What It’s Like Inside Moscow Amid War in Ukraine: Reporter’s Notebook

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Rumors have swirled about possible martial law in Russia as the war in Ukraine could prove the seething crisis that is blowing the lid off a controlled society, a sort of hybrid police state with Starbucks and vibrant social media.

This last description, of course, only applied very recently, when cheerful young baristas were sent home and Instagram was given a death sentence. Most independent media in Russia have been shut down with writers currently in exile to avoid going to jail for up to 15 years for crossing the Kremlin’s final and arbitrary red line of “fake news”.

The last journalistic brand still standing in Moscow is Novaya Gazeta. Its editor won the Nobel Peace Prize last year. Novaya may be too famous to fail, too celebrated to run away. But he is now under enormous pressure. The deputy editor spoke to Fox News about the mood in Moscow as he sees it.

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“It’s a bit tragic because our society has collapsed and there is no economic hope, and we also don’t see a political future for our homeland, our country,” Kirill Martynov said. . “We have a lot of pro-war propaganda. It’s pretty stupid and aggressive. And basically you start to feel like a person living in some kind of occupied land, like it’s not your country. is a country that has been occupied by some foreign invaders, a kind of enemy.”

A police car is parked in Red Square, with Saint Basil's Cathedral in the background, in Moscow, Russia, March 4, 2022.
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A police car is parked in Red Square, with Saint Basil’s Cathedral in the background, in Moscow, Russia, March 4, 2022.
(AP Photo, File)

Martynov added that, compared to what the Ukrainians are going through, he believes that the Russians really have nothing to complain about. But still, for many, it’s a painful time and one that pits Russians against Russians.

“I feel like the whole situation is pushing us to the brink of civil war, basically because hatred is rising in Russia,” he said. “Propaganda feeds this hatred, and we have more and more hatred and mistrust towards Russia.”

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I asked the question everyone wants to know – second only to what’s on Putin’s mind? – to Martynov: What percentage of Russians support the war against Ukraine?

He estimated it at around 25%. Another quarter – and his answers are based on how he feels – simply supports President Vladimir Putin, believing that whatever he chooses to do must be right. Another quarterback is scared, Martynov thinks, keeping his head down and trying to take care of his family. And the last 25% or even less are strongly against this war.

A woman walks past a mural depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin in Belgrade, Serbia, Saturday, March 12, 2022.

A woman walks past a mural depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin in Belgrade, Serbia, Saturday, March 12, 2022.
(AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

I asked Martynov if he thought anyone in Putin’s inner circle was watching footage from Ukraine broadcast by non-Russian state channels. And if so, do they resent the damage, the deaths and the refugee crisis?

“I feel like there are smart people around President Putin, and I think they understand what’s going on in Ukraine pretty well,” Martynov said. “They can see the same as us, because we still have a few independent news sources – YouTube, Telegram and other social media – that weren’t completely blocked in Russia for now. But I have feel like they’ve decided they’re war criminals, so they can’t sever those ties with Mr. Putin.”

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He also thinks that the political consequences of the war could mean the dissolution of Russia.

“Or, let’s say, the USSR. You have the impression that in 1991 the USSR was just wiped off the map, the political map, but I have the impression that it was only an illusion. I have the impression that during these 30 years the USSR in the form of the Russian Federation was still alive. It is still alive.”

The map shows Russia's invasion of Ukraine on March 11, 2022.

The map shows Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on March 11, 2022.
(FoxNews)

Novaya Gazeta made the decision to continue working based on feedback from subscribers. He spoke directly to his readers and asked if he should continue to publish, even if he could not report on the war. He cannot report on the war because if he calls the conflict a “war” or an “invasion” rather than a “special military operation,” he would risk being punished.

Novaya’s editorial board refuses to mince words. But if the publication were to report a version of events that contradicts the official version, its employees would face jail time. It turned out that his readers want him to continue writing about everything he can, about everything that is happening in Russia, which in the present circumstances is mainly the result of war, economy and street protests.

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Martynov said the newspaper may have just published its best cover showing ballerinas dancing on “Swan Lake” against a backdrop of a mushroom cloud. All it says on the cover is “This edition of Novaya complies with the amended criminal code of Russia.”

The symbolism is strong. Russian state television broadcast “Swan Lake” on repeat during the 1991 coup attempt by communist extremists against Mikhail Gorbachev.

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