"It turns out you can wipe out a European city in the twenty-first century."
Gleb is a freelance journalist from Rostov-on-Don. In a new episode of the "Eyewitnesses 24/02/2022" project, he discusses why aggression against a neighboring state became possible, what role propaganda, society, and "internal enemies" played in it, and why no one in the world can feel safe anymore.
Tell us about yourself
My name is Gleb Golod, I am 25 years old, a journalist from Rostov-on-Don. I have been a freelance journalist for the past few years, and in early March 2022 I left to live in Tbilisi due to the outbreak of war.
The night of February 24, I couldn't sleep, I even said to my girlfriend, "Okay, let's try to get some sleep, because tomorrow there will be a war." She said she had the same feeling. At night I kept waking up, watching the news, and about 7 a.m. I got a text from a friend saying, "Wake up, brother, the war has started." I turned around and said: "Nastya, the war has started," and we woke up.
I had a feeling it would be a very long time. When the coronavirus started, I thought, "This isn't going to be over in a year. I really wanted it to be over in a week, but it was clear that it was with us for a very long time. And then when the war started, the feeling was even worse. I think it was still possible to predict something before the war, it was possible to assume that the war would happen, but it was impossible to say when it would end, what the outcome would be, what the casualties would be. I think that even now it is impossible to predict something and hit the mark.
Your first thoughts and feelings?
At first I felt hatred. It so happened that on my birthday, February 19, the first thing I did was to wake up and go to a temporary accommodation center for refugees from Donbas who had been evacuated. And already about that day I knew what was waiting for us in the near future, because I saw how disgustingly organized it was, and saw no other reason to evacuate people in such a hurry.
That is, the organization was so bad that the drivers ran out of fuel, and they were just stuck in the middle of the Rostov region with children, women, and old people. No one could give them fuel, and they didn't know where to go. I saw no reason other than the outbreak of war to make such a hell for the residents of Donbass, who have already suffered for the past eight years.
Why did you leave Russia?
I left because there was information that I could soon end up first in a pre-trial detention center, and then beyond. I decided not to test my fate, because all these laws had already abolished the profession of journalist in Russia, they just wrote us a ban on work, and there was an option either to sit quietly in Russia or just sit, or to leave and continue doing something already outside the country.
How did your loved ones feel about your departure?
All the people close to me had been telling me for very many years that it was time to leave. When I told them, they were all, of course, very upset. It was probably the hardest thing about emigrating - saying goodbye to my family, saying goodbye to my friends. There was a feeling that it was forever, and it still is. But there was some unthinkable support, that is, no one dissuaded, no one even tried, everyone said, "Cool" and even "Let's hurry up."
We took the tickets for March 8, and at that moment there was information that general mobilization could be announced, and that the borders would be closed. They were yelling at me: "Cancel the tickets, get another one," and even offered to give me more money to buy more tickets. But I said: "Calm down," because I was sure no one would close any borders, and no one would send all of Russia to war, at least on those dates - and so it turned out.
Why do many people in Russia support the war?
In Russia, propaganda has been legalizing violence as a phenomenon for a very long time, and what we see now is just a consequence of endless brainwashing about how we are a great empire and must expand, that "we are Russians, God is with us," that we "can repeat ourselves."
We've seen this for a very long time, and before 2014 - this whole thing started back in 2012 with the hijacking of the "Immortal Regiment" initiative, with the cult of victory, violence, death, misery, poverty, with the idea that we have to suffer for the sake of our own greatness. But I don't think it's possible to suffer for the sake of any greatness, this is some kind of substitution of the concept, characteristic of people who watch TV, who have no access to other sources of information and who for some reason at some point believed all these horrible brazen lies.
Do you have relatives in Ukraine?
I have acquaintances and colleagues in Ukraine, I don't have close friends there, but my girlfriend's relatives are there, and we know what's going on there. My job now involves collecting testimonies from people who live there, including people from the Kiev region, from Mariupol, there is a very clear picture of what is happening there, and it is, of course, total hell.
The aggression of Ukrainians toward Russians is quite understandable, there is a lot of it for obvious reasons, and it is all justified, but I have never encountered it in my personal communication. I have encountered certain questions from their side, but I have never been told to go there or thereabouts.
They understand everything and they themselves suffer a lot because of what is happening in Russia, which surprised me, because all the hell and horror has fallen on them because Russia has been unable to cope with this terrible regime that we have had for the last 20 years, and in the end this regime has gone beyond Russia globally - not like it was in Syria and in Ukraine in 2014.
And yet they still ask when we talk to them, for example, when I interview a man, he says, "Will anyone in Russia even read this?" and when I tell him that many people will probably read it, that there are people here who are on his side and want to end it, they are, if it is appropriate to say so, happy, because they hope that there are such people left in Russia. Because my feeling is that they think we're all washed up zombies here who support the war and want to destroy them.
Have you personally encountered bad attitudes?
Personally, I never encountered a bad attitude. Basically, when we interacted with people, they were very friendly, very welcoming. If it was people to talk to, a few times I saw that they looked suspiciously, that they were not happy about something, that was in the first week. Now it's okay, even the signs "Fuck Russia", "Russians, go home" have been replaced by "Fuck Putin" in huge numbers.
Whose fault is it that the lives of millions are ruined?
I don't want to get into a story about our "failure as a nation" from the fashionable Moscow hipsters who like to talk and write about it in various columns in Western publications, among others. Vladimir Putin is primarily to blame for what is happening, of course, but so are the people. It is clear that for many years the authorities have been very technically making the people less and less free, more and more washed up, and when they tell us that we have not overthrown Putin, and now he has arranged it, it is clear that we could not overthrow him, we had no such opportunity.
The average person in Russia lives on a salary of 30 thousand rubles, works in a store, has a child, often a single mother who needs to buy books for school, the child grows up, work around the clock - what rallies, what overthrow? And that's how most people live, they live in poverty. Still, it seems to me that overthrowing the government is some kind of privilege.
In Russia, they divided this point very well: so that there would be no hunger riots, but there would also be no revolution of freedom. In our country it turned out to be impossible, and that is why the war happened. But the fact that so many people ignored all the events from the Crimea and Donbass in 2014, that no one came out for anti-war rallies, there were very few of them, and the murder of Nemtsov also did not cause any global resonance, and then it all ended with the poisoning and imprisonment of Alexei Navalny, for whom quite few people also came out - all this led to the possibility of war in Ukraine - because Vladimir Putin's internal enemies are over, and we alone have to blame for this.
As a consequence, Vladimir Putin has discovered for himself an opportunity to attack the neighboring state. I think that the theory of collective guilt is justified here, but I don't really like it in general, because if we feel guilty, fine, but collective responsibility, it seems to me, is more important. The question is not how we will feel afterwards-understandably very bad, because we saw the example of Germany in the last century-but what we will do to redeem this guilt. It is a question of responsibility, not a feeling of shame and so on.
Do you follow the news from Russia and Ukraine?
I denied myself any positive content for quite a long time. There was some attempt at rehabilitation when we came here, it was hard, there was some depression about it, we thought we should try to entertain ourselves and tried to watch a funny show called "The Spaceman". A year ago it was downright scintillating, though I don't like comedies, but this show made me laugh. We made it through half an hour.
It became physically bad from what was happening on the screen-not because it was somehow badly done, but because it didn't get in the mood at all, just like no good news, no good movie, gets in, doesn't beat with the general feeling. I wish that would change after a while, but for now I can't abstract it.
What story from Ukraine shocked you?
I remember two pictures: the first days of the war, when the statue of Jesus Christ was taken out of the temple and loaded into the trailer of a truck. And, of course, the shots from Bucha, especially the manicure that identified the woman, and the shots from Mariupol - quite revealing, because it turns out that in the XXI century it is also possible to wipe out a European city completely irrevocably. This, of course, makes one feel completely apocalyptic.
What are you afraid of?
I'm afraid this will never end. Especially when Alexei Arestovich says that the war will go on until 2035. I don't want to believe it, but considering that he once already predicted a big war with Russia, you think, "What if the dude is right? I really doubt it, I think it's as fantastic a plot as a nuclear war, but I'm afraid it will never end, that it will spill over to the rest of the world, I have almost no doubt there will be World War III, but I would hate to see that happen.
But in terms of security, on the contrary: if before, when I lived in Russia, every rustle forced me to get out of bed, even if I was almost asleep, and go to check that no one was there, after the war it became somehow indifferent. It seems to me that there is no such thing as "security" in this world anymore, as long as there is a war going on, here, near us, in Europe.
If before we could talk about some kind of security, now, as much as I talk to people, no one rules out the possibility that their country will be next. I was talking to a Japanese man recently, and I asked him how they felt about it in Japan: is it a distant war for them, or do they keep an eye on it. He said: "No, of course we are watching, we remembered that we have a territorial conflict with Russia, and we think we might be attacked too. No one in the world feels safe: here in Georgia, people think that Vladimir Putin may want to "liberate" them next. So do people in Moldova, so do people in Finland.
What is wrong with Russia?
I can't say what is specifically wrong with us. I think, first of all, people have seen a number of these "historical" speeches by Vladimir Putin, where he tells history in his own manner and way, the way he likes it best. Secondly, I think the way history is taught in Russia in general is a great tragedy. I graduated from high school relatively recently, just eight years ago, in 2014. And I remember that despite a pretty good level of teaching in general, all my life the emphasis was on the war.
I think when people live in some kind of endless cult of war, death for the Motherland, the idea that we have to beat everyone, that the enemies will die and we will go to heaven, it really affects their brain, breaks it. Now kids in schools are singing: "If the commander in chief calls Uncle Vova to the last battle, we're with you," it's a very popular song in especially patriotic schools.
When people are told all their lives that they are a winning nation, that they defeated the Nazis, and that they have no other achievements except Gagarin's flight into space, they want more victories. But when the economy is very weak, when there are no peaceful victories, when science, economy, humanitarian education are not developing - how else can they win? They can go kill other people. Probably, in their minds it looks like this: if you killed someone, then you are a winner, because it wasn't you who was killed.
This category of violence, which for some reason is legalized so strongly in Russia, is the answer to the question of what is wrong with us, because we have never been able to give it up in favor of creation, in favor of something bright and peaceful. All our lives we have been shaking our guns and saying that we "can repeat" something that we did 80 years ago, when people were completely different, lived in completely different paradigms, under different ideologies, which we gave up many years ago.
Will you come back when Putin's regime falls?
Of course I would come back when the regime falls. But if we are talking about magic, it would be cool if the regime was replaced not by a similar one, but by the exact opposite one, with ideas of peaceful reforms, improving the lives of citizens. So that in Russia, not only in Moscow there would be good delivery, a good subway, and people would leave for Georgia, but then come back, because there is no Vkusville here, and in Moscow there is a different level of comfort in general.
I wish that all of Russia could be made a comfortable and free country, that people could just live in peace, that they could have a parliament, that they could vote and express their will, that they could argue about something. Then, of course, I would come back and I would be absolutely happy. This is my country, I've been writing in Russian for very many years, and I miss it very much, even though I continue to write in Russian here. I would be very happy to go back even to my city, in fact, because that's what I miss. I hope that this magic awaits us one day, but unfortunately, I don't think it will be soon.