russian police beat and arrested one of his friends, who was in jail for eight days.

“I love Ukrainian people and have a lot of friends there,” Bakiev said. “When the war started, it was the worst day of my life.”

Menbaeva created a channel on Discord, an instant messaging platform, with some of her friends as a place for Russian-speaking students who study or work abroad to share their experiences. Menbaeva also created a website to gather and share information about the situation in Russia and Ukraine.

“I’m a patriot of my country, and I am left feeling responsible for its actions because I love my country and my home,” Menbaeva said in an Instagram post. “I am choosing to not remain silent and to stand up for my beliefs.”

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